DETROIT — Rob Greenfield spent Sunday morning shopping for food.
By 11 a.m., he already had salmon, multigrain breads, Starbucks coffee, oranges, bananas, avocados, tomatoes and peppers. For dessert, he had cakes, cookies and spice drop candies. He even picked up some microbrew beer.
He's not planning a Labor Day cookout. Greenfield is an environmental activist who's traveling part of the country to shop in dumpsters behind grocery stores, drugs stores and other places to draw attention to the amount of food that is wasted every day in America.
Conducting what he calls food fiascos, Greenfield takes the edible food he finds in each city, then displays it in one spot to show how much of it there is. Metro Detroit is his latest stop on a two month campaign that began in Madison, Wis., and ends in New York City.
"We've collected a couple thousand dollars worth of food today," Greenfield said this morning as he took a quick inventory at a stop in Clawson. "All of this stuff is still good."
Greenfield peeled a slightly brown banana and took a bite.
Some of the items had expiration dates of Saturday, Sunday or Monday, but others are good until next month. Most of the items are still in sealed packages. The salmon was still cold when he found it.
His lessons are aimed at both consumers and the stores that supply their food. His goals are:
• Reduce the amount of food by better inventory control.
• Encourage stores to donate food to non-profits that get it to people in need.
• Promote composting of food that can't be eaten by humans.
Greenfield said some corporations are coming around to the idea of donating surplus food, but most are still behind the times. The number one reason corporations have given him for not donating their food is the fear of liability if someone gets sick from eating it.
But he said that fear was put to rest in 1996, when President Clinton signed the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, which shields food donors from liability in most cases, though not for gross negligence or intentional misconduct.
Greenfield pointed to a 2013 study by the University of Arkansas School of Law that examined litigation related to food donation.
"A thorough search of filings and review of reported decisions did not turn up a single case that involved food donation-related liability or any attempts to get around the protections offered by the Bill Emerson Act," the study's authors, James Haley and Nicole Civita, wrote.
Through his website, Greenfield prompts sustainable living and he practices what he preaches.
A 28-year-old Ashland, Wis., native who makes his home in San Diego, he converted to vegetarian lifestyle and decided to focus on sustainable living. He carries no cash or credit cards, travels barefoot and mostly by bicycle.
He sleeps in a tent or taps the kindness of strangers for a bed for the night and a warm shower. A web-based network of touring cyclists includes people who open their homes to travelers like Greenfield free of charge.
He eats food from dumpsters and gets his water from dripping taps.
He's never gone hungry, gotten ill, been arrested or failed to find plenty of food.
"He's an inspiration to me," said Julie Palmer, 43, of Ypsilanti. "He lives life with so much joy."
Palmer became a fan of Greenfield after a friend posted a link to Greenefield's website, robgreenfield.tv. When she and her husband, Seth, learned he was coming to Michigan, they volunteered to help.
To collect his food, they agreed to help shuttle him around in their Chevrolet Traverse, driving him to various grocery stores in the suburbs of Detroit and filling up the back with what they found.