For two nights, a handful of food activists scoured the trash bins of roughly a dozen Raleigh retail stores – Food Lion, CVS, Aldi, Rite Aid – pulling out anything edible they could salvage. In about 10 hours of scavenging, they came up with an estimated $2,000 in groceries.
Then on Tuesday, they laid it all out on the grass at N.C. State University, making a pyramid of the collection: three bottles of Frappucino, 32 zucchinis, six boxes of Thomas’ English Muffins and a sack of potatoes – topped off with a gallon of sweet tea.
“We’re throwing away half of the food we produce,” said Rob Greenfield, who led Raleigh’s first “Food Waste Fiasco.”
The event outside Talley Student Union marked more than a dozen for Greenfield, 29, who has staged similar “Dumpster Dives” in more than a dozen cities. He invited passers-by to take any of the assembled food, from Cocoa Puffs to bananas, none of which could be accepted by local food banks because it had already been thrown in the trash.
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To activists’ thinking, the pile on the student union lawn represented a wasteful mentality that lets too much good food get tossed. Bags of oranges are discarded when one orange goes bad. Greenfield picked up a sealed six-pack of V-8 juice cans and scoffed at the Aug. 5 freshness date. “V8 will stay good for a while,” he said.
In seven counties around the Triangle, Interfaith Food Shuttle collects 6 million pounds of surplus food from retail stores each year. But with better communication between the charity and the stores, said Executive Director Dave Koch, that total could go higher.
“I don’t think we do as good a job at optimizing what we recover as we might,” Koch said. “That’s a goal.”
One volunteer helping to build the pyramid Tuesday, Lisa Johnson, has made food waste the subject of her doctoral study in horticultural science at N.C. State. Estimates suggest that produce left behind on farms runs far into the billions of pounds, she said, largely because prices go down as the growing season moves on and crops age. Farmers in her research tell her that as the months go by it becomes more economical to push excess crops into the fields rather than harvest them.
“They can disc in 8,000 to 9,000 pounds per acre,” Johnson said. “That could be 30,000 servings of healthy food.”
Greenfield’s “Food Waste Fiasco” campaign is among many the activist has led to draw attention to green living, including going a year without showering and hosting the Discovery Channel show “Free Ride,” in which he attempted to cross South America without money. As organizers created their pyramid, passers-by shot pictures with smartphones and remarked on how they’d held retail jobs that required mass food dumping.
Tuesday’s event tied into a larger discussion of these issues, FoodCon 2016, to be held on campus Nov. 11.
“We’re a society that has a huge amount of excess,” Greenfield said. “And there’s a huge environmental cost for that, and there’s a huge social cost.”