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Would You Shop for Expired Food?

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Growing up, most of my friends thought of eating food past its expiration date as terribly gauche. But I'd been raised by a family who shopped frugally and resourcefully, which meant that if a carton of 2% in our fridge expired beyond its demarcated date, it didn't matter to us; we bought it, so we’d have to finish it. Besides, our judgment was more sound than some arbitrary date. As long as there weren’t visible curds of congealed matter floating in our milk, we were good.

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Things have changed now. There's a growing understanding that eating food past its delineated expiration date is well within our dietary bounds, with the FDA explaining that, with the exception of infant formula, labeled expiration dates don't necessarily dictate the safety of food. And as of late, retaining food marked past its "sell by" date has become a matter of necessity: another way to curb and quell the ballooning food waste epidemic that has defied easily adopted civic solutions.

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Earlier this year, Wefood, a Danish grocer, made headlines stateside for an innovation that monetized this very practice. The new supermarket sold foods beyond their expiration dates, sourcing from other local grocers. It began with a location in the district of Amager in Copenhagen, where prices were discounted up to 50%; its clientele ranged from the environmentally-conscious to the low-income. Over time, it steadily attracted a base of shoppers so fervent that it opened up a second location earlier this week in Nørrebro, a neighborhood The Guardian describes as “trendy."

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“We are the first in the world with this concept,” Wefood’s Volunteer coordinator, Sofie Amalie Damkjær Østensgård, wrote to me earlier this week. “Every year, 700,000 tons of food are wasted in Denmark, a country with only 5.5 million people. It is a huge waste, and also a waste of resources and money.” All sales from Wefood, she told me, get funneled to DanChurchAid, the NGO that began Wefood, to combat hunger and poverty around the world.

What’s resulted is an organization with a battalion of about eighty volunteers who collect groceries from different suppliers and handle customer service requests. “I think Wefood has inspired many people to fight against food waste,” Østensgård surmised. “One of our purposes is also to inform and teach people about this huge problem, and, together, find solutions to how we can fight against food waste and change people's behavior and habits regarding surplus goods.”

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Much of the press surrounding Wefood hasn't challenged the claim that Wefood is the first of its kind around the world. But just last year, before Wefood sprouted, former Trader Joe’s President Doug Rauch realized his plans to open up a similar market, the Daily Table, in Dorchester, Massachusetts (which skews, demographically, brown and black, prompting some ire from food justice activists about the nature of Rauch's initiative), with expired fruits and vegetables repurposed for meals. It's unclear what, exactly, lets Wefood lay claim to being the first of its kind when Daily Table opened earlier. (Rauch hasn't responded to comment as of writing.) His venture operates under a similar pretense to that of Wefood: that expired food isn't synonymous with unsafe or unsanitary, and, for those who need it, it can be a lifeline.

Are there any initiatives where you live that sell expired food? Let us know in the comments.

Tags: food waste, wefood, trader joe's, daily table, denmark, masachussetts