Grabbing the dog leashes hanging next to the front door, I fasten a plastic bag on each in preparation for our morning walk. I step out into the intense heat of late summer. My lungs fill with muggy air. I wonder how long the three of us will last in the heat.
“A solo trip to the pool might be in order a little later”, I muse to myself. Our municipality accepts a donation of canned food as a pool fee during the last hour of the day.
After a few blocks, I bend to pick up after both dogs. That was efficient. Maybe we will only need to use one plastic bag today. I stop to pick up scattered drink containers, littered water bottles, empty cigarette packs and straws, topping off the extra space in the trash bag. While collecting, I try to remember that this is karma-yoga and that bending and stooping are good for long-term health. At some point, I estimated that we (the dogs and I) have filled more than five hundred bags.
I WORK ON REMEMBERING MY PLACE in the grand scheme of things
As I toss the over-full bag into an almost empty commercial dumpster, I notice a multitude of unopened cases of whole-grain breakfast bars at the bottom. This is not a regular food dumpster, so it is particularly clean. The food find is a surprise because this commercial dumpster services a mini-mall of small offices. I love economy and loathe waste—especially the waste of perfectly good food.
Tethering the dogs to the closest fence, I return to the dumpster and I hoist myself up, over, and into the bin to investigate what appears to be individually-wrapped boxes of food bars. My yoga practice pays off.
Amazing. Four large cases of in-date, unopened, pristine boxes of individually wrapped granola bars, brownies and cake bars. One box in the stack has a hand-written note on top, “throw these out” (But why?). After hoisting and flipping one of the cases out of the dumpster, I manage to get back out. I collect dogs and turn to gather up one rather unwieldy box.
Back at home, I relay the sum of the situation to my husband, drop the dogs and head back to the dumpster to collect the rest of the cases with an over-sized backpack. I walk with the mantra, “Waste not, want not.”
A few blocks from our house, we have a disabled neighbor trying to support himself and his adult child on one disability check. After collecting all of the cases and bringing them home, I keep about half of the bars for our family, splitting the rest with our neighbor.
Why do people waste food? This is the discussion going on in our house. I remember finding an older statistic from 2010 where the United States Department of Agriculture estimated US food waste at the retail and consumer levels to be about 31% of the food supply, while the Environmental Protection Agency estimated in 2011 that approximately 21% of municipal solid waste is food. These are astounding figures.
Working his way through the various individually-wrapped treats, my husband notices a rare packet among them which is not properly sealed, because the edges do not quite match.
“Do you think they threw them out because of this minor packaging glitch”, he wonders.
“I don’t know” I respond.
A firm knock comes on our door. Our neighbor has come with an unexpected food gift. As I shelve several packages of pantry staples into our cupboards, I work on remembering my place in the grand scheme of things, and I am grateful for the wheel of sharing that operates in our neighborhood.
— Julian Lynn, Missouri