You may have heard this one before: “I work at a grocery store.” It’s really not that exciting. It’s really not how I enjoy spending my time. But, you know, it pays (mostly) for school.
This morning, I went to work. 6 AM, baby. Yes, there are people awake at that hour. Sometimes, there are even people shopping at that hour. I know, I agree – they are insane.
I work in the produce department. Maybe you’ve heard of it? We have lettuce. We have apples. Etc, etc, etc.
We have what is technically called (in the produce biz) “perishable” food. That means most of it needs to be refrigerated. That means it is either fresh produce or freshly packaged produce, and expires/molds quickly. (Non-perishable would be canned or boxed stuff, stuff that doesn’t need refrigeration and can last for thousands of years on the shelves in your pantry.)
Sometimes, we have to throw our produce away. Sometimes this happens because it gets damaged (think: small child likes to poke holes into apples/peppers/anything slightly squishy), sometimes it happens because no one buys it before the expiration date (this is often the case for packaged produce).
This morning, I had to throw some of the latter away. Before we throw the stuff out, we have to scan all the barcodes to record what is getting thrown out. I did this. I scanned each package of salad/fruit/veggies out one by one and dropped them into an extra-large garbage can. Most of it looked perfectly fine. It wasn’t damaged; it wasn’t brown or moldy. It was simply past the date on the package, so I had to throw it out.
I do this all the time – throw away perfectly good food. It’s my job. Everyone at my store does it. Each night, multiple shopping carts full of trash bags full of food are thrown away. You get used to it, don’t even think about it – it’s expired, throw it away. It’s expired, throw it away.
This morning, though, I got angry. As I dropped bag by bag by cup of produce away, I got angry. Why? Why was I doing this? Why couldn’t I give this stuff to someone? How many people in the world could use this food? How many people right here in my own city?
It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right.
I wonder how much perfectly good food is thrown away every day. I do my own share of it – along with every other person who works at a grocery store, along with however many other people who work at how ever many other places who throw away food that could go to people who need it.
Yes, there are expiration dates for a reason. And sometimes, stuff really does need to be used/thrown away by its expiration date. But not always, not usually.
It’s not only expired product, either. And today, it certainly wasn’t:
It’s November 2nd. Halloween is over, Thanksgiving is coming (along with Winter -eeek!). My store still had a giant box full of 30 or so Jack-O-Latern-sized pumpkins left over from Halloween. What did we do with all of those pumpkins?
We threw them away.
Why? I don’t know.
We could have marked the price down. Hell, people still would have bought them at their original price ($8, buy one get one free).
We could have donated them to our local food bank.
We could have given the damn things away for free.
No. We threw them away. Into the giant trash compactor they went.
Again, why? Why was this OK?
How is waste like this not illegal?
How many people could have used those pumpkins, for one thing or another?
Maybe they would have just carved them up as belated Jack-O-Lanterns. Maybe they would have simply plopped them on their front porches for Thanksgiving decorations. Maybe they would have only wanted them for the seeds. Maybe they would have made pumpkin pie. Maybe they wanted to shoot at them with their giant shotguns.
No. We threw them away. Without a second thought from the store manager. It was easier to deal with them that way – toss them out.
I think people forget about other people. I think they don’t care. I think they like to do what’s easiest for them. I think they are self-centered and narrow-minded.
I think they waste a lot of fucking pumpkins.