What I found in the dumpster

Garrison Ebie

The sunshine state of Florida is the primary source of tomatoes for the United States during the winter months, and January’s prolonged cold snap destroyed the crop by as much as 70 percent in some regions of the state. The result? Some really pricey tomatoes.

Given my affection for the BLT, with the tomato consisting of 1/3 the total ingredients (not including the wheat bread and excessive amounts of sloppy Hellman’s mayonnaise), I’ve been left with eating a rather expensive sandwich a day or two each week. Well, at least more expensive than it was before. A single tomato at Acme now costs upwards of $1.35.

Since tomatoes are currently a rather scarce commodity, one would assume that most grocery stores would be considerate enough not to waste them. At least, this is what I was wondering. Many of the lower-budget grocery stores around the area like Save-A-Lot and ALDI are known for throwing away perfectly good vegetables. This is simply because in their corporate tendencies, restocking the shelves with the ever-occurring shipments is cheaper than keeping the unsold produce to sell.

For me, searching for furniture on the curbsides of heavily populated student neighborhoods is about where I draw the line when it comes to rummaging through the trash. But last month, I got curious. Are grocery stores actually throwing away fresh tomatoes? And if so, can I just take them?

So I drove to ALDI over on Fishcreek Road in Stow, just so no one would recognize me. Acme is too busy with shoppers, and I live a block away from Save-A-Lot and hence, go there practically every day. So at ALDI, in the back by the loading dock, there it was. A dingy looking dumpster, surprisingly small considering the size of the store.

This is in no way anything to be proud of, but I hit the jackpot this particular day.

Green, red and yellow peppers. Giant heads of broccoli and lettuce. Asparagus. Alfredo sauce. All these items and more still sealed and in cellophane — perfectly fresh. I even found a dozen roses for my girlfriend. Sprawled almost everywhere inside this thing were microwave dinners still frozen and inside the box. Even though I didn’t very much care for microwave pot pies, these would at least deter everyone in my house from eating food I actually want, so I took those, too.

And right there — in a cardboard box hidden under another cardboard box — tomatoes. Lots of tomatoes.

My assumptions were proven to be accurate. These tomatoes were still firm, and nothing on the packaging indicated a reason to be thrown out. All I noticed on these and everything else was a sell by date of whatever day I happened to be there.

The most recent USDA estimate of commercial food wasted is around 27 percent. Recent trends have seen some grocery chains like Acme and Giant Eagle willing to donate bakery and deli items past the sell-by date to food shelters and charity organizations. However, ALDI and many other supermarkets clearly do not do this.

Throwing away food is a significant problem that needs to be given more attention. How is it that every single day in communities across America, families go hungry while fresh vegetables are being thrown to the wayside simply because it’s cost-effective? Furthermore, why should I have to pay an arm and a leg for scarce tomatoes at the store when I can just walk around back and find them in the dumpster?

But wait. This gets worse. While the USDA measured wasted foods at about 27 percent, this amount only includes commercial food waste — the stuff thrown away by businesses. A study conducted in 2004 by the University of Arizona found that 40 to 50 percent of edible food in the United States winds up in landfills.

Long story short, all of us, you and me, waste about $100 billion worth of food every single year.

Economically and morally, this is plainly messed up and an area of waste that few consider. Think about it. Theoretically, we could feed an entire nation the size of America just with the amount of food we throw away.

Yes. The size of America. And this is all running parallel with an obesity epidemic. God help us all.

Garrison Ebie is a senior electronic media major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him

at [email protected].