What is Oscar the Grouch Hiding?


Maybe our anti-social, green fuzz ball friend Oscar was telling us to scram because he actually scored an “expired” rib-eye steak in his trash can, and didn’t want to share. Did you know that roughly one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, which amounts to 1.3 billion tons per year (2)? What does it say about our values?  We are living in a world with limited resources such as land, water, energy, and fertilizer but after food production and distribution we are throwing a third of it away. Large amounts of resources are being used in vain, as well as the greenhouse gas emissions caused by food production (2).

Oscar the Grouch isn’t the only one scoring off this broken system of food waste. Jeremy Seifert and his friend’s stories are told in, “The Dive”, a documentary about dumpster diving. This documentary not only shows the exciting world of dumpster diving it also challenges the watcher to open their eyes to the hunger crisis in our nation, and world. It shows the amount of waste that we pile up in landfills and at a very alarming rate. It also speaks to the golden arrow of consumerism that we all contribute to and how it has an impact on our day-to-day lives (The Story of Stuff, 2016).  These brave dumpster divers are not only scoring great steaks but also challenging a system that is unjust and broken. Why is it illegal to take food from a dumpster that someone has discarded of?

Another group called the Real Junk Food Project is challenging the status quo of food waste by creating a Pay-What-You-Want (PWYW) café in the UK, cooking with unwanted food. What is unwanted food you may ask? Food can be “unwanted” or wasted, due to quality standards because it’s not perfect in shape or appearance, and also insufficient purchase planning of dates of expiration of products, contributing to large amounts of food being thrown into the dumpster (4). This Real Junk Food Project, 501c3, has highly trained culinary experts in the kitchen, that use their noses, eyes, and taste buds to see if the expired food is still cook-able. They are being innovative and reversing the carless attitude of consumerism, by making a connected experience to the food and others. At the cash register guests are given different options to support the community café:

  1. Pay what you can – a donation fair to your budget
  2. Pay with your time – an hour of help in the café
  3. Pay it forward – a donation to help someone else eat

This idea I believe could be a revolution in food waste, and spreading out food so all can have equal access to healthy, wholesome food. The PWYW café isn’t just for homeless people, it is for ALL people. The United Nations study’s data estimated that per capita food wast by consumer in Europe and North-America is 95-115 kg/ year, while in sub-Saharan Africa and South/Southeast Asian is only 6-11 kg/year (2). Just because some can waste that much food and still survive doesn’t mean we should! There is a Denver-based PWYW café implementing this model, next stop Glenwood Springs?

As social workers on the Western slope we can run with innovative ideas like the PWYW café’s. All people have the right to eat healthy meals, and why not help the environment by using expired food to prevent it from going to the landfills. Lets join Oscar the Grouch and really explore what were are throwing into the dumpsters. Creating further access for all on the Western slope needs to be a priority!




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