Every Tuesday I go to Bounty and Soul in Black Mountain, North Carolina, a non-profit that provides free produce to the community, as well as wellness education. The food is excess and would be thrown away, but is instead donated by companies like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, plus local farms.
This week, the volunteers behind the tables were youthful and all wearing red and white t-shirts. They looked to be teenagers. The usual volunteer crowd is well above sixty.
“What organization are you guys with?” I asked.
“NC State, we are on spring break!” one woman with glasses and curly hair answered. She looked to be about eighteen or nineteen.
“Are you doing a service trip for spring break?” I asked.
“Yes! Yesterday we did the Poverty Walk in Asheville, and this morning we worked at a farm that provides some of this food. It’s been amazing so far. And it was only $250 for the week,” she beamed.
“Wow, that’s a great deal,” I said. What is the Poverty Walk? I wondered.
“Wow,” I repeated. “You guys are seeing Asheville in a way that many people who live in Asheville don’t see.”
“I know!” she nodded. “And it makes me wonder what I don’t know about my own home city.”
Isn’t that the damn truth. This program would be most beneficial to people who live locally. Yet, tourists come in and see this underbelly of Asheville. They come, they learn, they empathize and volunteer for one week, then leave. How powerful would it be for our own residents to know where our grocery store foods are going, where the local farms are, what they look like, what the work feels like that goes into our food.
The teens served food at 12 Baskets, a community space that offers free lunch every day. How many hungry Ashevillians don’t know about it?
There is a part of me that is proud of these students for adventuring empathically. Choosing to serve instead of partying on a beach. Choosing to learn about a community by participating in the real, the ugly, the less glitzy and glamorous side of a town. I am proud to meet these empathic adventurers!
“From what you’ve seen so far, what do you think the world needs more of?” I asked. At this point I was a permanent blockade in the line, yet everyone walked around me to fill up their boxes of potatoes and ignored me.
“Policy,” the woman said. “Food waste policy. We went to some local restaurants, and they have freezers full of food. They have dumpsters full of food. They have way too much. There’s no regulation on companies for how much they have to use or recycle. There’s no penalty for waste.“
“Hmm, I see that. Changing our food waste policy could solve a lot of other problems. Agriculture is one of the biggest sources of pollution and contributors to climate change. If we slowed food production by only growing what we needed, that could make a huge impact on the world,” I said.
She looked at me with surprise and nodded. “That’s a good point, coming at it from a climate change perspective. I didn’t think of that.”
Our conversation lasted a total of four to perhaps six minutes. It was a genuine, quick blip in our days. A randomly intriguing connection with a stranger. I never would have learned any of this if I had asked her “how are you?”
Posing this question “what the world needs more of” restores my faith in humanity. It reveals to me c
“Well shit, enjoy Asheville!” I said, waving and walking away.
Interested in learning more about food waste? Here are some helpful links and facts I’ve found:
USDA FAQs: Food waste is estimated between 30-40% of the food supply. 31% is lost at the retail/consumer level, approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food in 2010.
A list of resources and food waste programs around the United States. Listed by state- find out what’s near you! See how you can get involved or get the food you need.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s Tips to avoiding food waste in your own home.
Methods for preserving food at home to make them last longer.
World wide food waste statistics.
Facts to know about food waste and hunger.