Food Waste Fiascos
Every time I open a dumpster there’s food in it. Time after time I am finding grocery stores dumpsters filled to the brim with perfectly good food. I’m not going to stand for that anymore!
Right now I am cycling across America eating solely from dumpsters and hosting Food Waste Fiascos in major cities in an effort to drastically reduce food waste in America. 1 in 7 American’s don’t have the food they need yet we are throw away enough food to feed every hungry American five times over! My solution is real simple. Grocery stores need to stop dumping and start donating! It truly is a no brainer. Stores that donate are protected from lawsuits by the Good Samaritan Food Act, they get tax write offs which means it’s profitable to donate, they spend less on dumpster fees, and most importantly they are doing what is right for their community! Thousands of stores are already donating to non-profits and food banks across America but it is a very small fraction of what could be done. The most common excuse for not donating is that they fear liability but according to a University of Arkansas study not a single lawsuit has ever been made against a grocery store that has donated food to a food rescue program. So these stores are either highly misinformed or just plain don’t care about people and the planet. However I know humans with hearts run these stores and we can get them to change for the better! It’s up to us to hold them accountable to treat the environment and our hungry Americans with the respect they deserve.
I‘m calling for a citizen patrol to call out wasteful grocery stores! Simply go to dumpsters with your smart phone and take a picture or video if you find a lot of food. Upload the media and tweet, Facebook, or gram it at the wasteful company with #DonateNotDump. Let them know we are not ok with them wasting precious food. Food is life and life is too good to be thrown into a dumpster!
I am hosting eight Food Waste Fiascos across America to show the country just how much perfectly good food is going to waste and I’ve got the media on my side. So far I’ve done over 20 news stories on Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS, as well as newspapers such as USA Today and Detroit Free Press, some of which have been picked up nationwide. Check out what we did in Madison, Chicago, and Detroit so far and see the tour schedule below. If you are in any of the cities coming up on my tour please get involved!
Update: I’ve added photos and little stories for each city that I hosted a Food Waste Fiasco in.
Madison, Wisconsin – August 13th- James Madison Park
The first food waste fiasco was a huge success in terms of food waste awareness but a massive failure in terms of how Madison grocery stores are handling their excess food. In two days of casual dumpster diving around Madison my friend Dane Gottschall and I found more food than we could transport in a full size SUV. What you see is a tiny fraction of what we found but is a good sampling of the variety of perfectly good food that these stores are tossing out. Keep in mind this is just one days worth of waste for a fraction of the stores in Madison. This happens every single day in Madison and most cities around the country. What you see came from the dumpsters of Whole Foods, Big Lots, Sam’s Club, Aldi, Brennan’s Market, Madison Sourdough, Subway, and Dunkin’ Donuts. We were joined by reporters from around the city to help us get the word out about food waste. Madison’s ABC, CBS, Fox and The Capital Times reported to help get the word out about food waste and the media continued on afterwards with close to 20 stories in Wisconsin. We ended up giving away almost all the food too, feeding dozens of people in Madison!
Chicago, Illinois – August 19th – Lincoln Park
After a week of dumpster diving across Wisconsin I was pretty certain that I wouldn’t find a state that was more wasteful. My expectations held true in Chicago but the waste there was equally appalling. In Chicago I had less time to put together this display and squeezed in stories with Fox, ABC, and WCIU while trying to fill up two cars full of food. The first morning I went out I had troubles finding food because every dumpster was emptied just hours earlier. But once the afternoon rolled around I managed to pick up almost everything you see here in just two dumpsters. Garden Fresh and Walgreens had enough perfectly good food in their dumpsters to feed in excess of 250 families for an entire weekend. I colleced 104 still cold pizzas with a suggested sell by date of summer 2015. I assume they had been thrown away due to stocking issues. The incredible thing about Garden Fresh is their dumpsters were completely empty when I visited them at 9 AM and when I returned at 6 PM they had two entire dumpsters full and most of it was healthy fresh produce. We set up in Lincoln Park and had a great turn out of friends and family plus dozens of passerby’s stopping by to see what the heck we were doing. While in Chicago I spent time in Englewood, the poorest neighborhood in town, and learned that most of the people on the block I was visiting go to bed hungry almost every night. When I explained to them what I find in dumpsters they just couldn’t wrap their heads around it. So I took them out diving in the northern suburbs and we filled their jeep with over $2,500 worth of food in under two hours (not pictured). This food was from Whole Foods, Garden Fresh, Trader Joe’s, and Antons Fruit Ranch.
Detroit, Michigan – August 31st – Campus Martius Park
Empty dumpsters haunted my sleep and upon awakening I stressed that I may not find food for tonight’s Food Waste Fiasco. I had little knowledge of the city, no friends in town, and just a few hours of Detroit dumpster diving experience from the night before but the press knew the plans and the word was out. 5:00 there would be a Food Waste Fiasco at Campus Martius Park. I had nine hours to collect a bounty of food and get it to the busy park in downtown Detroit. I was nervous mostly because morning diving can be a battle with the garbage man. Whoever arrives first gets the bounty. At 7:00 my Facebook acquaintances Julie and Seth picked me up at in their eight seat SUV. They didn’t know what to expect. I had a good feeling about Aldi, because I’ve never found an Aldi that wasn’t full of food, so that’s where we headed to first. But on the way we saw a Save-A-Lot and decided to take a peak. Jackpot! 20 minutes later we were pulling away with half the car full of fruits, veggies, crackers, bread, and pastries. Next stop, Aldi. Jackpot! When we pulled out of there it was 8:00 and we were having troubles fitting all the bread, apples, oranges, grapes, carrots, and peppers into the car. We discussed going back to their house an hour away to get a trailer but decided to head to the Trader Joe’s down the street first. A whim told me to stop at the CVS on the way though. The dumpster was locked but I could pear inside and see what looked like garbage bags full of packaged food. Seth held the lid open and I squeezed in. Ten minutes later we had pulled out about eight bags of cereal, granola bars, cookies, crackers, and candy all in immaculate packaging most of it not even past its suggested sell by date. We managed to pile it all in somehow. We had a few nooks and crannies left so we headed to the Trader Joe’s. The dumpster wasn’t full but we pulled out a few boxes of produce, couscous, and some salmon to name a few things plus almond butter, my all time favorite. It was now 9:00 AM, just two hours after they arrived at my house and we had barely an inch of space left in the car. My worries of course had been completely unnecessary. Coast-to-Coast, America’s dumpsters are full of perfectly good food. We pulled into a parking lot to consolidate everything into bins (from the trash) and pull out any spoiled food. This freed up some space and with a car full of about $2,500 worth of food we set out for more. The Detroit Free Press met up with us to do a story and after that we headed down to the park to get set up. Again I was nervous because it turned out the park was packed for Jazz Fest. Whoopsy! I read my rights to peacefully demonstrate in public and was assured I had the right to be there. We exposed food waste to over 1,000 people that evening and had crowds photographing our display all evening. Shocked faces were aplenty but even more I saw inspiration light up in people’s eyes. They were excited to see us in action and went home with hope and knowledge. And guess what? Almost every bit of food you see above was taken home by the passerby’s, all of them knowing it was from a dumpster. Proof that it was perfectly good food? I’d say so. Today’s Food Waste Fiasco was covered by The Detroit Free Press, CBS, USA Today, Discovery, and I did stories with four other media outlets while in Michigan. You can see them all here. Momentum is picking up nationally. Food waste is going to take a beating.
Cleveland, Ohio – September 5th- Cleveland Public Square
The Cleveland Food Waste Fiasco was hosted by Budget Dumpster! I arrived in Cleveland the night before the fiasco and got right to work them. It was a hot night and the dumpsters were full of food but much of it was a bit spoiled from the ninety degree day. The city was also plagued by locked dumpsters and trash compactors so it was hard to access the wasted food even though it was all out there. Every Aldi we went to was full of food though and I pulled out some of the best stuff. I found so many bananas between all of the stores I could have fed all of the worlds Gorillas! The day of the fiasco we went out diving again and were joined by the local ABC channel, Cleveland.com, The Cleveland Scene, and a gaggle of girls from Budget Dumpster. It felt like I was leading a class field trip. I had a reporter from the LA Times with me both days as well. Again it was a roasting day which made the whole experience more challenging but we made it through that no problem. Mid afternoon I spent some time down at the lake freshening up and eating fruit and then we headed downtown for the Fiasco. We set things up pretty quickly and we turned out to be in a park full of people who wanted to eat this food so pretty much right after we set it up we opened it up for people to take. Within 15 minutes 80% of it was gone! We raised awareness and fed a bunch of people in need. Talk about a success! Tell your grocery store to #DonateNotDump!
Washington, D.C. – September 16th- The National Mall
The morning before the fiasco in DC I had no transportation to go dumpster diving and no place to sleep at night. I wasn’t worried though because everything always works out. A few hours before arriving in DC I got a message from someone who would host me and another message from someone would take me out diving with their Subaru! A crew of us went out and loaded up on dumpster food the night before the event. CVS, Trader Joe’s, and Panera made up the bulk of our find. The energy was so high at the fiasco and my heart was just bursting with excitement the entire event. Fox had me in studio, came to the dumpsters with me and covered the event live and we got coverage from a few other local news channels and newspapers. So many beautiful people came out and once again we were able to give all of the food away!
Lancaster, Pennsylvania – September 20th- Central Market
I arrived in Lancaster at 6:00 PM and had a crew of friends excited and ready to hit the dumpsters. They’d been planning for my arrival for a few weeks and the media was there waiting too. After just a bit of relaxing we hit the dumpsters and the first one was a true fiasco, full of so much perfectly good food. It was incredible and my hurt sunk when I found bags of still cold wild caught crabs and even a Lobster that seemed to have been alive just moments earlier. We had two cars out diving so we were able to collect a ton of food in just four hours. We hosted this fiasco in the morning at the market and we crowds mulling around the food the entire time. We planned on waiting until noon to give all the food away but so many people were waiting by 11:00 that we opened it up an hour early. Within fifteen minutes about 75% of the food was taken and again almost every piece of food was taken. Another successful fiasco!
Hosted by Gwendolyn Mccomsey and Catherine Rivera. Photo courtesy of Michelle Johnsen Photography
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – September 22nd- Rittenhouse Square
One night, 4 hours in a new city, and I casually collected all of this. I’m starting to think this is happening every day in every city across America.
New York City, New York – September 30th – Union Square
And finally I rolled into New York City where I was greeted by the people behind Freegan.info. In one night of walking around the streets of Manhattan we scrounged together this fiasco. We blew the people of Union Square away.
Burlington, Vermont – October 14th- University of Vermont
On my way back to San Diego I stopped into Burlington, Vermont. It’s one of the most environmentally friendly cities in America so I was worried that I might not be able to put on a fiasco. I was absolutely wrong. I put together this display with no issues at all. Much of it was at least in compost bins, but it was far too good of food to be composted yet.