D.C.-based writer Paul Goldberg recently published his first novel, "The Yid." We talk with him about the story, how living in D.C. shapes his work and his 'day job' overseeing the influential Cancer Letter project.
It’s an idea that stretches back as far as the Old Testament: gathering leftover fruits and vegetables from farms, and redistributing it to the hungry. Gleaning is alive and well in our region, and food pantries are expanding outreach to small farms, farmers markets and restaurants. There are also a number of freegans–otherwise known as dumpster divers– in our area who make the most of what restaurants throw away. We speak to “urban gleaners” about the bounty around us.
- Jeff Lebow local "freegan"
- Rod Parker Owner, Parker Farms, Oak Grove, VA
- Sharon Feuer Gruber Nutrition consultant, Bread for the City
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Americans throw away around 96 billion pounds of food a year. Allow me to repeat that. Americans throw away around 96 billion pounds of food a year. And a lot of that is not spoiled, is not moldy. It might be a container of yogurt just past its expiration date, but still perfectly edible or a bruised piece of fruit that customers won't buy or some day-old bakery rolls.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIOne way or another, all that food is destined for the dump, that is, unless someone is willing to take what others don't want. Enter the Gleaners. In many places, Gleaners come through after the first harvest or as the farmers market is packing up. And even if the food does end up in the trash, it still might be rescued by a dumpster diver looking for an ecologically correct meal or just some free food. Urban gleaning isn't new, but it is growing in our region.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd joining us in studio to discuss it is Sharon Gruber, nutrition consultant for Bread for the City. That's a Washington organization that provides food, clothing, medical care, legal and social services to the poor. Sharon Gruber, thank you for joining us.
MS. SHARON GRUBERIt's a pleasure to be here.
NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Rod Parker. Rod Parker owns Parker Farms in Oak Bluffs, Va. Rod Parker, thank you for joining us.
MR. ROD PARKERGood to be here, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd Jeff Lebow is a local freegan. Jeff Lebow, good to have you in studio. What is a freegan?
MR. JEFF LEBOWWell, freeganism is the idea that we can live without consumerism and without exploiting others and exploiting animals and finding food and clothing and other items without buying them, without supporting the industries that exploit others.
NNAMDII'll talk -- we'll talk in more detail about...
NNAMDI...exactly how a freegan lives and eats, shortly.
NNAMDIIn the meantime, if you'd like to join this conversation, you can call us at 800-433-8850. Have you ever been involved in gleaning? Do you know what it is or just picking up something that's been thrown away? 800-433-8850, or if you have ideas about how you think we can waste less food, 800-433-8850. You can go to our website, kojoshow.org, send a tweet, @kojoshow. We take email at email@example.com. Sharon, your organization, Bread for the City, has been gleaning in our area for years now. What does the Glean for the City program involve?
GRUBERWell, Bread for the City serves about 10,000 low income D.C. residents a month. And the gleaning program really is a bridge between our medical program and our food program. We have D.C.'s largest food pantry. Through the gleaning program, we're able to expand the opportunities for nutrition education among our clients in the food pantry and also with volunteers in the field. Additionally, we're tremendously expanding the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables that we can provide to our clients.
NNAMDITell us exactly how this works.
GRUBERSo each weekend, from about June through November, Bread for the City, through our health corps volunteer who's on staff with us full-time, goes out with a group of volunteers and either goes and visits a farm like Rod Parker's farm and/or farmers markets. This weekend, we did Eastern Market and also the West End Market in Alexandria. And, this weekend, for instance, we came back with about 3,600 pounds of food. It's so much that sometimes it takes multiple people jamming our walk-in refrigerators closed and propping something up against them, and...
NNAMDIThat's a lot. Thirty-six hundred pounds, that's a lot of work for a lot of volunteers. Rod Parker, it's my understanding that gleaning is a very old idea, is it not?
PARKERGleaning is a very old idea. It's a biblical idea. There are several places in the Old Testament that gleaning is mentioned, and particularly in Deuteronomy where the people were enjoined to leave a little in their field during the harvest and to let the poor people come in so they might have something and not to go behind yourself and scrounge up what's left, but to leave that there and let others partake of that harvest.
NNAMDIJeff Lebow, we talked earlier about what the definition of a freegan is. But exactly how do you acquire your food and for your meals?
LEBOWWell, I mean, dumpster diving is a fairly old practice, not quite as old as gleaning. But basically it involves going to grocery stores or any stores, really, and digging through trash, basically, to find food. And me, personally, I don't eat meat or dairy or eggs or any animal products. I don't wear them. So it's just looking for fruits, vegetables. Sometimes you find ready-made meals. Sometimes you find electronics and clothing that you can wash and either share with friends or also keep for yourself.
NNAMDIWell, a number of questions come to mind. And if you have any, you can call us at 800-433-8850. The one that comes to mind, for me, is an obvious one. Is dumpster diving legal?
LEBOWIt's quasi-legal. I mean, it's been made illegal because of the '80s and the big telephone boom where people were actually going into trash to get telephone directories to robo-call people. So they've made it illegal because of that. But, really, most dumpster divers leave the trashy area a lot cleaner than they found it or attempt to. They're very quick, easygoing. And, usually, there's not too many problems.
NNAMDIIs there, so to speak, a community of dumpster divers?
LEBOWThere is. There's people of all walks of life who do it and enjoy it, and there's -- there are communities. There's a group in D.C., the D.C. dumpster diving and freegan meet-up that was active for a while here in D.C., and there's other groups, Food Not Bombs, which serves free vegan food to homeless people or anyone who wants it throughout the country.
NNAMDIMore questions about that later. But getting back to you now, Sharon Gruber, what do you do with the food that you and the volunteers collect?
GRUBERWe have D.C.'s largest food pantry. We serve in both Northwest and Southeast -- Northwest on -- in Shaw and Southeast in Anacostia. We serve several hundred households a day and actually brought some of the food with me so you can attest to the beautiful quality of it.
NNAMDIEverybody knows I take food bribes, so everybody brings food.
GRUBERI have some beautiful radishes, whole bags of basil, crookneck squash, corn, and this is the quality of the food that our clients get. It's...
NNAMDILeave them out on the table because I guarantee you that there will be people dropping by this studio to pick it up. So make sure you leave it out on the table. How did Glean for the City get started?
GRUBERIt got started about three-and-a-half years ago. I was brought onto Bread for the City's team to really help make sure that we were enabling our clients as much as possible to live healthy lives. We wanted to make sure that the message that we give in our medical clinic, in terms of make -- to improve diet and make as many health decisions as possible, was consistent with the food that were distributing in both our Northwest and Southeast food pantries. So the first step with that was to stop distributing low -- excuse me, high sodium canned goods and packaged goods and sweets, pastries, things like that.
GRUBERAnd then the next step was to try to add in the healthier things that we really wanted. It was very quick when I realized that we really couldn't afford to buy a lot of fresh produce. And so working with our then late food director, Ted Pringle, I started making phone calls, had never met a farmer, had never talked to a farmer, but just started cold calling and spoke with over a 100 people, including Rod, and was really amazed at the generosity of the farmers and how much they wanted to support the program.
NNAMDIRod Parker, you have a farm in Virginia and just outside D.C. You have had gleaners at your farm for more than 20 years, it's my understanding. Tell us how you got involved.
PARKERKojo, we got involved in, I think, it was 1989. I was approached for it by a young girl who worked for an outfit called The Society of St. Andrew which has been gleaning and doing some of the same kind of work that Sharon does. She was actually being promoted by Congressman Tony Hall who was on the select -- Congressional select hunger committee. And as they thought about ways in which to combat hunger, gleaning was one of the things that came up -- one of their, I think, 10 points.
PARKERSo he -- and there were a number of people involved in the organization -- said, let's make this something we can do in Washington, D.C. And Chris was our contact. She came and asked me, this is the idea. What do you think? And I can tell you that, at first, it's a little bit, I don't know about that, do I want a bunch of strangers wandering down the farm? You know, there's all kinds of possibilities. And she said, oh, try it, you'll like it. And there was some motivating factor for us at Parker Farms. One is farmers raise food to be eaten.
PARKERWe don't like to see anything go to waste, that's -- we raised it to be consumed. So here is another way to take care of some product. Kojo, there's a great amount of product that gets left in the field on a vegetable farm, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which, it's not cosmetically acceptable in the chain stores. They want it to be shiny and red and straight and green. And all of those things do have eye appeal, but it can be plenty edible. So there is a lot of product that's grated out at the farm simply because it's not acceptable.
NNAMDIWell, one of the reasons you were involved in this is, also my understanding, is because of your faith. You started...
NNAMDI...with The Society of St. Andrews and the Washington area gleaning network.
PARKERYou know, the -- as I say, there was several motivating factors, and one is we don't want to see anything go to waste. The other is it is a biblical principal. And if you try to live a Christian life and try to abide by the principles that are in the scripture, then you take a good look at them, and here's an opportunity to participate in a biblical principle and do some great good for people that have less than you and to support the local community.
PARKERSo it really fit -- it fit us rather well. We were excited about the opportunity and became very involved. There were a couple of years where, I think, Parker Farms, by themselves, contributed about a million pounds of gleaned product into the gleaning community. There are several organizations, and we participated with most of them.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones now, so you need to put on your headphones if you don't have them on yet. The number's 800-433-8850. We'll start with Paul in Wheaton, Md. Paul, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PAULHey, Kojo, I love listening to your show. I had a pretty crazy suggestion for how many restaurants could save some money and waste on food. My dad and I have been talking about maybe opening our own restaurant, and we had this idea of, you know, if you're serving meat on your menu and you have a lot of leftovers, why not actually raise your own animals on, you know, on some property and use those animals on the leftover waste on your menu?
NNAMDII am dumbstruck by your suggestion as does everyone else around the table seem to be. How did your dad respond to that?
PAULWell, I mean, I'm not really sure -- I don't mean, you know, necessarily feed -- obviously, I'm not talking about cannibalism. But, you know, on, like, grain waste and stuff like that. You know, I mean, obviously, I'm not saying, hey, let's just take a pork chop and feed it to the pig 'cause that would be horrible and inhumane, you know. But if you're a restaurant owner and you have a lot of this, you know, leftover vegetable product, why not feed it to, you know, some animals that you later serve on your menu?
NNAMDIWell, I don't know if any restaurant owners have thought of that. As I mentioned earlier, I certainly haven't thought of it. But if there are some listening who are interested in it, I'm sure, Paul, that they will take it, as they say, under advisement. Thank you for your call. We'll move on to Enid in Arlington, Va. Enid, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ENIDHi. I'm calling because my teenage daughter has embraced freeganism and dumpster diving. And she told me that in Arlington where we live that they lock the dumpsters, and it's impossible to glean the leftover food. So she's gone into a favorite place in Fairfax, Va. And I am absolutely astonished at the amount and quality and definite edibility of the food that she brings home. So on one thing, you know, if you have much information on why dumpsters get locked.
LEBOWI think a lot of what...
NNAMDIThis is Jeff Lebow.
LEBOWA lot of what goes on in that is our culture -- we don't -- we like capitalism. We like to spend money. We want people to spend money. We want to waste a lot because we can. We're America. This is, you know, how we've been doing things. So they lock dumpsters, so, you know, people like us and people like your daughter can't get food. And especially, you know, homeless folks can't get food. And it's, you know, all part of the American wasteful culture and destructive culture that we've created.
NNAMDIEnid, there's another side of that coin, though. Here's an email we got from Melissa who says, "I'm an active freegan living in Rockville, Md. My favorite spot is dumpster diving behind Trader Joe's. The employees are required to throw out food that is ever so slightly damaged. But many of them are also aware of the freegan movement, so they frequently throw out food, but surround it with icepacks for people like me. Fantastic," says Melissa.
NNAMDISo, Enid, you might want to turn your daughter on to that. Are you aware of that at all, Jeff Lebow?
ENIDWell, she actually -- her favorite spot is actually Trader Joe's. And I will say, she's a teenager, but she came home one day -- or night actually with six bottles of wine from this dumpster, which kind of astonished me. Apparently, a label had gotten splattered, and they couldn't sell it. And there it was.
NNAMDICan you talk about that, Jeff Lebow?
LEBOWWell, a lot of -- especially Trader Joe's have seen a lot of dumpster divers because they have a lot of great food, especially a lot of good vegan food. And so a lot of people go there, and the people -- the night crew who work there get to know you. And a lot of them will just come out with shopping carts full of bread and like, hey, you want some bread. And, you know, you don't have to sneak around anymore. It's more of a friendly, you know, hey, how you doing?
LEBOWIn some places, they are -- they have different managers, and they will go after people. And in other situations, you know, they're really nice, and they'll put ice packs. Or they'll just hand you food or, you know, offer you other things.
NNAMDIEnid, thank you so much for your call. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we will return to our conversation on urban gleaning. If you have already called -- and quite a few of you have -- stay on the line. We will get to your call. We still have a couple of lines open at 800-433--8850. You can go to our website, kojoshow.org. Have you ever been involved in gleaning or just picking up something that's been thrown away? Do you think of ways in which we can waste less food? 800-433-8850, I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about urban gleaning with Sharon Gruber, nutrition consultant for Bread for the City, a Washington organization that provides food, clothing, medical care, legal and social services to the poor. Jeff Lebow is a local freegan, and Rod Parker owns Parker Farms in Oak Bluffs, (sic) Va. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIYou've told us a little bit, Sharon Gruber, about where Bread for the City volunteers glean. But it's my understanding that you're trying some new avenues. We know you go to area farms like Rod's. We know you go to local farmers markets. But where do urban fruit trees come into your strategy?
GRUBERWell, the whole gleaning program really started with a question of what happens at the farm level. And so an extension of that this year was really what's happening in people's back yards. Are people growing fruit trees? And if they are, what are they doing with it? Do they have enough use for the fruit? And so we're really encouraging people to send us an email if they have an apple or a pear tree in their yard at firstname.lastname@example.org, and perhaps we'll be able to send out some volunteers to pick your fruit.
GRUBERAdditionally, I'm really excited to announce that, partnering with Casey Trees and UDC, we are finalizing details on an orchard program where we're going to actually be planting a couple of acres of land at their -- at the UDC Beltsville site. They have some agricultural experimentation land there. And when the trees mature, we should have a mixed orchard that will bear about 40,000 pounds of food a year.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here now is A (sp?), in Rockville, Md. A, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
AHi. My mother and a group of her friends were big dumpster divers when we were kids. And my sister and I got very used to saying that our clothes or our dolls or even a brand new TV or stereo in our house was from a dumpster. So I'm very used to that from decades ago. But one of the main points I wanted to bring up was that you tie this to faith a lot for people who are allowing gleaning and stuff.
AAnd a lot of this is from, actually, the Old Testament, the Jewish Bible, and charity is a big part of the Jewish faith. I know families actually in town who bring people, who can't afford to eat, into their house for a meal each week as part of the Jewish tradition. And I just wanted to point out that the charity aspect of it isn't just relegated to only Christians.
NNAMDIOh, no. It's indeed common to quite a few faiths, isn't it, Rod Parker?
PARKERThat's right. It's from the Old Testament book of Leviticus. So that's a Judeo-Christian background.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, A. We move on to Betty in Silver Spring, Md. Betty, your turn.
BETTYHi. In my community, we have pre-Passover food drives where we're able to donate food that we're not supposed to have around the house at Passover in particular, but, of course, anything, except we're told not glass containers and that it should be within the best-when-used-by date. Is there a place we can donate things with glass or things that -- like coffee or tea that's past the best-if-used-by date?
GRUBERYes. The best-if-used-by date is a guideline. But you can always bring things to Bread for the City that are close to that date, and we can assess the quality of them. We do take glass containers, but we prefer plastic because most of our clients don't have cars and are walking long distances or taking buses with these bags of food. We provide them enough food for at least three days. And so the glass also gets heavy.
LEBOWAnd I think, as well, you can contact Food Not Bombs, Keith McHenry. He's always looking for donations of food and vegan food and vegetarian food. And you can find his website foodnotbombs.net.
NNAMDIBetty, thank you very much for your call.
NNAMDIJeff, we got an email from Jake who says, "Is the idea of freeganism to help stop consumerism from a system perspective? It seems this phenomenon feeds off of consumerism if it depends on the trash of consumers."
LEBOWWell, it does partially, but the eventual goal is to live without having to buy things, live without exploiting other beings on this earth and eventually move to a better society where we can share and live as one culture, one group of people.
NNAMDISo it is a philosophically-driven movement. And I mentioned earlier that there might be some legal questions with dumpster diving. You responded to that. Sharon, I'm assuming there are no legal issues with gleaning at farmers markets. How does that work?
GRUBERThe quality of the food is the same as just as if you or I were going there to purchase it. There are no issues of it, no legal issues at all. The biggest challenges that we really face -- 'cause the food is free, but we still do have to run the program. We have refrigeration. We have trucking. We have staff coordination time. Just keeping up with that end of the program is our biggest challenge.
NNAMDIRod, what's the procedure when gleaners come to your farm?
PARKERMost all of the gleaners that come to the farm are volunteers, of course. And they come from a variety of aspects. Corporations will sometimes put together a group, churches primarily. Other service organizations in a group comes primarily through the auspices of someone like Sharon, or there's the Mid-Atlantic Gleaning Network, the Society of St. Andrews. And they are coordinators. They get gleaners. They come down. That's when we get involved, is when they show up in the buses. And they say, okay, where do we go? I take them to the fields...
NNAMDII was about to say when they say, where do we go, what do you do?
PARKERWhere do we go? We tell them a central point to meet. We'll pick them up and take them to the field that's to be gleaned. And I'll usually spend a few minutes with them saying, here's what you want, here's what you need to avoid, this is not worth picking, this is good. And then we turn them loose. And we have had groups, Kojo, as large as 4- or 500 people. And they'll go into a field, and, in two hours, they can fill a tractor trailer with corn or broccoli or something that we have at that time.
PARKERSo it can be quite a productive thing, but I will tell you it's hard work for somebody. And that's the drawback.
NNAMDIBut if you have pickers harvest your vegetables, why would you need gleaners to come out?
PARKERWell, that's a good question. As I said, there is a certain amount of product that is cosmetically and commercially unacceptable. The professional harvesters, they know, so they'll just leave that. And so it's laying there. And then there are -- the truth of the matter is, even the professionals miss a little bit, so there's some there that they actually miss. And, of course, that's available for gleaning, too.
NNAMDIGot a lot of people who want to address this on the telephone. Here is Nick in Arlington, Va. Nick, your turn.
NICKHi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. I remember in the past when I was working on The Hill and then working as an education lobbyist, D.C. Central Kitchen would take leftover food from receptions. And political receptions are all over the town. And there was -- there's always leftover food after those things. I don't know if they can still do that because I understand there were some liability issues with people who have food that they may want to give to somebody, but they can't.
NICKBut I don't know if D.C. Central Kitchen is still doing that. I guess that's a question and a comment more than anything else.
NNAMDIWell, I know they're continuing to train chefs and the like, but I don't know, Sharon Gruber, if you know what D.C. Central Kitchen is doing in that regard.
GRUBERThey're still very active in the food rescue movement. I'm not sure if they are taking things from catering halls and hotels at this point, but they certainly are using extras that are of good quality as well.
NNAMDINick, thank you for your call. We move on to Barb in Laurel, Md. Barb, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BARBYes. To clarify the locked dumpster issue, one of the driving issues for locking the dumpster is that, in the past, people have used those dumpsters to offload household items, fill the dumpster up when they're moving, whatever. And then the business does not have use of that dumpster. It's called theft of services, and you can get fined for that if you're caught. The second reason would be that people who are diving for food or household items or clothing sometimes do not clean up after themselves.
BARBThey just leave the stuff on the ground. And, of course, then the store's employees have to pick up the mess and put it in the dumpster, so...
BARB...it's not just mean-spiritedness.
NNAMDIThank you very much. Here is Jeff Lebow.
LEBOWI think a lot of that is just our selfish culture. You know, we don't want to allow people to do things. You know, Rod allows people to come onto his farm and take what's left over. But, you know, people like that are very few and far between. So we have a lot of issues where if someone needs a place to put trash or whatever, they can't put it in a dumpster because it's owned by a corporation. But, in reality, you can't, you know, own the world. I mean, it's -- this is our world. You know, we all have a vested interest in it.
NNAMDIAbout freegans, to what extent does the freegan culture include things like making sure you clean up after yourself?
LEBOWWell, I think it's all to do with, you know, respecting others and respecting the world and respecting the environment. So part of it is cleaning up and leaving, you know, a decent space. And sometimes, you know, you can't, for whatever reason. But, you know, it's always something to strive to, and also to teach others how to do it and how to live healthily and happily without exploiting others and learning to share and care and all the things we learned in kindergarten.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call, Barb. Here is Susan in Arlington, Va. Susan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SUSANHi. I have a question for Ms. Gruber of Bread for the City. I was wondering, it seems to me that what she has described, this combining the -- her -- the health initiatives of Bread for the City with a decision not to give out poor food or non-nutritious food, that's very cutting edge. It's very -- I mean, it's quite lovely, very creative. And I was wondering how many other food banks actually do that. And were they the first, and have other people kind of taken an example from them?
GRUBERWell, we're really proud of the holistic nature of the program we've created. I don't know how many other programs out there are doing it. But some of the things that we do do in the food pantry is that when people go through and they see all the fresh produce, there are corresponding recipes. There are health tips. Every produce item is labeled, so if you were getting sweet potatoes, for instance, there would be a little -- a picture of a sweet potato underneath the shelf and then a little explanation saying, scrub the skins and eat them. They have lots of fiber.
GRUBERAnd then we often -- well, a new thing that we're trying is having recipes prepared for people to taste so that they can try a new way to make a sweet potato that might not include a lot of sugar and butter. So we're really pushing the health education piece of that as is consistent with the healthy living message of our medical clinic and larger organization.
NNAMDISusan, thank you very much for your call. Sharon, I wanted you to go over a little bit about what you brought along with you today and...
NNAMDI...exactly what kind of condition it's in.
GRUBERSo over here -- you can hear me opening the bag perhaps -- I have some beautiful radishes.
NNAMDIAnd they are beautiful.
GRUBERAnd these either came from the West End Market in Alexandria or Eastern Market where we were this weekend. And Eastern Market's an expensive place for some people to shop. Our clients typically would not be able to frequent Eastern Market. And so we're really thrilled that they are able to eat food that many other people might not be able to afford. And the radishes are beautiful. They still have their leaves intact, so you know how fresh they are. There's a huge bag of basil that I'm holding that probably is permeating the entire studio.
GRUBERAnd then I have some...
NNAMDIThat's a good thing.
GRUBERYes. And then I have some crookneck squash which is as hard as can be, hard and fresh, and a few ears of corn. Now, each of these bags would count as just one vegetable. And for a family of four, for the three-day supplies, they're entitled to eight separate servings. And so eight bags of fresh vegetables they could go home with that day.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we return, we will pick up the telephone calls of those who have not yet been able to get on. We still have a couple of lines open, 800-433-8850. We're talking about gleaning in general and urban gleaning in particular. Have you ever been involved in it? Have you picked up something that's been thrown away? Or if you have suggestions about how you think we can waste less food, call us at 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about gleaning with Sharon Gruber, nutrition consultant for Bread for the City which provides food, clothing, medical care, legal and social services to the poor. Rod Parker owns Parker Farms in Oak Grove, Va. where he hosts gleaners who come there for food. And Jeff Lebow is a local freegan. We explained what that is earlier. He's a vegan, and he's a dumpster diver. And there is a freegan movement going on. Is this a nationwide movement?
LEBOWIt's worldwide. There are people all over the globe dumpster diving, picking through trash. Some people do it out of necessity because we waste so much food, we waste so many products. We spend -- you know, 70 percent of our grain goes to animal agribusiness to feed them. And some people do it because they want to because they're trying to move away from the consumerist culture and spend less and spend more time and money on positive projects that can help communities.
NNAMDII understand there are prime locations for finding the best food. You don't have to give away your spots. But what kind of places are good for finding edible food?
LEBOWA lot of groceries stores. You know, Trader Joe's typically is the popular one. But I've been to, you know, other states, and sometimes, you know, just searching and just looking at different dumpsters you might find something exciting. It really -- you just have to go out there. It's like a treasure hunt, is what I tell people.
NNAMDIHere is Joe -- oh, by the way, do you generally find enough food to eat exclusively by dumpster diving?
LEBOWYou can. It's very, very easy to do, you know, and it's -- sometimes people -- there's a lot of people who go and pick and a lot of people who may need it more than I would, so, you know, I'd give it to them.
NNAMDIWhat about the safety issue? The food is being thrown away because it's not fit for sale. How do you know it's always safe to eat?
LEBOWYou smell it, you look at it, you know, occasionally taste it, but, usually, it's fine, you know. We have these laws in our country to favor the rich and those who are producing -- you know, big corporations are producing all this stuff -- rather than the people, you know. The people -- all this food is just fine, you know, and it's still able to be cooked. It's still fairly fresh and delicious.
NNAMDIWell, I know in terms of expiration dates, Sharon Gruber, the expiration dates are actually to try to protect the health of people, but the expiration dates, because safety is the concern, are often well in advance of when food actually spoils.
GRUBERThere are not actual regulations about the expiration dates. They're put on by the manufacturers. Most of the food we distribute is well within the expiration dates. That's not our primary -- it's not a primary issue with the Bread for the City food program. But occasionally we do buy large volumes of things that are close to the expiration date. And, because we're such a big food pantry, we know we can move them.
NNAMDIAnd Rod Parker, the things you are getting on your farm are basically farm fresh.
PARKERThat's -- they're farm fresh. They haven't been thrown away yet.
NNAMDIHere now is Joe in Boyds, Md. Joe, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOEHi, thanks. I think what we're talking about today is great, and I really believe in it. But it's created a huge problem personally, where my father is about 82 years old, lives alone, is very well off. He went to the grocery store to -- 'cause he heard they were giving away produce that was expired and old for compost for a garden. Well, he decided that he can't throw this away, and so he's canning tomatoes in March and freezing red bell peppers. And he's got so much that we tell him, dad, you got to give this away or something.
JOESo I'm a little big tongue-in-cheek, but I think it's a great idea. But those who grew up during the Depression, like my father, he can't bring himself to throw stuff that good away. So -- well, it's a good problem to have.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. We move on to Frances in Catlett, Va. Frances, your turn.
FRANCESMy experience was I was in Wal-Mart about two months ago. And I was picking up a dozen of eggs, and one of them was cracked. And the man that was serving the egg section said, well, give it to me, and he put it on his cart. And I said, well, what are you going to do? And he said, well, I have about a dozen just like that, but I'm going to throw them in the trash. And I said, but how can you do that, 11 good eggs, and you're throwing almost 10 dozen eggs into the trash when people need food?
FRANCESAnd he said, well, lady, I'm not the boss, and this is the procedure that I have to follow. And I said, well, thank you. And it's been bothering me ever since. Now, I don't know, since I'm a Depression baby, too, in my 80s, I'm like this former man's father. I just can't stand to see wasted food.
NNAMDIWell, Jeff Lebow is a vegan, so he probably doesn't eat eggs. But do you run into a lot of what seems to be good eggs in dumpsters?
LEBOWYeah. I mean, people throw away of lot of this stuff, you know. And, you know, I wouldn't ever recommend anyone eat animal products. They're really horrible for our health and have caused a decline, but...
NNAMDII knew I shouldn't have asked you that question.
LEBOWBut, you know, a lot of people throw it away. Or, you know, in that situation, it was, oh, the boss said, the boss said, the boss said, but, you know, that's our problem. We keep listening to the bosses, and all the bosses are telling us to eat these, you know, unhealthy diets of McDonald's and meat and dairy and eggs and...
NNAMDII'm assuming you don't dumpster dive at McDonald's?
LEBOWNo, I would never.
NNAMDISharon Gruber, do you ever run into this kind of situation that Frances describes?
NNAMDIOne broken egg in a pack of 12, and they throw out the whole pack of eggs? They throw out the whole carton.
GRUBERWe get eggs donated sometimes in large volume, and they're not -- they're not leftovers that way. So I -- we don't share that experience. I think it's a salmonella issue is why the stores feel that they have to be responsible that way.
NNAMDIFrances, thank you very much for your call because stores are thinking about liability. Here is Frank in Washington, D.C. Frank, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
FRANKYeah. Real quick, I had a friend whose sister was doing some dumpster diving and got some hepatitis and was in the hospital. 'Cause of the nature of her poverty, she had no insurance, and just led one thing to another, and one of her friends got attacked by a feral cat doing the same thing. And it just led to all kinds of issues, so I'd imagine that's why you've got locks as well. So if somebody could address that, that'd be fine.
NNAMDIIs it sometimes dangerous, Jeff?
LEBOWNo. I've never really had that problem. I mean, there was one time I was in a dumpster, and, you know, a raccoon saw me. I saw the raccoon, and we both, you know, were like we're getting out of here. We're both scared of each other, and we avoided each other. And there was no problem. I mean, the worst thing that's ever happened to me was got a little piece of broken glass, got a tiny little cut on my finger, and it healed up, you know, within two days. And I've never gotten sick. I mean, the trick is to know what's good, know what's bad, know what your body can tolerate and build up your tolerance.
NNAMDIOn to Michelle in Ashburn, Va. Michelle, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MICHELLEHi, Kojo, thank you. Kojo, I live in Loudon County, and I was wondering how I could involved personally in the gleaning or in helping my area food bank.
GRUBERSo Bread for the City serves D.C. We have volunteers from all around the area, and our website is breadforthecity.org. I'm not sure which food bank serves Loudon County specifically. It might be one of the areas that's covered by the Capitol Area Food Bank, so I would start at their website.
NNAMDIAnd I don't know...
GRUBERThanks for the question.
NNAMDIDo you know if she can find out anything from the Mid-Atlantic Gleaning Network, by any chance?
GRUBERRod might be better able to answer that.
PARKERSure. There is a -- I don't think they have a website. There is a telephone number for them. I don't -- I'm sorry I don't have it right here in front of me.
NNAMDIBut you can look it up. It's the Mid-Atlantic Gleaning Network.
PARKERThat's correct. And they could put you in touch and ask you -- say, hey, do you have some more folks? Could we put together a gleaning event that would come from your neighborhood? And then if you're willing to glean, they will take care of the distribution aspect. They have a large...
PARKER...distribution network, and so it's easy to get involved. And they need volunteers. Basically, when you're talking about gleaning a farm, that works on the back of volunteers. That's who does it, and it's a great thing to get involved in. It's a lot of fun. It's a good thing to take young kids to. They get exposed to an agricultural environment which they would never get exposed to. A lot of these kids say, my food comes from Safeway or from one of the chain stores.
PARKERTheir food comes from a farm, and they -- it's good for them to get to see it and get involved in what it takes to harvest it.
GRUBERThat's been one of the biggest benefits of the gleaning program is really connecting people to where their food comes from. So that's not to be understated, Rod, for sure.
NNAMDIMichelle, thank you very much for your call. I don't know if you mentioned this already, Sharon Gruber, about you're looking to address some of the problems with urban fruit trees by planting an orchard?
GRUBERYeah. So in Beltsville, there is a -- UDC has a site there, and we're looking to finalize the details of the program. We're in the last days of getting the deal all figured out. But we are anticipating planting tart cherry trees, blueberries, apples and Asian pears. And that will give us a harvest starting with the tart cherries in June and then going through October. And it will enable us to engage clients more in the process of growing fruit and picking the fruit for those clients who are interested in going there 'cause it's really -- it's much closer than any of our farm partners are.
GRUBERIt'll be only about 30 minutes out of the city.
NNAMDIAnd you're partnering with Casey Trees?
GRUBERCasey Trees has been advising us and has been a great help in the project, and it's UDC land. They have -- since they're a grand land...
NNAMDILand -- land grant.
GRUBERThank you -- institution, this is their land.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here is Brian in Greenbelt, Md. Hi, Brian.
NNAMDIYou're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BRIANCan you hear me?
NNAMDIYes, we can.
BRIANOh, okay. Yeah, hi, I am a vegan, have been for 10 years...
BRIAN...and also a small business owner. And, while I find myself in agreement and in sympathy with largely the concept of freeganism -- several of my friends actually volunteer for Food Not Bombs in Baltimore -- earlier, when Jeff was responding to the lady about the locked dumpsters, I just had a little bit of a problem with what I perceive as a contradiction because, as small business owner, I have to pay for a dumpster, which is the only way that I have to legally and appropriately eliminate my waste.
BRIANAnd if someone or anyone can just come along and throw their trash into my dumpster and then fill it up to the point where I have to pay to get it to be dumped earlier and not -- or be robbed of my use of it, then, you know, that seems selfish to me.
NNAMDIAs one vegan to another...
LEBOWWell, I mean, you know, a small business owner obviously is a lot different than a much larger corporation that can afford dumpsters. And, you know, I see a lot of dumpsters that tend to be empty and that tend to stay fairly empty. And sometimes they're full and full of, you know, good useful stuff. You know, there's trade-offs, and there's always going to be issues. But if we learn, you know, to all work together in this world, you know, we're not going to have those types of problems anymore.
NNAMDIBrian, I think Jeff is saying he does empathize with you as a small business owner.
LEBOWIn a way.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Here is Tom in Greenbelt, Md. Tom, your turn.
TOMFor the lady at Bread for the City...
NNAMDISharon Gruber, yes.
TOMYes. Just a thought on cans. A lot of the canned stews like Prego are low sodium. I was wondering if people could take those and even water those down, use it as a base, and then you could just put the vegetables in. And they could just cook them very easily. You know, a lot of these folks are not, you know, have great cooking skills. That would be a way of utilizing cans where people wanted to give cans, as you said, eliminate the sodium, get the fresh in, and just use that as a base to make a soup.
GRUBERThat sounds like a great recipe, and we actually offer cooking workshops. I run a few a month out of both of our sites so that people can learn new easy affordable ways to use the produce at the food program and just whatever they're buying at the store, including canned goods.
NNAMDITom, thank you for your call. I think we're running out of time, but I'd like to get Sam in Leesburg, Va. in. Sam, go ahead, please.
SAMHi, Kojo. I just recently heard the woman calling from Ashburn asking about volunteering at food pantries in Loudon County. I live in Loudon County, and I just wanted to mention to her there's an organization called Loudon Interfaith Relief. You can find them online at interfaithrelief.org. That is our county food pantry. They're always looking for volunteers and always looking for donations. There's another organization called Plant a Row for the Hungry, and you can find them online at feedloudon.org.
SAMThey work with a lot of local farmers in the area. She talked about wanting to glean. They're constantly looking for crop gleaners and people to actually drive the produce to the distribution center at Loudon Interfaith Relief.
SAMSo that's a way she could get involved with those organizations.
NNAMDIThank you so much for your call, Sam. You've been very helpful, but we are right about now out of time. Rod Parker, thank you for joining us.
PARKERGood to be here, Kojo.
NNAMDIRod Parker owns Parker Farms in Oak Grove, Va. Sharon Gruber, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDISharon is the nutrition consultant for Bread for the City which provides food, clothing, medical care, legal and social services to the poor. Jeff Lebow is a local freegan. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
Julette Saussy was hired by D.C. government less than a year ago to oversee reforms in the city's troubled fire and emergency medical services department. But she recently announced that she'd be quitting the post - and she says the department's failure to change is putting lives in danger.
Concerns about the mosquito-borne Zika virus have escalated - both among those who may be traveling to affected areas, but also now locally, where three cases were recently identified.
D.C.'s first bean-to-bar chocolate maker, Undone Chocolate, got its start in local food incubator space Union Kitchen, part of a wave of interest in locally made products which includes a push for a "Made in DC" logo.