A waste is a terrible thing to mind

The intertubes were buzzing last night with the story of a dumpster full of food being thrown away at the Fred Meyer store here in our part of town after the power went out for a day or so and the food was not refrigerated. Locals started dumpster-diving to retrieve it – there were literally tons of food items tossed in there, and no other garbage in the mix – when store security stepped in to stop them. Then the store managers called the cops, and a dozen or more city police officers showed up to protect the dumpsters so that the food can be carted to a landfill and dumped there for all eternity.

The would-be gleaners are outraged, of course. Most of them say they were planning to haul the food off and feed the homeless with it. And to them, a lot of the stuff looked perfectly good despite having gone unrefrigerated for hours on Sunday night and Monday.

The ongoing bad will that the Portland police have generated in recent years bubbled up in the middle of this, too. The people who would like to see the police abolished definitely were not changing their minds about that while arguing with a dozen cops over a dumpster of rotting food.

I agree that it's bad news when food goes to waste. But I'm trying to figure out how that outcome could be prevented in situations like this. The grocery store can't let strangers go diving into its dumpsters. If nothing else, it's dangerous. So what was the store supposed to do?

I guess it could have a system in place so that when the power goes out, an alert is sent to the food bank or some homeless services outift to see if they can come and take the food before it has to be discarded. But the charity would have to have transportation at the ready, and working refrigeration with spare capacity, and they'd have to move quickly. And if the power came back on before it was too late to save the food, the store would probably want to call the whole thing off. Otherwise, its insurance probably wouldn't cover it.

Alternatively, I suppose the store could send out an alert to the public that all perishables are now free, come and get them in the next hour or two. But you can imagine the chaos that would ensue. In an ice storm, no less. And inside a store with no power. What a mess. That's probably not a viable course of action.

What I really don't get is, similar food spoliage had to have happened at dozens of grocery stores around the area. It wasn't only at that one Fred Meyer store. Did managers at other stores just look the other way while divers dove? Or are all the other neighborhoods less activist (or less hungry)?

I hope the Portland media follows up on this story. I'd like to hear what the local experts on hunger and homelessness say about the incident. Could that food actually have gotten into hungry mouths if the store had done the right thing? Could the food bank or homeless shelters have made use of it? Would they have taken it even if they could?


  1. Is there no small irony that a dozen police were sent to protect food/property in the midst of a storm event?


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