It started when he took a part-time greeter/bagger job at a grocery store after he retired. He discovered that grocery stores throw (literally) tons of perfectly good food away everyday. Some food (mostly bread and canned goods) nearing expiration gets donated to food pantries, but a staggering amount of fresh produce, milk, and meat gets wasted.
My grandpa also volunteered at a food pantry. The juxtaposition of grocery store waste and food pantry need bothered him.
Why did these grocery stores waste so much food when there were families going hungry?
They were afraid to get sued should their food donations inadvertently cause someone to get sick.
Prior to the fall of 1996, grocery stores had little protection against lawsuits from consumers of their donated goods. On October 1, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act. This act was designed to encourage stores to donate food to non-profit programs for distribution to those in need. It protects them from "criminal and civil liability should the product donated in good faith later cause harm to the recipient."
But there was no such act when I was growing up.
I was embarrassed about my grandpa's Dumpster diving, but it didn't stop me from eating the food he brought home. I was just afraid someone I knew would recognize my Dumpster-gatherer grandpa and then tell all the kids at school that we were too poor to afford food.
And we weren't. Dumpster diving wasn't about poverty for us; it was about avoiding waste.
My grandpa had grown up poor during the Great Depression. His father died when he was 5, and his mother raised 5 kids alone. They often didn't have enough to eat. As a result, it was important to my grandpa to always have plenty of food in the house. And he always had a vegetable garden. Even in the suburbs. He grew amazing tomatoes.
Poppy and Tree Guy in the garden
Poppy made sure to only bring home still-cold perishables, so we never got sick from any of the Dumpster food. I went on to work at that same grocery store when I was 15. I too saw the waste firsthand. I also discovered that there were other Dumpster divers. These people knew when the grocery stores around town threw out their expired food, and they shopped the Dumpsters like most of us shop at Walmart. That normalized it for me somewhat.
Besides, if you think about it, the difference between a grocery store sale rack and the Dumpster is only about 50 feet.
For more about dumpster diving, check out Dive!
Have you ever Dumpster dived? Would you eat food from a grocery store Dumpster?
*On a side note, this poppy tattoo on my back is in honor of my grandpa.