Earlier this week, environmental activist Rob Greenfield set up a display of perfectly fresh food in the middle of Union Square Park. If you were walking by, you may have seen people huddled around the tempting selection, waiting until the moment in which viewers were welcomed to take whatever they wanted from the lot. So what’s the catch? Well, all of this food came from one man who spent four hours foraging the dumpsters of New York City. Still hungry?
Why would anyone make a public display of food found in the garbage? Because 1 in 7 Americans face food insecurity, which according to the USDA is defined as a household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food. Somehow, 40 percent of the food produced in the U.S. never makes it to our plates. A contributing factor is that the business models of grocery stores and large retail chains have a 10% margin of what they can throw away, and often overstock their stores and throw away the extra than have their shelves appear too empty. Food products past their sell-by date, many of which remain fresh and edible, are also disposed instead of donated to food pantries and not-for-profits.
Greenfield brings this issue to the table in a creative and impactful way. Over the last seven weeks he has ridden his bike 1,000 miles from Madison, Wisconsin to New York City, setting up eight public demonstrations known as “Food Waste Fiascos” made of the perfectly fresh food he finds in dumpsters. What he finds is amazing: sealed products that still have a month left before the expiration date, fresh, organic produce, even expensive specialty foods such as kale granola and artisanal bread. Greenfield spends around four hours in each city that he visits, sifting through dumpsters alongside grocery stores and restaurants. At the end of the day he displays what he finds in a public space.
Initially, Greenfield did not have envision that the public would want to take the food he collected. In a video interview with the Huffington Post, he says he was pleasantly surprised when people began taking the items on display home, eliminating the stigma of eating food that for one reason or another, was declared undesirable. What Greenfield ultimately envisions is not the widespread public practice of dumpster diving, but rather a culture of accountability among supermarkets, where unused food is donated to non-for-profits that fight food insecurity, instead of thrown away. He asks us to inquire the managers of our local supermarkets and restaurants about where their food goes, and use the hashtag #DonateNotDump to push businesses to think more mindfully about the destination of food that is deemed “undesirable.”
Know of any other amazing food initiatives happening in NYC? Share with Anna Brown at her Twitter handle @brooklynbonanza!