This Wasted Food Dude!

Yesterday marked the beginning of a new…thing–a food waste advice column! And so I give you the first installment of Dear Wasted Food Dude.

The column will run on BioCycle‘s website and in BioCycle Food Recycling News, their fledgling e-bulletin that all “wasted foodies” should sign up for pronto! I will also crosspost the columns here on Wasted Food.

I’ve been asked many questions on wasted food in many settings. I thought it was time to answer some in a more lasting format. With Judge John Hodgman as my North Star, I hope to pair a bit of serious advice with a humble brand of humor.

One thing any advice column needs inquiries. That means you need to write in with any food-waste-related question/issue/conundrum. I’m not picky–the query can be big or small, true or false, named or anonymous. Send your stuff to wastedfood {at} gmail. Otherwise, I’ll be forced to do some creative inventing that may or may not include Seinfeld scenarios. Such as…

Dear Wasted Food Dude, Hypothetical situation for you: I’m at a nice social gathering at my future in-laws and, being a gentleman, I volunteer to clear some dishes. As I go to scrape the plates into the trash, I notice an almost untouched éclair right there in the can. Now, this particular pastry has had one tiny bite taken out of it. But it sits atop the can, resting on a magazine and still on its doily. My curiosity piqued, I pick up said éclair and take a bite from the untouched end. Of course, just as I do, my fiancée’s mother enters the room to witness the act. She looks at me horrified, as if I had just killed her cat. Am I a monster? Did I deserve that look? And was what I did really so wrong?Sincerely,
George C., New York, NY

I feel for you, George. You were curious. But you know what they say about curiosity? That’s right—it killed the cat. And you, my friend, are a cat-killing monster! Just kidding. It’s just that what you did was outside our culture’s accepted norms. Unfortunately, throwing away perfectly good food is quite common and individuals recovering discarded food is deemed odd. Most food recovery is done before food hits the trash and on, ahem, a slightly larger scale.

What you did was act out of curiosity and common sense—given how clean and edible that pastry appeared. And I can’t blame you for that. Yet, polite society and your fiancée’s mom will continue to glare at you if you take food from the trash, regardless of its state. It’s just one of those things. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld summed it up well, “Was it in the trash? Then it was trash.”

Still, you’re not alone. Many folks engage in various forms of “dumpster diving.” Some even self-identifiy as freegans. For a variety of motivations—activism, money-saving, etc.— they all pull edible food from the trash. It’s a mix of self-interest and illumination of our culture’s waste. Recovering food before it hits the landfill occupies a higher place in the range of food waste-preventing actions, because that food can then be shared with those in need. And that is where I’d ask you to consider whether the impulse behind your microact might be better applied to an activity like volunteering with a local food recovery organization.

Regardless, if you want to avoid odd looks and potential relationship squabbles, maybe avoid dumpster diving in your future mother-in-law’s house. But what you did was harmless and certainly not wrong. By the way, how’d the éclair taste?

Watch Your Waste,

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