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Food Waste Fiasco

"We could be feeding another 10,000 people."

Rob Greenfield (standing, center)
  • Rob Greenfield (standing, center)

Rob Greenfield returned to his home in Ocean Beach about three weeks ago. He’d been on a five-month tour of the country, by bicycle, raising awareness of food waste in many grocery stores along the way. On Sunday (November 23), he was in Balboa Park providing San Diegans with an example of what he's been doing out on the road.

Organized under the hashtag #DonateNotDump (a similar group operated by a North County teen under the name Donate Don't Dump processes up to 20,000 pounds of donated food monthly), Greenfield visits dumpsters behind grocers at night in search of fresh food.

"I have to say that here in San Diego, I've actually had one of the hardest times finding food," Greenfield said of his recent scavenging, the results of which were being arranged into a display by a group of volunteers as he spoke.

Throughout the summer, Greenfield would solicit volunteer helpers with vehicles to transport his finds in whichever city he happened to be passing through. He’d set up a display in a public space and, after a few hours, begin giving the food away to anyone wanting to take it. His story was picked up by several media outlets along the way.

"When you're riding your bike across the country, people tend to think that's pretty awesome, and so they're inclined to listen to what you have to say. It's a means of creating a story, and I can then incorporate environmental and social issues into that," said Greenfield. "I focus on sustainability, living in a way that causes less harm to the earth and instead creates benefit. Food, water, energy, waste, transportation — these are issues every one of us deal with on a daily basis, whether we realize it or not."

He gives credit to local groups such as Donate Don't Dump and the San Diego chapter of Feeding America, which collects another 800,000 pounds of discarded food each month from grocery stores. But Greenfield says only about a third of the region's grocers work with an organization to redistribute their wasted product.

"We could be feeding another 10,000 people," Greenfield said, noting that San Diego has one of the largest homeless populations in the country.

Greenfield went on to argue against skeptics' concern that donating food could open grocers up to lawsuits if an expired product sickens a recipient.

"The infrastructure to make this work is there — the Good Samaritan Food Act [signed into law in 1996] protects grocers from liability should someone get sick from the food. A University of Arkansas study shows that not a single grocery store has ever been sued after donating food to a nonprofit," Greenfield said. "There are people ready to pick the food up and distribute it right now — really, everything's in place."

Greenfield and others are spreading the word about what he's dubbed the "Food Waste Fiasco"; they are encouraging supporters to contact grocers using the #DonateNotDump hashtag and request that they participate (or expand participation) in cooperation with food-distribution nonprofits.

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We at the Church of Nazarene in Mid City collect food from several stores twice a week and distribute it at our three times a week distributions.

We needed a refrigerated truck to get into the program and the expense of the truck is paid for by the church.

This program is not easy to coordinate but with the help of volunteers we've been able to give out thousands of tons of food over the last five or six years.

We also get food from the San Diego Food Bank and the Feed America program.

Much food is wasted because the business (grocery, restaurant) can be held liable if it donates the food and someone gets ill. They have to CYA or the very people who would be helped are the ones who would sue.

This statement in the article says otherwise: "...the Good Samaritan Food Act [signed into law in 1996] protects grocers from liability should someone get sick from the food."

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