Even though my talents are more suited to eating than to cooking, I have become addicted to the Food Network’s offering of competitive cooking shows (“Chopped,” “Cupcake Wars,” etc.).

The other night, I saw a Food Network special called “The Big Waste.” Part cook-off competition and part documentary, the show illuminated the sickening reality of food waste in America by challenging two pairs of famous chefs to prepare a gourmet meal for 100 people using only ingredients that would otherwise be thrown away.

To find their ingredients, the chefs went to grocery stores, butcher shops and even farm fields. They also enlisted the help of a seasoned “freegan” — someone who subsists on food discarded by others. The guy who led them to dumpster treasure-troves full of perfectly good products was not poor or homeless, as some might assume. He had a good job and a nice apartment. He just felt it was irresponsible to let so much food go to waste.

It was shocking to see the heaps of food items that were tossed into the garbage — especially the fruits and vegetables, which were often thrown away simply because of a few small spots or blemishes. Most store owners blamed American shopping habits for their wasteful practices.

They’re right. We have become conditioned to look for perfection. When I’m shopping in the produce section at Safeway or Albertsons, I pick through tomatoes and apples like I have a severe case of OCD. I don’t think I have ever consciously bought a fruit or vegetable that had a mark or a bruise.

I was intrigued and disturbed by the sheer quantity of perfectly good food that was stuffed into trash bags, and I couldn’t help but wonder if this sort of thing happens in Missoula, too. After doing a bit of research, I stumbled upon a 2009 “Missoula Independent” article about the local freegan community. From what I read, this sort of thing is happening right here in the Garden City.

It might not be enough to turn you into a diehard dumpster-diver, but it’s definitely worth a read if you haven’t seen it already.

Brooke is a 2010 graduate of The University of Montana, where she ran track and cross country for the Grizzlies. She is currently working as a writer and editor in Missoula.

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