Thursday, March 3, 2011

Gleaning the Truth


Let us define our terms. According to the dictionary in my Mac:
glean |glēn|
verb [ trans. ]
extract (information) from various sources : the information is gleaned press clippings.
• collect gradually and bit by bit objects gleaned from local markets.
• historical gather (leftover grain or other produce) after a harvest : [as n. ] ( gleaningthe conditions of farm workers in the 1890s made gleaning essential.

Gleaning, also known as a second harvesting, is the primary activity that keeps the food banks around the world in stock. Whether it's produce hand picked by volunteers in the field or donated by the grower, or produce and canned good solicited from and donated by individuals and retail grocery strores, the retrieved food will eventually find its way to those who need it.  40 to 50% of  the food ready for harvesting never gets eaten! If more people were to become involved in the gleaning process, much of this otherwise wasted food would be available to food banks.
Here are some extracts from an excellent article that can be read in its entirety at:

"Waste is pervasive and occurs at every level of our ever-protracted food supply chain. It begins at the source with crops left to be retilled into the fields and concludes with yellowing lettuce in our refrigerators. 
We are all familiar with the latter, even the most diligent of shoppers, but few have any context to understand the former. Volunteering as a field gleaner is perhaps the best way to gain context and insight into our food production system.  It promises to revolutionize the way you think about all things food, there is no way it could not."

"This is critical time in which an increasing number of Americans are relying on hunger relief services for their access to food. Feeding America estimates that 1 in 6 Americans depended on local food pantry services to "get by" in 2010. At the same time, we are wasting food at an alarming rate, by the millions of pounds every day. "

"The reasons for food waste are plentiful, but pivot on two modern realities: inflated consumer standards (exactly when did we decide our apples had to be perfectly round and our potatoes eyeless?), volatile pricing due to the power resting almost exclusively with grocery stores and never farmers."

Here is an example of the above mentioned inflated consumer standards which can be found in the list of official USDA  guidelines:

 §51.2455  U.S. No. 1. 
"U.S. No. 1'' consists of carrots of similar varietal characteristics the roots of which are firm, fairly clean, fairly well colored, fairly smooth, well formed, and which are free from soft rot, and free 
from damage caused by freezing, growth cracks, sunburn, pithiness, woodiness, internal discoloration, oil spray, dry rot, other disease, insects or mechanical or other means. Bunches shall have tops which are fresh and free from decay and free from damage caused by freezing, seed stems, yellowing or other discoloration, disease, insects or mechanical or other means. Unless otherwise specified, the bunches shall have full tops and the length of tops shall be not more than 
20 inches. (See §51.2459.) 
(a) Size. Unless otherwise specified, the diameter of each carrot shall be not less than three-fourths inch."

The list to be found in the report provides the guidelines for just about every fruit, vegetable, nut, chicken, egg, all other poultry, and four legged animal. So, during its journey from the fields to the supermarket, TONS of perfectly edible food gets tossed because it fails to meet some arbitrary "standard."

Today I am including a piece written by Robert Kauffman, a fine story teller. 

Loaves and fishes, part two, February, 1975: Grassy Key, FL

Living in an improvised tent city during the recession that ravished this country during the mid 1970’s meant folks had to be resourceful to meet their basic needs. Having a place to squat and not having to suffer cold weather meant that a couple of the elements were covered. Food was another matter. The Keys of Florida are not a place where large quantities of food are grown. Most items beside seafood have to be trucked in and sold at high prices. Our community worked together to provide sustenance for all. It seemed all would partake of whatever showed up. Upwards of fifty folks ate together scattered about the beach.

A few of the crew got together fishing gear and headed up and down the shore gathering fish. When fish cooperated, we were grateful. Others of our band searched about for  tree fruits and nuts to glean. It seemed there were trees that had gone wild and if not gathered, their fruit would only go to rot. Our abundance of coconuts was supplemented by dates and an occasional piece of citrus, mostly limes or kumquats . Someone discovered a source of good produce. The supermarket in Marathon, would on a daily basis dispose of produce that while still good was not presentable for sale. After talking to their produce manager, he agreed to set these items on the back landing instead of placing them in the dumpster. After we took our lot we would sweep and clean up the loading dock. This helped supply our stores with needed daily requirements. Soon another windfall would show up that gave us an increased variety for our manna.

Occasionally a freezer would break down and after a short length of time, its contents would begin defrosting. We heard that in Florida such food would, by law, have to be disposed. On those occasions, large quantities of thawing foodstuffs would make their way to our encampment. When this happened we would have large quantities but small variety. On our first attainment, we got hold of over two hundred pounds of bacon and a similar quantity of butter. This was more than we could use and we had no facilities for storage. We begin to search for other places that had needs for food and shared with them, Also on the occasion when a freezer broke down we would likely suffer a tinge of gluttony. One time we even went overboard.

After a spell when the fishing was not profitable and other sources seemed to be sparing, we were all on a bit of a fast. One day in late afternoon, when the energy was low from lacking nutrition, one of our vehicles came bounding down the beach with its horn blaring and wild shouts from its driver and passengers. The cause of the commotion was the exciting news that another freezer had succumbed. Hurriedly, a crown gathered round to examine the booty. We had scored several cases of Tee Vee dinners. There was a scrambling for large pots so we could prepare the separate ingredients in large quantities and enjoy a feast. I went up the beach to spread the news--we were ready to break the fast. One of my stops was to visit Michelle, Richard, and Tom, folks visiting from Hawaii.

After sharing the news, we discussed the prudence in coming off a fast by consuming large quantities of greasy salty food. Instead of campaigning to encourage everyone to be moderate and not overindulge, we decided to  continue our fast sitting around our fire and share our course with anyone who choose to join us. Several folks dropped by to share our good fortune at receiving a large bounty. Only a few stayed with us to continue our fast and figure a way to slowly get back to the banquet. The overwhelming numbers of folks we witnessed that evening and the next morning suffering from overindulgence confirmed the wisdom of our decision and filled us with gratitude that we could withstand the temptation to join in the celebration.

The next day saw the rest of us slowly come off our fast, while most of those who ate were back to not eating. By that evening, things seemed back to normal and food supplies again  moderated. The community held together and festivity resumed.  By now our number of regulars appeared to approach nearly a hundred. Not having the scourge of a census, we could only estimate. On top of regulars we hosted batches of visitors just there for the day or maybe a night or two. It seemed some folks were attracted by  our no camping fee. These folks made up for that by increasing their sharing, especially of party favors.  Lightness was in the air.

Used by Permission

Thank you Rob!

Today, Robert Kauffman is the official receiver of goods donated to Loaves and Fishes. You can see a photo of him at :


Hope this has given you a few things to chew on.

Thanks again for reading Free the Food!!    Pass it on!


1 comment:

  1. Great post. Thank you for sharing.

    For more information about hunger in America or ways you can get involved, please visit our website.

    Feeding America