Waste is Woeful: Gleaning

By Amelia for Boston Compass (#129)

November 10, 2020


Hey gleaners and gleamers! My name's Amelia and I'm subbing for Prof. Melanie this month. W.I.W. has just as much alliteration as the regular Trash Is Tragic column, but the acronym is inferior. (I tried.)

Melanie usually picks a food topic for November. I started thinking about preservation methods, farmer's market offerings, bulk stores... all things I'm excited about... but I felt really off. So many people can't afford food to begin with right now. Fuck.

Then I remembered that my dad is a bread magnet. "Bread finds him," my mom says. He's not magic, but he is shoulder-deep in suburban food rescue. Back in March he told me a lot of food got left behind when restaurants and schools closed down. I've read about farmers having to destroy crops because the market failed and it's too expensive to process and ship everything to a food bank, even if there were a big enough food bank nearby.

"It's one of those rare situations where you have both extreme surplus and extreme need." - The Loaf Wizard

My dad does a type of food rescue called "gleaning." It's like being a middleman, except it's really important work and he doesn't get paid. First he finds out about excess food at places like meat producers and restaurant suppliers, often via word of mouth. Then he calls around to see which pantry (or failing that, pig farmer) can take it. He then tries to deliver it before it rots. Distance is a factor, as are the weather, time of year, and the size and facilities of pantries. If gleaning were a spell it would be one of those complex, mathy floor drawings.

Sometimes it doesn't work. Foods might need a freezer truck to travel in or a big freezer to go into, which many pantries don't have. There's also nothing close, like nothing anywhere close, to an official, networked system of communication for this. A supplier with surplus doesn't know who needs what, and pantries often don't know where surplus exists.

Enter gleaners. My dad does it independently but there are whole organizations devoted to it. Here are some Boston-area ones:

Lovin' Spoonfuls - https://lovinspoonfulsinc.org/

Food for Free - https://foodforfree.org/

Boston Area Gleaners - https://www.bostonareagleaners.org/

Food Link - https://www.foodlinkma.org/

A lot of local pantries have had to shut down, existing ones are stretched thin, and volunteer numbers are low. Communication, facilities, and infrastructure are essential to food rescue, but just as important is having enough dedicated workers. If you're feeling keen and able, why not scry the orgs above, or contact your local food bank! When hunger and waste collide, it doesn't take a witch to sense solutions.

—Amelia @ameliacyoung


Check out all the art and columns of November's Boston Compass at www.issuu.com/bostoncccompass