Ripe produce being thrown away

Wasted food irks me, a lot.  Not just because I enjoy eating and am equally tight about spending money, but because it’s just downright wasteful on so many levels.  From time to grow, fuel to harvest and transport to market, merchandising and selling at the store, when food is thrown out it costs a lot of people in a supply chain a lot of money.  A recent late night trip opened my eyes to what I’ve only heard about and seen on TV.

Last week I made a late-night trip to Wal-Mart, the super-mega store you either love or hate.  I went to pick-up oranges at about 11:15 so the next morning I could enjoy some fresh orange juice. Why Wal-Mart?  Because it’s close and right now the prices are very cheap for Valencia oranges.  My local grocery store a half mile further down the road only has navel oranges, which I’m not a fan of.  I also try my best to only go there late at night to avoid the crowds.

Being in a nicer part of town, this Wal-Mart is very clean and the produce department usually very well stocked.  While I don’t buy much there, I have taken notice to some of their produce prices and will stop in, as mentioned before, oranges are particularly cheap.   Upon entering the produce section I saw a worker with a shopping cart, he was fondling peaches and every fourth or fifth one he’d put in the cart, which already had mango, tomatoes and corn in it.   The photo above was shot on my iPhone and originally posted to my Instagram account (@mikepanic) which then posts here.

I asked him if this was produce being tossed, his reply was roughly, “Yup, don’t know why either, it’s all still perfectly good. They sent me down here and told me that anything that’s ripe has to go though.”  My reply was complaining about how much that sucks, how I don’t care what it looks like since I juice most of it it was such a shame.  There must have been 30 mango in his cart, nearly $40 worth, thrown out for being ripe.

The whole time I was checking out I was disturbed by this, I wish at the time I would have spoken to a manager.  10 minutes earlier those ripe mango could have been bought by me, now they’re heading for trash cans.

Earlier this year the Food Network did a short series called The Big Waste.  They show celebrity chefs making really amazing dinners out of “throw away” food, but also tackle some of the other problems.  One major problem, these restaurants and grocery stores have to pay to get this trash hauled.  It then sits in land fills, usually in plastic bags, so it can’t even decompose properly.  Curious about some of their policy regarding food and when it should be thrown out, read this.

What’s most terrible? Wal-Mart is actively promoting their goal of zero waste, by reducing, reusing and recycling.  More annoying is that they also promote hunger & nutrition  in an attempt to make a better world and life for everyone from farmers to families.

While I was researching all of this the other night, I got irritated and wanted to go dumpster dive.  I wanted to rescue those mango!  Sure, it may sound gross, but the reality is most of that food is put into clean garbage bags before being tossed into the dumpster, and items like mango have a natural shell to protect the flesh inside.

Around 1:30am I got in my car and drove back, behind Wal-Mart and towards their dumpsters.  What I saw was unbelievable.  A half dozen large blue dumpster marked HUMAN FOOD / NOT FOR CONSUMPTION, and they were padlocked.  Now, I get the fact that Wal-Mart doesn’t want people eating spoiled food and rotten meat, that’s a lawsuit.  But the fact that they have dumpsters just for this purpose of food disposal is sad.  It’s fairly common knowledge that most grocery stores operate on about a 3% profit margin, that’s not a lot, considering most retailers operate on 50-100%.

My next question was, why isn’t this food being donated?  There are plenty of places who will gladly take it and put it to use in my community for those in need.  Well, they are, kind of.  This article showcases the money and food they donate, but they don’t specify the sources.  To me, that’s a problem.  If they are working deals with their suppliers to get discounted or free food to just pass along as donations, that doesn’t help reduce the waste of food that’s simply being tossed.

There are some things we can do as consumers to help reduce the amount of food that’s going to waste, in addition to writing to these companies and asking them to help food banks.  The EPA has a pretty much end all / be all list of how to do Food Donations with a goal of Feed People Not Landfills.  Beyond that, we as consumers need to stop being so picky about the appearance of our food.  I’ve bought hail damaged peaches in the past at an 80% discount because they had hail damage.  They tasted fine!  One local produce supplier I frequent often occasionally sells ripe bananas, that is to say, they have a few spots on them, in 5 pound bunches for $1.00.  Even if you don’t enjoy eating them that ripe, or can’t figure out what to do with 5 pounds of them, they are perfect to freeze at that point and add to smoothies or use for baking purposes.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s not just the food that’s going to waste, or me being a cheap-ass, there’s a far greater impact.  People are still hungry, diesel is being consumed to grow, harvest and transport this food, land fills nationwide are already full and it’s bad business to throw money away when it could be used, if for no other justifiable reason, a tax write-off when donated.  Another great resource to educate yourself is Wasted Food.