By Alex Owens
San Diego activist wants America to stop wasting food
If you’re a dumpster diver, Downtown could either be a food paradise or leave you down in the dumps.
So says San Diego-based activist Rob Greenfield, who has spent the last two summers biking across America trying to live as much as he can off the goodies he finds in dumpsters.
“I haven’t personally dived in the dumpsters Downtown, but it’s an area with a lot of people so I’m sure the dumpsters at the restaurants and grocery stores are full of food,” he said.
Ironically, the area also has a lot of homeless people who would probably be happy with the food that’s been thrown out.
“Problem is, in areas where there are high homeless populations, the grocery stores tend to lock their dumpsters. It’s actually easier to dumpster dive in higher income areas,” Greenfield said.
Greenfield thinks it’s a waste of food and wants to change things with a social media campaign he calls #DonateNotDump. He hopes the campaign will inspire grocery stores to donate their excess food to nonprofits to rather than throw it away.
To that end, he held an event called the Food Waste Fiasco at Balboa Park on Nov. 23 where he displayed all the food he collected in three days of dumpster diving in San Diego.
“Businesses that fear potential liability should know they are protected by the Good Samaritan Act,” he said. “Not a single place has ever been sued because of food they donated to a food bank. I’m sure there are lots of food banks Downtown that are willing to come pick up the food.”
Grocery stores and restaurants aren’t the only people who may be wasting food that could be used to feed hungry people.
“All over San Diego, there are lemon trees, persimmons, and oranges being grown, but not always harvested,” he said. “Why not knock on the door and ask if you can take the fruit for them?”
It’s not just produce that gets tossed away, according to Greenfield, who said it’s common to see unopened boxes of oatmeal, rice or bread in the dumpsters he dives into.
“I prefer eating healthy and vegan, but you can eat badly if you want,” he said. “There’s pizza, still-frozen ice cream and candy.”
Thrifty-minded people might think a dumpster dive sounds like a great way to save cash, but Greenfield said that’s not the point.
“If there is good food, it should be donated, not thrown away,” he said. “Take apples. I just grab them out of dumpsters. They aren’t bad. The grocery stories cull the apples that aren’t perfect and throw them into the dumpster.”
Greenfield takes the apples out as is, not even bothering to wash them off.
“I want to conserve water too,” he said.
Fruits and vegetables are great, but Greenfield is not one to turn down more adult treats as well.
“I found a 12-pack of Samuel Adams once, a sampler bottle of Knob Creek bourbon and a bottle of tequila,” he said. “If there is one bottle in the 12-pack that’s broken, the whole thing gets thrown out. Sometimes you find 5-pound unopened bags of coffee as well.”
Greenfield said America is the best place to dumpster dive, but that’s a dubious honor.
“Other places around the world throw out less food or at least compost it,” he said. “There are dumpster diving scenes in Germany, France, the Netherlands, but nothing like here.”
Greenfield said he has seen improvement of the food waste problem, but there’s more to be done.
“I do think we will catch up to Europe in terms of preventing food waste some time in the next year,” he said. “I really want to put every dumpster diver in America out of business. Maybe they wouldn’t eat as much, but all the food banks would be full.”
For more information on Greenfield, visit his website, robgreenfield.tv. You can also join in his campaign by searching the hashtag #DonateNotDump on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Follow Greenfield’s efforts on Twitter, @RobJGreenfield.
—Alex Owens is a San Diego-based freelance writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.