Update: Jonathan Bloom’s book is now available! American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do about It)
According to Jonathan Bloom, a journalist who writes about food waste, forty percent of the food produced in the USA for consumption ends up as waste, at an annual cost of more than $100 billion. Bloom’s writings include articles on composting, food waste law, and everyday ways for households to stop wasting food. And he is writing a book on wasted food in America.
He also maintains a blog called, naturally, Wasted Food.
Today’s post, Scrounging for Answers, examines a unique way Portland’s Reed College avoids wasted food: the practice of scrounging.
What, exactly, is scrounging? As Bloom explains:
The small college has a well-established tradition (dating back to the 1960s) where “scroungers” eat the leftovers of those with meal plans.
Students with board points drop off their uneaten food at the scrounge tables on their way to the dish return in cafeteria, the Commons. Scroungers gradually fill up by eating some of this and some of that.
He wrote about scrounging last year too, but this time he traveled to Portland to give it a shot for himself.
After trying it, my first reaction was, ‘Only at college.’ My second was, ‘This ain’t so bad.’ You get to taste a variety of items and, knowing you’re preventing food from going to waste, the eating feels virtuous.
When I attended Reed my financial aid covered board, so I did not see any particular reason to scrounge, but I dutifully shared my leftover germs with many scroungers over the years (and the irony that many scroungers came from families wealthy enough to not need financial aid was not lost on me). I never begrudged the lifestyle of the scrounger though, but I also never thought of scrounging as a possibly virtuous activity. But Bloom makes some good points.
Avoiding waste is an unintended (and happy) byproduct of scrounging. Most participants’ primary motivation is saving money. Yet, it’s not that all scroungers couldn’t afford to buy food. After all, a spartan bowl of rice and beans in the Commons goes for $1.05. Still, this being college, some students opt to save their means for…more recreational ends. And who can blame them for that?
Screw virtue: that’s gross.
That just seems icky. If the original eaters didn’t take more food than they were going to eat there wouldn’t be waste either…
Well, in most cafeterias there’s a standard portion size and a standard price.
I thought he grabbed a pretty good quote from me out of the hour+ drivel he got:
“You have to either be really cavalier or a little stupid to participate.”
I should have added: being stoned or really really busy helps.
Shawn – Not everyone can be virtuous.
Diane – Scrounging’s definitely not for everyone.
markovitch – I thought that might have been you. Hmm, I could have used that quote as the title of my post . . .
I’d honestly completely forgotten about the interview. Obviously it didn’t go that well, or he’d have let me know he was in town.
oh well. I got a good soundbite in. or is it ‘web bite’?
yay scrounge! I did a fair share of it back in the day, and I have to say I’d do it again. It was easier in the PFM days because students just paid to enter and exit, and no matter the quantity of slop and gruel the cost was the same. So they’d often be good enough to pick up a banana or bowl of sweet-o’s for the scroungers.
When Bon Apetit took over in the mid-90s it became more cut throat because it was pay-per-item. But I definitely relished the occasional orange or untainted roll, while the others fought over a cheese stick.