Trader Joe's and the Controversial Campaign

Filmed in South Pasadena, "Dive!" documents locals recovering pounds of food from Trader Joe's dumpsters.

asking residents what should do with its leftover food sparked passionate commentary on South Pasadena Patch. 

Many defended Trader Joe's despite Dive! director Jeremy Seifert's campaign through change.org.

The campaign is asking the grocery store to implement a company-wide policy that would essentially result in even more donations and hopefully set an example for other grocers. 

"Having worked with the homeless and homeless support organizations for many years, I can attest that Trader Joe's (specifically South Pas) has been extremely generous," Patch freelancer "They are one of the biggest donors to giving Bank; and the the LAMP organization downtown ... ." 

Why Trader Joe's?

Seifert is aware of the backlash and says he's frequently been asked, "Why are you picking on Trader Joe's?" But while many residents can attest to donations from the store, these residents also haven't seen the film, he told Patch. 

"Some of these stores are doing great things, but they have a lot of growth," Seifert explained. "Why not make it something that defines them throughout the country?"

"We are now living in a time where we can't afford to be lax about food waste and methane gas in landfills," he added. 

Dive! was filmed throughout 2008 and 2009; it documents "dumpster divers" in the parking lots of Trader Joe's stores in South Pasadena and Pasadena. At one point in the film, you'll even catch a glimpse of South Pasadena police officers stopping at the local Trader Joe's dumpster asking the divers what they're doing. 

As shown in the video, Seifert and his friends feed their families with the pounds of food—meat, vegetables, fruits—recovered from Trader Joe's dumpsters. 

In addition to this food, Seifert told Patch he'd like to see the store recycle the containers it throws away and send the inedible food to a local farm for composting. 

Trader Joe's Responds

Trader Joe's remains confident in its donations countrywide.  

"Fighting hunger is central to what we do. We are a grocery store," said Trader Joe's customer relations manager, Nicole High. "Thus, providing food for people in need is one of our most important giving priorities."

In 2010, Trader Joe's stores donated more than 25 million pounds of food; that's equal to almost 656 truckloads of food or 20 million meals, according to High. 

"Trader Joe's long running policy is to donate products that are not fit for sale but are safe for consumption," she continued. 

As stated on its website, High also informed Patch that each store has its own donation coordinator. South Pasadena's coordinator Beth Jensen said the store contributes to the community in two ways: If a product goes past the saleable code, it can be donated to local food banks. Oftentimes, specific requests from the community are also coordinated for special events. 

Seifert's change.org petition has generated approximately 77,000 signatures to date. Dive! is currently available on DVD and Netflix. 

To view the movie's trailer, click on the video to the right. 

Jones Foyer July 20, 2011 at 03:06 PM
I always assumed that there were laws that prevented grocers from using food that was considered expired. I would understand that composting is a logical, useful solution for a good deal of the fruits and vegetables. I'm all for reducing waste of course, so I totally support the cause, though I'm certainly not going to feed MEAT from a dumpster to my family or myself. I think that's a line best not approached.
Kaleb July 20, 2011 at 04:25 PM
for several years now, we haven't bought any kind of meat from Trader Joe's in any town---because by the time we would get it home and use it, it would be green already. Too many rounds of that and we realized that their meat just isn't healthy on the shelves, let alone in our mouths. We have found other sources for the protein we do consume. We get our fruits and veggies from local vendors and only purchase specialty items from TJ's now---which has cut our usual out-the-door bill significantly. TJ's gives what they can legally. Much MUST be thrown out, but perhaps, as mentioned, they could work on recycling packaging better, or compost---but again, passing usable food on to someone has inherent risks, which is why most are required to just toss old product.
Tiona Wierman July 20, 2011 at 05:24 PM
I saw this documentary some time ago at the Armory in Pasadena. It is an eye-opener. In this economic climate and at a time when children are going to bed hungry, it is imperative that we all take responsibility for our resources. I believe other markets are handling this situation better than Trader Joe's South Pasadena and I hope our market will improve it's performance. I understand each Trader Joe's has it's own policy so perhaps South Pasadena can help effect a change in our city.
Kristen Lepore (Editor) July 20, 2011 at 05:37 PM
Tiona, I agree that this documentary was an eye-opener. You're right—it's not just grocery stores. I think it's fair to say we all throw away edible food from time to time. Also—the grocer highlighted in the film for handling food waste well was Albertsons. There's one in Pasadena. Glad someone else has seen the film!
Diana B July 20, 2011 at 05:47 PM
I suspect there's even more waste at Von's, Safeway, Bristol Farms, Gelson's, and the other huge chains. Did Seifert decide there was no way to move those behemoths when he decided to pick on Trader Joe's?
Kristen Lepore (Editor) July 20, 2011 at 05:57 PM
Diane, yes I believe Seifert chose Trader Joe's because he saw more potential for change. He writes on change.org, "Most of the major chains crush their garbage in giant, bus-sized compactors, making it impossible to dive in for a late-night snack. Some of the smaller stores, however, ditch perfectly edible food into dumpsters. The one I’m most familiar with is Trader Joe’s since it is, as the company’s motto says, my 'friendly neighborhood store.'"
Amanda Wasserman July 20, 2011 at 06:36 PM
Somalia is currently experiencing the world's worst food-crisis in the last 20 years {http://www.latimes.com/health/la-fgw-somalia-famine-20110721,0,3126120.story}. The least we can do is feed our own community. I'm glad TJ's is taking positive steps, others desperately need to follow suit. There is so much work to be done on this issue. It's disgraceful how much food our country (let alone our community) wastes.
Henk Friezer July 20, 2011 at 08:44 PM
Yes,Vons/Pavillions (Safeway inc) does waste more food , when I started working with these markets they were generous, they donated produce, dairy, and miscellaneous items in addition to baked goods, Now the put dairy and deli items on a COMPOST stack along with good produce, in past years they used to donate these items to organizations that aided the hungry. Even baked goods donations have been restricted to certain items. In California we have the Good Samaritan Law which absolves these companies of liability as long as they donate in good faith, it is the same law that allows medical assistance in case of an accident without liability to the assisting party should something dire occur. Trader Joe's appears to be aware of this rule since they are most generous in their donations of almost everything salvagable, allowing for local organization and skid row shelters to assist the hungry. Kudos to Trader Joe's for their humanity!
marty c July 22, 2011 at 01:57 AM
Traders Joes should continue to put their trash into their dumpster. Seifert should get permission to reclaim Traders Joes trash and move it to the location of his choice - invite the dumpster divers there for snacks.
marty c July 22, 2011 at 02:01 AM
Find the children are going to bed hungry and bring them to the closest dumpster? Give me a break.
marty c July 22, 2011 at 02:05 AM
Food safety laws have to be ignored if one eats out of dumpsters. Best bet for free food is Pizza Hut - Buy a Coke, sip slowly and wait for people to leave food on their table.
bryan July 22, 2011 at 03:25 PM
Except for Marty C, you are all so ignorant. Unless every person who advocates that TJ throw away nothing and ship rotten bananas to Modesto for compost is doing the same then they have no right. I suppose TJ is ruining the environment through their electricity consumption.. they should be all solar (like every one of you are). I also know that TJ's is making a profit - how dare them! - they should sell all foods at cost so poor people can go there and shop too! This is a typical mentality of millions of Americans... TJ's (as denoted in the article) is a major donor to local food banks and donates all safe but unsellable foods. I used to work for Trader Joe's and we would throw away fruits and vegetables that 'looked' fine but had been recalled or contaminated.
Christine July 22, 2011 at 06:50 PM
I know that the Pasadena and Monrovia TJs give their leftover and expired/damaged food to Community Centers. I don't know about South Pasadena. I have seen it help many disabled and destitute families. I think that Fresh and Easy also does this. I am unsure about the big chains.
Lori A. Webster July 24, 2011 at 05:31 PM
I also used to work for Trader Joe's and can attest to what you say. There is the Good Samaritan law but there are also other, overriding, food safety laws that TJ's must conform to. If we want food chains (and Trader Joe's is part of a huge European conglomerate...owned by the German family who owns Aldi supermarkets) to donate more foodstuffs, we need to reform the laws to allow them to do so.
Julie July 29, 2011 at 03:18 AM
For another story about this with telling quotes about TJ's perspective, go to http://faculty.polytechnic.org/gfeldmeth/pawprintdive.pdf


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