It’s 20 ’til midnight, and Media Milwaukee is out shopping for food. The stores are closed, but there’s still plenty of produce to sort through. Whole sacks of clementines tossed out because one of them is a little banged up. A bag of cereal disposed of because the box has a dent in it. Black and blueberries pitched because just some of them are a little too black-and-blue. Loaves of bread cast off because their expiration date is nigh, and the new shipment is in. Most of these items are perfectly edible and even delicious.
Many of you may be wondering why in the world a journalist would be crawling into a dumpster to rescue some produce. It is all in the pursuit of knowledge. As a planet and especially as a nation, it appears we are being too superfluous with our food supply. A journalist’s job is to be a medium between raw information, and the people who need to hear it most. Studies and statistics on food waste are becoming more available, but ultimately the studies will ever be exact.
The National Resource Defense Council reported that, in 2012, up to 40 percent of food was wasted nationally. That’s all from dirt to dish. They also reported that one in seven truckloads of perishable foods get thrown out at the retail level. Yet even with food available, they report one in six people lack food security in the United States. Politics, pride and business aside, there are hungry people in this country and a food supply going to waste.
This was immediately apparent when approaching my favorite diving site on Capitol Drive in Milwaukee. A lone head appeared behind the dumpster as my friend and I pulled up. I was nervous but figured he was after the same thing I was. I stepped out of the vehicle, smiled wide and gave him wave. He waved back.
“Something wrong?” asked the man.
“No, just hungry. Anything good tonight?” I replied.
The man said there was nothing for him tonight, but that I might be able to find something myself. He disappeared into the darkness as I hopped into the great green dumpster.
Sorting through the store’s supposedly spoiled surplus, I soon found what I needed for the episode. I gleaned some zucchini, hamburger buns, celery, and a couple bell peppers to make a soup. There was much more to be had though. Fresh cantaloupes with no signs of foul play lay in fair numbers. Several bags of nectarines appeared perfectly fine, save for a blemish on one or two. A couple packages of chicken thighs tossed as they had come of age. I declined to take them home with me. This was all from one night’s search, and only at one grocery store. The gravity of our nation’s food waste was really starting to hit me.
Consider: The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service Wisconsin Field Office (NASSW) reported that 195,460,000 pounds of carrots were produced last year in Wisconsin. Assuming the 40 percent of those carrots that will be wasted weren’t, each person in Wisconsin could have 13.5 pounds of carrots each year. That doesn’t seem like a lot but if you only gave them to the one in six people who are hungry, each could receive 81.3 pounds of carrots a year. Approximately, a food insecure person could make a 1.6-gallon pot of carrot soup a month from that waste. That’s only the carrots in the garbage…
That is a completely rough estimate, but practically all the information surrounding food waste is statistical by nature. Trying to pin an exact number on this phenomenon would be like measuring the drops of water in Lake Michigan. In the case of this show, statistics just aren’t enough. Ocular proof is necessary in order to truly see the amount of wasted food and its potential.
In the past efforts for this project, I had scavenged three nights in a row for the sake of the show. I soon found that not only could I make the gourmet dishes, but also I could live off of the extras if I wanted to. I was able to take home what seemed like three times the amount of produce I would normally buy for myself. Since I couldn’t possibly eat everything in time, I decided to compost what was left. This allowed the fated flora to give life to another being, instead of festering with used diapers and Styrofoam boxes at the local dump. At the same time, I wondered how many truly hungry people that could have fed.
I have taken it upon myself to bring those foods out of the trashcan and into the kitchen. This show’s existence is a testament to our nation’s ineffective use of the food supply. There is potential in that produce. There are vitamins and nutrients left unused in those clementines. There are a couple weeks of breakfast left in those cantaloupes. There are bursts of flavor left in those peppers. Dumpster Delights is here to show you the potential of food deemed done for.
I might also enjoy cooking too, but that’s beside the point…
…Lets go get wasted.
-Print story and hosting by Geoff Marshall. Videography by Montel Allen.