“Waste not, want not,” or “finish your plate,” how many times have you heard those pleas? Have you seen perfectly good food thrown away anywhere—a school kitchen, restaurant or unsold produce from the grocery store or other place where food is served? Of course we all have, and now something is being done to rescue some of the 130 billion pounds of uneaten or unsold food in the U.S.
In 2011 students at the University of Maryland-College Park noticed a lot of leftover food from their school dining halls being thrown out while 1 in 8 people in their geographic area were fighting hunger daily. These students organized a team and called it the Food Recovery Network. The word spread to other campuses until they became allied with other food recovery groups. Early in the movement’s establishment a major concern was legal liability. This was averted by the 1996 Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, which protects nonprofit organizations and those who make good faith donations of food to nonprofit organizations from civil or criminal liability.
I would like to note here that just a few short years ago markets were not as picture perfect as they seem today. Bruises, bumps and blemishes were not cause to chuck the whole fruit or vegetable, just “cut off the bad spot and eat it” as my mom would say. Before recovery programs, stores would have a shelf or two just for damaged produce—I have found lots of bargains on those shelves. Some homeless shelters would have people come to collect or go through what might be thrown out. Local pet owners and farmers also come around looking for greens for their rabbits, chickens and other livestock. That is all good and still goes on in a lot of places. As time goes on this recovery program will become more efficient and organized so the distribution will go to those in need and not landfills.
Now that this Food Recovery Network is established you might want to know more about it or other food recovery groups, or donate food. Native American food education programs are establishing themselves all over Indian country.
There is Our Food Is Our Medicine from the Northwest Indian College and the Muckleshoot Tribe. The Lummi Nation, Washington State, Nez Perce in Idaho and other multi-generational education courses in traditional food and medicine are available. For more information visit NativeFoodSystems.org. The University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville had a Native Youth in Agriculture summit this July and may be able to help get programs going in your area if interested.
The Food Recovery Network may be best to contact if you are planning to initiate a local food rescue program. This is not a racial or cultural issue; it is simply a way to help this planet.
Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: “New Native American Cooking,” “Native New England Cooking” and “A Dreamcatcher Book.” She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.