A few months ago, Gothamist posted a YouTube video about eating for free in NYC. I was immediately intrigued. Then I realized that the video was actually pretty upsetting. By getting “free food,” the video meant going through the garbage of places like Starbucks and Westside Market. While other countries are passing laws and creating community refrigerators to stop food waste, some restaurants and markets in NYC continue to throw away perfectly edible food as the city combats extremely high hunger rates, where a reported 1 in ever 6 New Yorkers is hungry.
More than one-third of all waste in New York City is food, and the city already produces twice as much garbage as any other city on Earth. New York City has to get rid of 33 million tons of waste every year. That’s about 10.5 million tons of Super Bowl wings, Fourth of July burgers, Valentine’s Day chocolates, and much more. But it’s also food waste from some of our favorite places like Starbucks, Gristedes, Pret A Manger, and more.
Starbucks, everyone’s favorite Frappuccino stop, throws away packs of perfectly edible Greek yogurt. Duane Reade throws away plenty of edible food at several locations. In the Gothamist video, one dumped bags of pretzels, containers of beans, and other pantry items while the other tossed parfaits, salads, wraps, sandwiches, yogurt, Lindor truffles, and a whole bag of Sabra hummus cups, among other things.
Westside Market throws out pints upon pints of fresh quinoa salads (usually priced at around $5) that may still have a few days before going sour. They also throw away fresh sushi. Gristedes throws away bread, hummus, sandwiches, and even fresh fruit platters. Pret A Manger donates some of their food depending on the location, but one location was seen in the video throwing away a pile of individually wrapped sandwiches that were made that day.
Trader Joe’s donates a majority of its food after facing some backlash in 2010 because of the documentary Dive! by Jeremy Seifert. Some other places around the city that donate waste are Au Bon Pain, Panera Bread, Amy’s Bread, Food Bazaar Market, Fairway Market, Key Food, and many more. Keep in mind that those donating are usually on a location-by-location basis, so there are some Pret a Manger and Starbucks locations that limit their food waste and help combat food insecurity.
Statistics show that all 5 boroughs are dealing with different issues in terms of food insecurity, something that disproportionately affects youth in New York City. The average cost of a meal in Manhattan is $1.10 more than the cost of the same in Brooklyn. In 2011, the population of The Bronx was 1.3 million. More than 20% of those Bronx residents reported being at risk for food insecurity that year.
Over 83,000 pounds of food is “rescued” to be donated each day in New York City, and over 2.6 million of all New Yorkers are at risk for food insecurity. To combat that, the city would need to come up with more than $1.2 billion dollars. You can learn more about food insecurity in your own town, or anywhere across the United States here.
You may be asking what the takeaway from all of this new information is. You probably won’t leave your dining hall to go dumpster dive, you probably won’t start protesting outside of wasteful restaurants, and you probably feel like even if you did anything about this problem, you may not even make a difference. While in many ways that’s true, what you can do is be a bit more conscious of where you spend your money, how much you buy, and how much you end up throwing away.
- Cut down in the dining hall, especially if it’s buffet style.
- Try to consume the things you buy in a timely manner so you don’t throw perfectly good produce away.
- Try to shop at markets are more socially conscious
- And you can always ask people working at a market or store what they do with leftover food and let them know you care about food waste.
If you’re feeling really empowered and want to make changes, work within your school community to combat food waste by creating or working with a sustainability club on campus. Create petitions for nearby markets and restaurants to show them that you care, compost your dining hall’s waste, and create consciousness amongst other food-lovers on your campus. And since most people on college campuses are usually broke, remind your fellow students that cutting down on food waste can be awesome for their bank accounts.