Creative Commons/Rob Greenfield TV

What’s in the Dumpster? Exploring Food Waste and Hunger in America

Some 40 percent of the food we produce in the United States is chucked out — and not just moldy bread. Peek into dumpsters and garbage bags nationwide, and you’re bound to find food that resembles what you just bought at the supermarket.

Alex Barnard has seen it himself. “I’ve never eaten better than when I was dumpster diving,” he says. “Sadly, that’s because of this incredible wealth of waste at every point within the food system.”

Barnard, a doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley, spent eight years researching food waste, which included regular dives into dumpsters and foraging in trash bags of major retail chains across New York City. He chronicles his experience in the new book Freegans: Diving into the Wealth of Food Waste in America.

Alex Barnard, top left, participates in an event called Disco Soupe, which prepares meals from discarded food in public places (photo courtesy of Barnard).

Alex Barnard, top left, participates in an event called Disco Soupe, which prepares meals from discarded food in public places (photo courtesy of Barnard).

The Environmental Protection Agency and the USDA estimate that more than 33 million tons of food are wasted every year in the U.S., and yet more than 17 million American households are food insecure.

We speak with Barnard about why we throw out so much edible food, why food pantries are a poor solution for hungry families, and why nonprofits that distribute leftovers may actually be perpetuating food waste.

Featured image: Food collected from dumpsters (credit: Creative Commons/Rob Greenfield TV).

Additional Resources

Alex Barnard’s Twitter

Huffington Post: The Food Waste Fiasco: You Have to See It to Believe it

Good Magazine: How to Fix All That Food Waste

Business Insider: Here’s Why Wasted Food Doesn’t Get To Poor People

Foodlets blog: What Food Banks Need (and What They Get Too Much Of)

SF Gate: Vast amounts of food trashed despite incentives

CA Magazine: Freegans: Driven to Dumpster Dive Not by Poverty, But by Environmental Politics

Natural Resources Defense Council: Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Land ll

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