The Produce Project

In researching wasted food, I’ve spoken with supermarket spokespeople and executives who cling to the party line: ‘We really don’t waste much.’ Yet, I’ve also seen stores donate shopping carts full of unsellable but edible food while on food recovery runs. Imagine what happens at stores without established donation programs.

To move past grocery stores’ rhetoric on the amount of food they throw away, I decided to get a first-hand look. I would work in a supermarket produce department.

In addition to learning just how much product is squandered, I wanted to understand why an industry with minute profit margins and advanced software systems still throws out tons of food each year.

Calling it “The Produce Project” makes it sound a bit more scientific or glamorous than it was. In reality, I was working an entry level job at a large chain. Even still, it was a bit of an adventure and I learned something new every day. Check back tomorrow, when I’ll start detailing my experiences.

But first, just a few quick notes on my methods. I’m writing in the past tense because I’m no longer in the employ of this supermarket that will remain nameless. In total, I worked there for about three months. While there, I didn’t approach work as a journalist digging dirt, but as a produce associate washing it from lettuce. I worked diligently–as my one-month review attested–observed plenty and jotted notes on break or after work. In between, I restocked a lot of bananas.

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4 Comments

  1. Posted March 19, 2007 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    jon,

    this ‘project’ sounds interesting and should produce compelling byproducts for your budding book. i want the 411 on the produce wasted. it sounds like a recipe for disaster. there’s so much dirt here that it’ll surely end up in the pages of your book, but i’ll eat it up anyway.

    dance

  2. Jonathan
    Posted March 19, 2007 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    I hope you’re hungry, Gabriel. I’ve posted a recap of the first day and we’ll keep chugging from there.

    Tell all your Web friends,

    JB

  3. Roch
    Posted February 17, 2008 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    Hey there I currently work in a produce department in a A&P grocery store and I can’t seem to understand why they wouldn’t donate some of the food they throw out, the store recently through out 10 full cases of bananas because they had freckles on them, they weren’t even ripe enough to make bread, I approached my manager to see if I could take them and he disapproved giving a stupid line of “it’s corporate policy but if it was mine you could take them”. It’s unbelievable the amount of food they throw out, being a chef it breaks my heart to see it. That day the store was donating/collecting proceeds to help students with there lunches I told the manager that it was hypocritical with all the food they throw out. I’m positive that any food bank would be happy to receive 10 cases of bananas for example. Anyway I’m just about ready to quit this job, I don’t need it anyway,I’m only doing it to kill time and sometimes wish I’d never looked behind the curtain!

  4. Jonathan
    Posted February 18, 2008 at 12:12 am | Permalink

    Hey Roch,
    Thanks for sharing your story. That kind of lame “corporate policy” is why I started this blog. I wonder if you could change the manager’s mind by telling him or her that their donation would be tax deductible, thus saving them money. Plus, it would cut down on the dumpster bill (although sometimes they pay a flat rate, instead of by weight).

    Yep, hypocrisy runs pretty deep in the U.S. food chain. Before you quit, see if you can get them to start a small donation program. If you found a local charity that’d come pick up food, I bet you can sway your manager. It sounds like he or she has at least somewhat of a conscience.

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