As a kid my parents would throw me into a dumpster to look for discarded food. There were only three of us and while we were not bad off if there was anything better than cheap it was free. I would pull out bags of oranges that had not gone bad, boxes of pasta past their shelf date, and in one instance a plastic bag filled with leavened dough from the local little Caesar’s. We spent an entire day baking loaves of bread, bread sticks, and storing away what wasn’t used in the freezer.
I learned early on that food goes to waste at an unprecedented level in this country. The store we were dumpster diving at was a Harding’s grocery store in an upscale neighborhood. This store didn’t bother with a clearance section to move old product. Anyone who bought from such a section would be judged for having financial problems, instead of looked up to for being thrifty. So these things were thrown into the dumpster and written off in their books as a loss for a bonus tax break.
Before I started a 30 day social media and news fast a story popped up regarding a Fred Meyer in Portland Oregon who called the police to stop people from jumping into their dumpster at night. A dozen cops showed up and stopped a group of people from searching through the dumpster for food to salvage. I have several issues with this. Store employees were standing guard at the dumpster to make sure nobody was able to climb into it. When the crowd became too big they called the police to protect their “trash.” A dozen police officers stood guard for an hour and a half making sure nobody went into the dumpster. As a business I have to assume that whatever they had thrown away was worth more than the pay of the police officers and what their staff was paid to watch over a dumpster instead of moving and selling product in the store to make a profit. If that is the case, why wasn’t the food in that dumpster donated to a local food pantry instead of tossing it into a dumpster? There has never been a case of a business being sued for donating food to a pantry.
Before the death of Anthony Bourdain, he produced a documentary called Wasted, it wasn’t about drug abuse but how all over the world food is wasted and what we can do about it. People were interviewed about dumpster diving, food was collected to feed to pigs at farms, composed was created for farmers, the list grew as to how this Waste could be used for a greater good.
The current situation of inflation and rising food cost is going to make life difficult for those who can not afford the cost. Solutions will need to be found and whether it is growing your own food or diving into a dumpster people will need to do something.
There are two stores in my area that sell food at a discount compared to major supermarkets. The first one we found is called Cadillac Marketplace. They not only sell food but other products that have sat on store shelves so long they are throw into a tractor trailer and sold to the store at a low fixed price. Protein bars that are usually $3 I buy for $.10 and boxes of cereal sell for $1. Bags of Starbucks and Bulletproof coffee sell for $4 when they are usually $10-$15. The first time I went to this store I walked out with two banana boxes filled with food for $75. A few weeks ago the owners of this store bought a load of food that included cases of MREs (meals ready to eat) brand new and sealed shut. With Covid-19 and the lockdowns MREs have been in short supply and they regularly sell on Amazon for $120 for a single box to $300 for two depending on what you get. The individual bags appeared on the shelves and I started to fill the cart. When the owner noticed me, he said that he had a pallet in the back and he wanted to move it out to save space. I bought six boxes for $10 each.
In a nearby town called McBain there is a small Amish store called Pineview. We had heard about it from the neighbors and decided to check it out. This place ended up being twice the size we thought it was when we pulled up. The frozen food section was massive, carrying the over stock of meat and produce usually shipped to restaurants and stores. We found everything from lunch meat ham, breakfast sausage, Greek yogurt, cheese, and bacon for $1 each. It was even cheaper if you bought it by the case. The first time we went I threw a box of Cornish hens in the cart for $10. These were Tyson brand and the last time I saw them at the local Meijer they were 2 for $8. Protein bars were mix and match 10 for $1. Pasta and Rice hovered around $1. We found large containers of Bolthouse Farms eggnog for $1, it doesn’t expire until March of 2021. At the end of the trip, we filled two carts, that turned into six banana boxes filled with food, and paid $120. For the first time since buying our freezer chest it now full.
I’m not sure how the Amish do it. I don’t know why these items are offered at one store but guarded by police at another. I remember watching a show with Andrew Zimmerman about people who go dumpster diving in Seattle then take the items they collected and cook it into a meal that was handed out to the homeless via a food truck. Even though nobody was made sick, countless people were fed at no cost to anyone other than the volunteers, the city shut it down for health code violations. It would appear that good Samaritan laws do not apply to feeding the homeless.
With the amount of food that is wasted in this country, even under mandate by the state, it is safe to say that this trend will continue. The Amish and stores like the Cadillac Marketplace won’t have a hard time filling their shelves. Food will continue to go into the landfills while people go hungry unable to pay ridiculous prices. The only way I can think to counter the cost of produce is to grow your own. To expand on that idea is to have people grow enough for themselves and more for their neighbors. If people grew produce on their property it would take a burden off of the grocery stores. We have seen this happen before after the fall of the USSR. Cuba told its people to grow food where ever they could find land. If you were growing food, the land was “yours.” People didn’t starve, they ate better than they had before, and the country moved on.
Texas is currently experiencing a food shortage. The state of abundance, vast swaths of land, cattle, and of course FREEDOM, is going through something many people in our country have never seen before. Store shelves are bear and with the power grid down the food supply chain us unable to move. Everything is literally frozen in place. This is why we should not only be filling pantries with food that have a long shelf life, but learning to preserve food that we grow. Fresh is best but food, regardless of the quality, is better than starving.
I read a story about a man who filled his bathtub during the blackout and woke up the next morning to find all of his drinking water frozen into a block of ice. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know how people can expect something that rare to happen and prepare for it. Some of the videos I watch told me that in Texas they didn’t even know where their water main shutoff was when a pipe burst in their house. Maybe I’m lucky with where I live. I have seen 120 degrees weather in Michigan. I saw -40 degrees last winter. I’m poor enough to work on my own house and know where the circuit breaker is, the water shut off, and fire extinguishers are assorted where a fire might break out. To me these things are common sense. If I was living in Texas, I wouldn’t know what to do if I spotted a scorpion in my house, came across a rattle snake in my yard, or was charged by a wild boar. We do have bears though.
Rising food prices are here. There is no more speculation of what might happen. The Federal Reserve is printing money like it is the die off of the beanie baby bubble. The stock market is inflated from the influx of money. With a food shortage looming and the value of the dollar declining we will start to see prices we have never seen before. Kiss organic food goodbye, nobody will be able to afford it. Even with the ability to buy food becoming harder for the majority of people some governments are making it more difficult to survive. In the UK the health inspectors are cracking down on people growing and/ or preparing food in their homes and selling it to neighbors. They are now proposing that people caught doing this without a license could face 2 years in prison for feeding people. This would include your local tamale lady who is just trying to make a couple extra bucks. Could we see the closing of places like Pineview and the Cadillac Marketplace in the future? I would not be surprised if the government stepped in and said that cutting more food out of the market during the time of a shortage was for our own good. “We are the Government and we are here to help.” Cringe.
We as individuals need to be creative. We need to learn how to make the most out of the food we have and relearn tools that our ancestors had only a few decades ago. There was a time, not that long ago, when food wasn’t cheap. We have had it good for a long time now due to cheap oil. The world is changing and as a species we need to adapt to it. While the powers that be think they can implement a policy that will cover all places and cultures, they are horribly wrong. Texas is a prime example. People in local areas need to figure out the best way to make it in the new world that is coming. Where I live the land is rolling hills, the soil is filled with clay, water pools into ponds everywhere, and we have constant wind. There is a lot of cattle and livestock here. Dairy farms are a dime a dozen. Rolling hills of wheat and corn are common. Move closer to the lake and you will find grape vines and hops growing in fields. One policy will not fix a state, or a country. It is beholden of the individual to figure out the best measure to work through this. The only people that can help us in the future is ourselves.