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Treasures in the Trash: Diving for Food in the East Bay

Shelby talking to shoppers at the Jack London Square Farmers' Market.

Shelby talking to shoppers about reducing food waste at the Jack London Square Farmers’ Market.

I felt a combination of apprehension and excitement as I prepared for my first dumpster diving mission. While gathering my flashlight, rubber gloves, and old shoes, I pictured my Honda Civic filled with bags of lettuce and wondered how much my car would soon smell like a dumpster.

When we arrived at our first dive site, I was shocked by both the quality and quantity of food discarded behind some of my favorite stores. Ripe tomatoes, unopened bags of chips, and packaged salads filled bin after bin. Sifting through bags of produce, I soon got a feel for which foods to take, and I was appalled by how much good food was ruined by being haphazardly tossed into the dumpster. We left behind beautiful, plump strawberries sitting atop a stew of mystery juice and abandoned squashed avocados seasoned with coffee grounds and ceasar dressing.

The next morning, my family and I enjoyed a delicious feast of gourmet bagels and fresh peach smoothies, and I am proud to say that I ate food from the dumpster! After witnessing grocers’ waste first hand, I pledged to keep groceries out of the garbage and in the hands of people who need them. Today, I work with the Food Recovery Network at University of Michigan to divert excess food from our dining halls to local food banks, and I manage my food waste at home by monitoring my fridge and making a list before each shopping trip.

Food waste is a relevant but solvable problem that sits right on our curbsides and behind our community markets. Although grocers cannot be expected to sell every item on their shelves, they can certainly implement better strategies to reduce waste, such as donating excess food, using bruised or blemished fruit in prepared foods like jams, sauces and soups, or selling soon-to-expire goods at a discount. We each can be waste warriors by paying closer attention to how we purchase and store food and by sharing this knowledge with others.

Bio: Shelby Senna studies at University of Michigan and has worked with Food Shift since May 2013. You may have seen her working the Food Shift table at the Jack London Square Farmers’ Market this summer! Feel free to contact her at

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