Dumpster-Diving for Sustainability – UVic Community Cabbage

Quick! Without thinking too much – what comes to mind when you hear the word “dumpster”?

If you’re like most people, what sprung to mind probably looks more like this

instead of this

Right?

These are exactly the same associations I made too, until I recently spent a night volunteering with the UVic Community Cabbage club.

The Community Cabbage* is a group of UVic students who volunteer their time every week to expose the extraordinary amount of food that is wasted in our community, and offer a sustainable solution to a growing demand for food production. They do this by—you guessed it—collecting recently discarded food from grocery store dumpsters, and then cooking/preparing meals for UVic students on campus.

Photo: Community Cabbage Facebook Page

Their main goals include:

(a) De-commercialize food and increase access to healthy food

(b) Increase cooking skills amongst students at UVic

(c) Change the perception of “waste” food; and

(d) Provide a safe, community-oriented space for people to engage with food

(*Spoiler: they don’t just collect cabbage. And yes, in case you’re wondering, they have heard that joke before).

To investigate further how this operation works, myself and three classmates volunteered with the club for an evening. Here’s how it all went down:

1. The Meet-Up

Groups of students met at a predetermined ‘home base’ in which we were welcomed into the group, introduced to the club’s members, and given a rundown of how the food collection process works.

We learned that the club has a regime of stores and regular routes with which they conduct their ‘dives.’ The club also acknowledged another goal of theirs: to raise awareness and show respect for those that do not have the luxury of choice in dumpster diving. Their goal is hopefully to one day expand to a direct store donation basis, and provide food to a much wider clientele.

Once the routes were assigned, groups of students were dispatched and the dive was on!

2. The Collection

This is the part where I say the obligatory cliché of how you have to “see it to believe it.” Luckily, I have some pictures to help.

Group members Zac (left) and Evan (right) diving headfirst (pun intended) into the spirit of Community Cabbage.

Zac showing off some mighty fine limes

Despite all of what I had heard, a part of me didn’t truly believe that all of the prepared delicious meals that the Community Cabbage club prepared could have been made with just food found out of a dumpster. But when I propped open the first disposal door outside of a local supermarket, I was wholeheartedly convinced. Here’s just some of what we found:

  • Oranges, fully ripe and still in their bag.
  • A whole carton of cantaloupes.
  • Baguettes and other pastries, still in their packages.
  • 2 full containers of hummus.
  • A whole head of cabbage (fitting with the club’s name).
  • A box of delicious red strawberries.

And many more!

Needless to say, I was both impressed and shocked at the volume of food left to be discarded. It also made me hopeful of the room we have to improve on in the future, if enough organizations like this club continue to form.

3. The Cook-Up

Photo credit: The Community Cabbage Facebook page

After the collection night, we were invited to see the final destination of our collected goods – in the hands of UVic students!

The club voluntarily cooks and prepares stews, spreads and other meals using the ingredients found. The next day, they hand out everything for free either in the Student Union Building (SUB) or outside the McPherson Library every Friday.

To summarize..

This club not only provides a free service to students on campus, but also provides some key insight as to how Victoria’s current food management system can be more efficient and sustainable. Oh, and delicious food – they also have lots of that. So go check them out! I’ve posted a link to their website and Facebook page below.

Community Cabbage on Facebook
Community Cabbage Website

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