Because of our perverse American insistence on spotless, wrinkle free vegetables supermarket vegetable departments throw out garbage cans full of good produce everyday. Yesterday morning I went shopping at the Barracks Road Kroger in Charlottesville. To get to the jicima I had to edge past the young man sorting out the old/bruised vegetables. I glanced down into the garbage can at his feet and was horrified. Along with six or seven jicama with slightly damaged skin there were many yellow and red sweet peppers, zucchinis, a few yellow squash, and leavings of greens all mixed in with scraps of paper. My first reaction was to ask for the vegetable refuse to feed to my 26 Buff Orpington hens. Man, would they love it! I was sent to the head of the produce department and then on to the head store manager where I was told, in regretful tones, it is against company policy to give the vegetable refuse away. Throwing it away is the company policy. I was blown out!
Try to imagine all the many pounds of refuse vegetables thrown away each day from the supermarkets in your town. It’s amazing. And worse, it’s profoundly wasteful – dare I say sinful. There are no fewer than 11 large supermarkets in Charlottesville – each one has a produce section and I would imagine new produce comes in two/three times a week. That’s a hell of a lot of wasted vegetables. The management of the supermarket chains would rather send those vegetables to our landfill then pull the plastic liner out of the garbage bin and give it to me/you to take home. Are they worried that instead of giving it to the birds I’ll eat the vegetables, get sick, and sue them? Could I sign a disclaimer?
I see a great entrepreneurial opportunity for someone with a truck; go around to all the super market produce managers, make a deal to collect the waste vegetable everyday, perhaps have a grinder/chopper built into the truck bed to immediately make the vegetables into animal food or ready for compost. Something. Given the good condition of the vegetables I saw yesterday it seemed to me a good portion of them could have been used by people – perhaps via the Food Bank? Something.
I commend the C’ville Market on Carlton Ave because they routinely sort out the slightly worn vegetables, bag them, and sell them at cut rates for a great deal. But even they, sooner or later, have to throw unsold vegetables away. Given their thoughtfulness I bet they already have someone set up to take them for animal food.
I doubt my idea is original, and if we look around, somebody, in some city, is doing what I suggest for ours. For a region that holds itself up as an example of good food, locavore ethics, small-farms and CSAs, we should go behind the scenes to make sure unsold vegetables do not end up in the county landfills.