I’ve never come home to find my house robbed before, but I can imagine the feeling. Like being punched in the gut – dismay and shock. Disbelief.
This feeling of anguish was how I felt tonight, as I opened garbage bag after bag, brimming with food. I felt even more disgusted than normal.
I arrive by bike, to a pile bigger than average. It was going to be a project to go through all of them – Saturday night is the only night garbage isn’t collected in New York City, so Sunday is somewhat of a free-for-all for waste. The first bag I open is full of tortilla chips – nothing else. Just all natural, organic tortilla chips ($6.49 per bag), recklessly slit up the front with an exacto knife to discourage salvaging.
The next bag – full of organic pasta sauce that sells regularly for $10.99 per jar. The bag is full of jars – one has broken, leaving no-meat, ‘true Italian’ bolognese to spill out all over the others. I wipe them off on the garbage bag.
And so it goes, as carefully untie knot after knot.
Canned asparagus ($4.99 each)
Canned pumpkin ($3.79 each)
Canned beans ($2.49 each)
Thai soup mixes ($3.49 each)
Ready made vegan udon noodle salad
Ready made vegan pesto pasta
Vegan burritos ($4.99 each)
Chinese Lo mein noodles
Chinese buckwheat noodles
Thai soup base ($3.99 each)
Soysauce ($1.49 each)
Kids’ squeezable smoothies
Pine nuts ($17.99 each)
Mayo (3.99 each)
Soy no-nut butter ($5.99 each)
I can’t take it all home. Some is in such huge quantities that I nearly gasp out loud, my stomach aching with the shock and dismay. Of course, I’ve seen this before – every time I head out for food, but the feeling never leaves. “There are starving children in Africa” I silently scold – directed at all of humanity. How have we let arbitrary “sell-by” dates lead to such disgusting amounts of waste?
If you’re interested in the matter, look it up. In the US, sell-by dates aren’t even legally required by federal law for most products (state laws vary), and are often the prerogative of the producer. After all, the more that’s thrown out, the more they make. (How grocery stores accept this, I don’t understand. There was easily $1000 worth of food in the trash tonight).
- “Except for infant formula, product dating is not generally required by Federal regulations'”
- “Except for “use-by” dates, product dates don’t always refer to home storage and use after purchase. “Use-by” dates usually refer to best quality and are not safety dates.”
For more information about food safety laws in the US, click here.
It’s sick. I’m disgusted. As I open a bag full of $17.99 per package pine nuts and fifty cans of organic pumpkin, I can’t help but think of people I’ve met and seen around the world, desperately begging for food. Eating it out of the dirt. I don’t want to get all cliché, but this is real. At exactly this moment, people have begging pans set out, hoping to literally collect grains of rice.
And yet, here we have so much food that we’re all fat and we’re all picky. A small brown mark on a banana and our hands pass it by at our local air-conditioned organic grocer – the spotlighting ensuring that each tropical fruit from a far-away place gleams with temptation . And if our organic vegan raw all-natural pomegranate juice is approaching the sell-by date – Ew. Yuck. (I found a bag full of emptied glass bottles of exactly this in the garbage tonight).
Can we really blame the grocery stores? Who do we blame? Is it our over-the-top preferences? Profit seeking corporations? Ignorance?
I think all these things as I dig out more thai soups (great for lunches), all perfectly clean and in good condition – packed in so many plastic packages that they will never go bad. It’s too easy. A guy about my age stops when he sees the mountain I’m building on the sidewalk. I offer that he takes as much as he likes. He fills the pockets of his jacket with pasta sauce, tucks a soy no-nut butter into his jeans, and cradles bags of tortilla chips with his arms. “I’m Will,” he says, shaking my hand. As he fills his pockets, all he can say is “wow” and “this is crazy” and “is it always like this?”
Yeah, I say. It is crazy.