Today, he’s nearly 10 months into eating 100% foraged or grown food.
In “Be the Change in A Messed Up World,” Greenfield will discuss these and other efforts toward sustainability at 7 p.m. Friday at the University of Minnesota Duluth, room Chem200. The event is free and hosted by April Hepokoski, who manages the Zero Waste Duluth Facebook page, devoted to waste reduction.
Greenfield, originally from Ashland, lives in a tiny house he built from mostly recycled and secondhand materials in Orlando, Fla. He's in the area for two months, giving presentations in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
He was living “a typical American life” until 2011, when he researched trash, sustainability and resource consumption. What started as small changes eventually led to selling his cars, ditching his bank account and removing body care items made from unnatural ingredients.
In 2014, Greenfield traveled to major cities such as Philadelphia, Detroit, New York City dumpster diving outside grocery stores and recovering a remarkable amount of salvageable food. He turned his findings into public demonstrations, placing the items in colorful arrangements with cardboard signs "#DonateNotDump." On his website, robgreenfield.tv, he estimates saving more than $10,000 in food.
“Stores throw away food well before it hits the sell-by date,” Greenfield said by phone, er, almost. He ditched his cellphone years ago, and is reachable on Google voice when he has access to Wi-Fi.
He said what was striking was the “extreme abundance” of discarded items. He found a lot of bananas, oranges, meat, milk, cereal, granola bars, pasta.
“You really can get every food group,” he said.
His projects and his whole-food, low-waste lifestyle prepared him for his current project of eating 100% foraged, fished or grown food. He learned about foraging, went to classes, visited local farms, and he planted many gardens.
His main sources of calories are yams, cassava and sweet potatoes. He grows beans, spinach, Swiss chard and cabbage. In the Northland, he’s been doing a lot of fishing in Lake Superior and eating a lot of mushrooms, he said.
But there are challenges.
Growing and foraging all your food takes a lot of time, he said. You can call it a full-time job, and it can be difficult balancing work and a social life around it.
Also: “If there’s something that I feel like my body needs, I can’t go to the grocery store and buy it. I have to figure out how I can go out into nature and get it. It’s extremely challenging.”
It can be challenging to do work like this in a way that isn’t discouraging to others, but creates a conversation. “There are some who think I’m totally crazy,” he said with a laugh.
But Greenfield said he wanted to draw attention to the industrial food system and to spark conversation about where food comes from. He likes going against the grain, he likes “immersive experiences.”
Greenfield said he started on this path small, making one change a week, and he knew that would add up over time. “A lot of people would feel overwhelmed or disempowered when they found out their actions had a negative impact. I felt very empowered to hear that solutions exist, and that I could change my life.”
If you go
What: Rob Greenfield discusses eating 100% foraged or grown food and more in presentation, “Be the Change in A Messed Up World”
When: 7-8:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6
Where: University of Minnesota Duluth, room Chem200
Watch a video about Greenfield's foraging project: obgreenfield.tv/foodfreedom