The other day, I volunteered with some of my co-workers at a local food bank. Our job was to sort donated shelf-stable goods, throwing away items that were damaged, opened or past their expiration date. Five years ago, I did the exact same work, and didn’t think twice about it. This time, it was much different– an eye-opening and somewhat bittersweet experience.
The food bank is a large distribution center that literally “feeds” many other non-profits, who then come in to shop the warehouse and take what they need. On the one hand, I was grateful to be helping this organization which in turn helps many more. It was good to see that food is being salvaged rather than being sent to the dump. I had read a shocking statistic that in the U.S. we waste about 50% of our food. After working on the sorting line for just a few hours, I fully believed it.
On the other hand, much of what I sorted barely qualifies as “food”: Something in a plastic squeeze bottle that had the word “Oreo” on it; MSG-laden soups and canned pasta meals; and carton upon carton of Capri Sun “fruit drink.” If it is going to make a difference to people who would otherwise go hungry, then there is no ambiguity– feed them. But it illustrated just how big the problem is and how far we have must go in spreading the word about bringing real food back into the mainstream.
The Buddhists have a saying, that we can transform “poison into medicine” by taking those things which anger or upset us and using them to take action to create positive change. So rather than get depressed about how much crap I saw, I decided to become even more energized in spreading the word about the importance of fermented foods– “medicine” which can help heal our guts and at least partially undo the damage being done by the energy-dense, nutrient-lacking processed foods that comprise the SAD (standard American Diet).
Spread the word, Fermenters!