Sunday, December 14, 2008


First of all, if you missed last week's post, please scroll down and take a look. Coming up on December 20th (this Saturday!), 27th, and 28th, the Los Angles Poverty Department (LAPD) will be presenting a fascinating and free piece of theater written by Ron Allen. I had a brief preview of one of the monologues over some very tasty Chinese food last week, and I can tell you it looks like it will be quite entertaining. I'm planning on going to the show on the 20th if anyone else wants to join me.

What I have learned in the first few months of this adventure in spreading change is that a lot of causes need a lot of money, and particularly right now, forking over our own limited cash is harder than it was even a year ago. In addition, to be honest, it starts to seem like giving money is somehow a substitute for action. Don't get me wrong - sometimes money is the best answer, or the one most appropriate and generous for you or the cause at hand, but what I'm hoping to put into the public eye here are ways we can ACT that will make a difference. Some efforts really are clear actions, some are variations on current actions, and some might be considered 'awarenesses'. I'm still figuring this all out.

This week I heard a story on KCRW's Good Food program about food waste, which we all know, particularly post-Thanksgiving, is rampant in this simultaneously ambitious and generally lazy society (oh, I'll buy greens and squash and fish and make soup and grill and... zzzzzzzzzz). A movement called REPLATE is emerging out of San Francisco. The gist is this: rather than taking home our own leftovers to quite possibly squander them in an already abundant fridge, or dumping them in the trash when you realize you're too lazy to carry them, why not leave them - fully wrapped and ready to be eaten - on TOP of the street table we often call a trash can so someone else might reap the benefits of your much appreciated fullness. REPLATE's catch phrase - you might already be an activist - takes an easy action and makes it matter. So, give it a try yourself (we actually DID pass on a selection of leftovers from that LAPD meeting) and then spread the word.

The Frequently Asked Questions on the REPLATE site contribute also to the conversation about activism (is the bar too low?) as well as health and humanity. I would add, of course this kind of system works best when there are people on both sides who participate. And, please, if you have the flu, stay home in the first place. Here are their FAQs (see you on the corner):

We started this project because we noticed that people in West Coast cities and beyond were leaving their leftovers on top of (or next to) garbage cans when they couldn't find someone to give them to. We thought this behavior was worth talking about, so we gave it a name.

Now that it has a name, there's been a lot of good conversation.

Here are the issues that keep coming up:

Won't the food go bad and make people sick?
People are eating food out of the trash. They are digging into public trash cans, pulling out old, dirty food, and eating it. Surely food that's on top of the trash, and not mixed in with the muck, is less likely to make a person ill. Surely food that's in plain sight and easily accessible will be picked up sooner (and thus in a fresher state) than food that's hidden in the trash.

The idea of food left outdoors feels messy.
Some have worried that food will rot or that rats will get to it before hungry people do. This is a legitimate concern in small towns or sparsely populated areas, but certainly not in a town like San Francisco where, at any given moment, there are many people without enough to eat. [However, I have to add, this is not a mass excuse for litter or laziness. The heart of generosity is giving away something of value, something that you yourself might still want or use. In other words, your discarded pizza crusts are not equivalent to dinner. Keep in mind - litter is evil. More on that another time.]

Why not just eat your own leftovers?
Of course. Many of us do. But sometimes you just don't, for any number of reasons. Rather than toss 'em out, or go traipsing through the city looking for a hungry person, maybe the next best thing is to replate them.

Incompatible trash cans.
Apparently, New York City trash cans don't have hoods or ledges, so there's no horizontal surface on which to replate. This isn't as big a problem as some have suggested. If you want to give someone the food you're not going to eat, simply put it next to the trash can, or on a newspaper dispenser.

Evil people.
There's a strange paranoia in the conversation about evil people poisoning the food. Sure, it could happen. But you could also get pushed in front of the subway train. Or someone could put razor blades in your Halloween candy. People could betray your trust in any number of ways, but if you ride the subway, or eat Halloween candy, you know that the fear far outweighs the actual risk.

The City should officially get involved.
Some have suggested formalizing a leftovers drop-off point like a food bank, free dining room, or some city-sponsored receptacle. We think that's a great idea. Make it happen.

If replating your leftovers counts as activism, then the bar for activism is set way too low.
Maybe that's true, but though the first steps of activism (however you define it) are small ones, they form the foundation for the giant leaps to come. And replate is just the beginning of a conversation that we hope will inspire greater action.

And don't forget that this is an open-source movement. It's yours as much as anybody's, and you can build on it however you want. [I personally LOVE this sentiment, and feel it is the central and overriding cause of 'cause of the week']

So if you don't think it's activism yet. And if you want to make replate bigger and badder and more hardcore, we've got a hunch you'll get all the support you'll need.

If you have more questions or want to expand the conversation, email us at:

leftovers [at] replate [dot] org

To hear the whole show on Good Food, go here.

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