SNAP to it Food Stamp Challenge–Day 27

By Sharron R. Blezard, June 27, 2010

Dumpster Diving on the Sabbath?

Today I went dumpster diving. Before you recoil in horror, hear me out. I live in an apartment complex with a fairly large population of transient young adults, and I am constantly amazed at what people leave behind. Since I moved here almost four months ago, I have seen mattresses, couches, tables, chairs, book shelves, linens, kitchen goods–you name it, I’ve probably seen it. True, a few of the things are in pretty rough shape, but most items could easily have another life and a happy home.

This was my third foray into dumpster diving. The first time I nabbed a plastic recycling tub. The second time I scored a small computer desk for my daughter. Today, I hit pay dirt! I found a nice lamp for my living room and a Danish shelving unit for my daughter’s room that needs a little work but that will be quite nice when repaired. My friend and neighbor found an almost identical lamp for her daughter’s room and an extra wide overstuffed chair in great condition from a manufacturer of fine furniture. There was much more inside of the two side-by-side dumpsters, but neither one of us was willing to get a ladder and venture any deeper into the odoriferous mire. We were both, however, delighted to save four items from the landfill, and to repurpose for free what would have cost $800-900 if purchased new.

There’s an entire culture built around dumpster diving, curbside junk cruising, and repurposing other folks’ cast offs. Why throw out perfectly good items? Why not share our extra stuff? Unfortunately, we are accustomed to life in a throw-away society, and it’s simply poor stewardship to not make good use of our resources. In addition to “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle,” we might also consider saying “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

Food waste is a related issue of even more preposterous proportions. Several sources I checked claim that the United States throws away half its food. An anthropologist at the University of Arizona, Timothy Jones, found that the average U.S. household throws out 14% of food purchases. Of that amount 15% is unopened product still within its expiration date. Jones believes that the average family of four discards $590 in meat, fruits, vegetables, and grain products. That means nationwide we discard up to $43 billion or 29 million tons in household food waste each year. To make it even more personal, that means the average U.S. citizen wastes more than half a pound of food each day. Our children waste about $2 billion in taxpayer dollars through the National School Lunch Program. If you doubt that figure, go stand by the cafeteria garbage cans in your local school. Another report estimates that wasted food in the U.S. could feed more than 200 million adults each year. I’m sorry, but to me that sounds criminal.

Freegans and dumpster divers try to reclaim some of this food. Some stores make it easy, like the bakery known for putting its excess goods in a readily accessible place by the back door. Others, usually larger well-known chain and big box stores, keep their dumpsters behind locked fences and have even been known to pour bleach over the food to keep people from salvaging food. I have to admit that I have not yet been on “safari” for dumpster food, but I’ve been told there is an active freegan community in Chattanooga.

Regardless of how one feels about the freegan philosophy and dumpster diving, the fact is that we waste too much food and stuff in this country. Remember the story of Boaz and Ruth and the concept of gleaning (see Ruth 2:1-23, Leviticus 19:9-10; 23:22, and Deuteronomy 24:19-22)? Maybe we should rethink when we decide to dump that leftover broccoli in the trash. Why not keep a soup fixings container in the freezer for those random veggies, rice, and small portions of broth? Why not take home the remains of your restaurant meal? Instead of tossing your excess stuff and adding to the landfill, make it accessible to someone who could use it. It’s a question of stewardship. Hey, I wonder what Jesus would say about dumpster diving on the Sabbath?

State of the Pantry

Breakfast was a whole wheat burrito filled with peanut butter and coffee to drink. Lunch was my mom’s treat at her place. She sent me home with extra spinach salad that I’ll take for lunch tomorrow and two chocolate brownies. Supper was leftover chicken enchilada hot dish and squash, shared with my neighbor who also provided some awesome cookies. She gave me two and a half bags of dried beans, as well.

Website(s) of the Day

Click here to check out this article about food waste by Jonathan Bloom on the Culinate web site.

Click here for the story of the Secret Freegan who has gathered more than $52,000 worth of food in 20 months and distributing about 400 pounds weekly to the hungry in the Phoenix area. The waste is shocking. Thankfully, this Good Samaritan is making a difference.

Photo Credits (used through a Creative Commons License…thanks!) Special KRB and periwinklekog

About the Author

The Rev. Sharron Riessinger Blezard is an ELCA pastor currently rostered in the Lower Susquehanna Synod. She came to ordained ministry after teaching secondary and college English, working in non-profit management and public relations, and moonlighting as a freelance writer. See more posts by .

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