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from - One man's trash is another's dinner - Nov 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!
My mom sent me this link from, about "freegans," a story about people who find a different way to feast for Thanksgiving:

"They call themselves 'freegans,' a play on the words 'vegan'-- vegetarians who avoid all animal products -- and 'free.' In an ideological rejection of consumer waste, they only eat food that's been discarded. And in New York City, at least, they never go hungry.
'We find more food than we could ever possibly eat,' said Adam Weissman. Just 24 hours before the dinner party, he found a hefty stash outside a gourmet supermarket in Manhattan: bags of salad nearing the sell-by date, dozens of sandwiches, boxes of Ritz crackers, some nice looking squash and loaves of still-crisp baguettes.
Although not all freegans are vegan, they all eat for free. Weissman said that with few exceptions he has not eaten store-bought food, either at home, in a restaurant or as guest of a friend, in more than a decade.
Weissman and others say they have mixed feelings about Thanksgiving, which Weissman called 'basically a celebration of excess.'
Madeline Nelson, the host of the freegan dinner party who says she recently left a job in corporate communications at a Fortune 500 company, says she's concerned about holiday over-consumption.
'We are heading into wasting season,' said Nelson, who's serving a semi-freegan Thanksgiving dinner to her family, including her 83-year-old father.
A study suggests that freegans may have a point.
Timothy Jones, an anthropology professor at the University of Arizona, conducted a 10-year study that concluded the country wastes 40 percent to 50 percent of its food. A 1997 U.S. Department of Agriculture study put the loss at 27 percent of total U.S. food production, or 96 billion pounds of grub.
'The number one problem is that Americans have lost touch with the processes that bring it to the table and we don't notice the inefficiency."

I'm not sure I'm ready to go freegan. But today, as I look at all the food sitting around post-feast that I know I won't ever eat, I can't help but think maybe they're on to something...


Anonymous said…
Hey Beth,


I hope y'all had a Happy Thanksgiving.

DannyG said…
I've experienced this, although not by choice. Dad went through a couple of periods of extended unemployment (about 2 1/2 yrs out of a 6 yr period) and food was an iffy proposition at times. They would absoultely not consider welfare or school lunch programs. Having grown up during the depression, Dad used some of his childhood survival skills then, going out at night to go thru supermarket dumpsters for usable items. This, along with what we could bring in hunting, fishing, and gathering wild berries (I could fill 1/2 of a freezer with blackberries every summer)kept us going. I wouldn't choose it as a lifestyle, but it can be done. It also points out the distinction between what can be sold vs what can be used. Another issue is the legal climate in the US, which actively discourages stores and restraunts from donating still usable food for fear of liability.
Karen Sapio said…
I glean at a local grocer once a week. They give me the hotdogs, packaged cold cuts, etc. that are about to reach their pull date and I take it to a soup kitchen that uses it right away. I can't believe the huge amount of food that would be tossed if I, (and others around town) weren't doing this.
Anonymous said…

"Another issue is the legal climate in the US, which actively discourages stores and restaurants from disposing still usable food for fear of liability."

I worked for several years in a hospital cafeteria. Every single day, it was my job to dump food down a garbage disposal. Every day, I'd dump an entire pan of ziti, or several dozen hamburgers, or a kettle of soup, a big pan of veggies. A lot of it went from the stove to the warming ovens, was never unwrapped, never put on display... but it was now "unusable." I asked again and again for permission to do all the leg work of contacting the local Rescue Mission, getting liability release forms together, etc. I volunteered to take the food to the Mission every day myself. Again and again, I was told no. The boss said we just couldn't do that sort of thing. Then one day, a doctor complained, said that it was wasteful to throw so much food away. Within a week, my boss handed me forms, asked me to contact the Rescue Mission, and a short time later was taking credit for starting a new charitable initiative. I found it frustrating, not because she wanted the credit, but because all along it was such a simple thing to do. At any time, we could have started, there was nothing to it. She just didn't want to bother. Until there was some sort of recognition to be gained, there was nothing wrong with throwing away food while people down the street were hungry.

Even after, people in that department just didn't get it. We started donating food, sure, and that was great. Every couple of days, we delivered enough food to feed fifty or sixty people at the very least. But not all food got delivered. For valid (sometimes complicated) reasons, some food still went down the disposable even though it was fresh, hot, healthy. There was a guy who worked there named Bubba. Poor, very poorly educated. Had worked there for more than twenty years, never earning much. Sometimes when it was his job to dump the food he'd eat a chicken leg or a few french fries. Others would do the same. The boss installed a video camera next to the garbage disposal to discourage this sort of behavior. Clearly, it was better for food to be ground to liquid and flushed away through a pipe than for a loyal, sometimes hungry employee to get a few bites to eat without paying for it.
Anonymous said…
I saw this the other day on the video Blog

I wondered about this as I was sorting donated canned food on Thanskgiving morning about all the wasted food in the world. There are places to donate items but it seems the lawyers in the world and the safety advocates make good points. Good points to hungry people starts with food.
John said…
It's amazing how much food we simply throw away.

Reo Symes adds interesting thoughts to this news story:

Great. Now in addition to raccoons and the neighborhood dog, I have to worry about garbage hippies.

I recommend setting live traps, baited with an issue of ‘The Nation’ or a long essay on the WTO.
Anonymous said…
Beth, it was fun to see this article posted to your blog. I'm the person named who hosted the dinner the AP journalist attended.

I think more food than ever is being thrown out, some of it because as consumers we have been trained to think if something doesn't look absolutely perfect, it should be thrown away. As a former farm wife, I remember doing maintenance on my root cellar, culling bad apples before they spoiled the whole bunch and looking for which squash should get used first. (The one with the small spoiled spot, of course-- the rest would continue to keep.)We also find entire cases of eggs thrown out because one or 2 eggs in each dozen are cracked. Stores treat this food as if it were not food at all, as if it were worthless.

I also would say it's not the legal climate that's keeping food out of soup kitchens-- it's corporate policy. The law changed nearly 20 years ago so that donators of food that does not appear to be toxic cannot be prosecuted, even if someone gets sick from it. I've talked with a number of store managers about why they don't donate instead of tossing, and it all seems like excuses to me.
Beth Quick said…
Madeline - thanks for stopping by here and for your comments, which are right on. Peace!

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