Waste not, want not – in Oakland

❝ The red plum’s presence confounds the third grader. She didn’t want the fruit in the first place, yet there it is. She doesn’t want to eat it, but she knows that tossing it into the garbage at Oakland’s Hoover Elementary School is wrong. Standing before containers for trash, recyclables, compostables, and unopened entrees, milk cartons, and whole fruit, the girl’s decision-making matches her Disney-movie hijab — Frozen.

Fortunately, Nancy Deming, the school district’s sustainability manager for custodial and nutritional services, is supervising the sorting line today. “If you’ve started eating your fruit, it goes in the compost,” she reminds the girl with a smile. “If you haven’t taken a bite, it goes to Food Share.” The girl glances at the plum, then carefully places it in the clear bin, from which students can take whatever unopened or unbitten foods they please. Anything left will either be offered the next day or donated to a local hunger-relief organization.

❝ For decades, students here and there have made use of designated tables in school lunch rooms to leave or pick up unwanted whole fruit, packaged foods, or other meal items. Although rare in most school districts, Deming has standardized the practice and made it mandatory for schools serving some 37,000 students in Oakland. As the only school employee in the country whose sole responsibility is fighting food waste, Deming has transformed the Oakland Unified School District — and somewhat reluctantly herself — into a national leader. With her help, the district has arguably done more than any other in the country to minimize excess food, redistribute edible leftovers to people in need, and compost the inevitable inedibles.

Always nice to see someone in a craft often practiced casually – managed by cheapass bureaucrats – build sensible frugality into successful management.

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