I've been meaning to share this post for almost 2 years, but getting the words out has been hard. I have to start by admitting that I am profusely blessed; there is no doubt in my mind that I've found favor in God's heart. My family, both immediate and extended, loves me—sure we may have our moments of craziness, but when it comes down to it, the family pulls together. I didn't have to understand adult things when I was a child; the fridge was always full, the bills were always paid, no one touched me inappropriately, the adults around me weren't struggling with addictions, etc. God gave me everything I needed for happiness and success.
Luckily, I don't think I was ever what you would call a brat, but I'm not sure I was ever truly humble, either. I was probably in middle school when I realized I was blessed to have more than some, but I still knew people who had way more than me from a monetary standpoint. While money can't buy happiness, it sure does seem to make life easier. Being in the position I was in, firmly rooted in the middle, I was content but not cocky.
The moment I became humble was 2 years ago when I first deployed my devices for the research I would go on to use for my dissertation. A device sat in the bottom of each trash can in the university cafeteria, fulfilling the purpose of measuring the food wasted by customers. My goal was not only to provide the cafeteria with a simple and efficient way to measure how much food was being wasted, but to use that data in real time to inform the student body about how much food we waste and inspire changes in behavior. The United States actually wastes 40% of the food we produce and 1 in 6 people are living with food insecurities (i.e., they aren't sure when or where their next meal will come from).
The premise inspired me to educate our student body. After all, if we only take what we need, we lower the demand which also lowers the cost. At the very least, we leave the food preserved so that it can be donated to food shelters at the end of the day.
I thought I was emotionally attached to the project from the get go, but it wasn't until I deployed the project that I was humbled beyond words. The first few months of the deployment were basically a disaster. Interference and poor wifi signals meant my devices couldn't connect to the base station and the base station couldn’t communicate with the server. Every day I would have to investigate why I wasn't receiving data, which often meant emptying the trash, reaching in, and checking on the device. The smell inside those trash cans was atrocious; there were many occasions when I thought I would barf. Students in the cafeteria would see me and whisper to their friends as they walked by. A few people stopped to tell me that whatever I'd dropped in there wasn't worth it, and I should just buy another one.
My heart broke. Why? Because there are people who go through garbage for real, because they have no other choice. Most of us are only a paycheck away from homelessness ourselves, and yet we stare at these people. Most of us wouldn't dig through our personal garbage, let alone a public one. There wasn't even garbage in the can while I was inside, but I could smell the rot and people thought I had lost my mind. After I was done, I would wash my hands and walk across campus wondering if I had absorbed the smell—was everyone around me thinking I smelled like garbage? Of course, I was free to get in my car, go home, and shower as many times during the day as I needed. I could change clothes and truthfully, at any point I could have said this is too much I want a different project. There are people who don't have those luxuries.
During that deployment, I found a new respect for the poor and a deeper appreciation for all God has blessed me with. It's so easy to see people with more and feel like we don't have anything, but we have far more than some. If you don't have to worry about where your food is coming from or how you're going to pay for it, you are blessed. I ask you to remember that as you prepare your meals, as you pick up food from buffets, and as you clean out your pantries. Don't just throw food away, if you can, find a food bank or soup kitchen and donate it. Don't stare or shudder at those less fortunate than us who have to wear the same unwashed clothes day after day or who are so desperate for food they'll reach in the trash for our leftovers. God called us to take care of them! It starts by humbling ourselves and realizing we are the same.
- Dana Gunders. "Wasted: How America is Losing up to 40 Percent of its Food From Farm to Fork to Landfill". Natural Resources Defense Council Issue Paper, August 2012. IP: 12-06-B.