Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dumpster Diving

I wish I had written yesterday – when the event was still fresh in my mind but I had yet to relate the experience to anyone and I was still delusional from sleep deprivation. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I participated because we had run out of funds for the month (although, this is true) or because I had some moral convictions that were satisfied by it (although, this is true, too). The heaviest weighing factor was simply curiosity. I had seen the fruits (literally) of the previous week’s scavenging and I wanted to understand just how much edible waste was actually found in these excursions.

The night began with only two of us who left at midnight for the nearest Trader Joe’s. Initially, I was disappointed by what I saw. The dumpster smelled foul and it looked like most things had yogurt or orange juice dumped on them. It was only about a quarter of the way full which lead me to my 2-minute assessment that there was nothing to be salvaged. My more experienced partner had an eye for this thing, however, and over 15 minutes of poking around, she managed to spot us several dozen unopened bags of bagels, a pair of zucchinis, 4 perfect Fuji apples (and 2 bruised ones), 2 cartons of blueberries and a basket of fresh basil. I was particularly surprised about the apples as they were the only unpackaged treasure we pulled. My friend explained that if the skin wasn’t broken we could wash them with water and a little bit of bleach and they would be sanitized enough to eat safely.
As I was climbing out, we were joined by several other dumpster divers who we spent the rest of the night with. Since it was my first time, they climbed in and double-checked for goods I may have missed. They found a bag of lemons with only one moldy piece of fruit, two unbroken eggs, and a sad looking sweet basil potted herb that they determined could be brought back to life.

We stopped at a few other stores along the way to the site most frequented by my Freegan friends. The ones with management and night crews still out and about we avoided. I have yet to confirm this, but I learned that dumpster diving is not illegal as long as it not on private property (which, apparently, means it is an enclosed dumpster). All the same, we did not want to call attention to ourselves or create an awkward confrontation over this grey-area activity.
We were not the first to get to the prized dumpster, a couple had loaded up nearly two trunks of food before we got there. I got a glimpse before they awkwardly left us to get the last pickings – they had several bags of breaded goods with expiration dates for that day, boxes of produce looking a bit less than pretty but still totally edible, and good deal of shelf-/dry-goods. Apparently, the night of the week we went followed regular shipments at this particular store, so the dumpsters area always full of product that was replaced during that day.
At this site, I, alone, brought home over $70 in grocery foods. This was what was left after we removed all moldy, dairy, warm, or questionable products from our findings. Anything that had not been pierced and could be washed in bleach was fair game. Understanding that I came only from a two-person home, this was a meager portion compared to the amount the other two intentional communities with me took. One of the girls with us even commented that it was far less than normal and they would have to come back the next night; but I was pleased.
The people who beat us to our bounty were a true Freegan couple (eating only free, organic, non-meat products) and so what was left for us to pick from in the dumpster was a large variety of packaged meats. I was extremely skeptical of taking any, particularly the poultry, but the community members assured me that they had never experienced any ill effects from eating the packaged meats they pulled. To accommodate my skepticism, they gave me the meats that were still frozen in their sealed packaging. I hit the jack-pot when I stumbled upon a garbage bag of eggs still in their cartons. I pulled out about ten dozen eggs in perfect condition! This was what the two houses were hoping for as eggs are a main staple, easily prepared, possessing a long un-refrigerated shelf life, and numerous.

At the end of the night, we took out all the goods from our cars (even the ones that had been scavenged by smaller groups in locations I had not been to) and laid everything out. Item by item we asked out loud who wanted what. The divvying was facilitated by questions of amount and preference and gifting all at once; and there was an air of joy and effortlessness to process. In the kind of conversation where it is reasonable to expect conflict, there was openhandedness and an absence of entitlement. Things were not allotted based on what was fair, or even on who needed what, but exchanged in generosity. I am not exactly sure how such an “exchange” of any kind happened because, without sounding communistic, the food belonged to all of us at once. I suppose a contributing factor was that the dumpster would be there the next night and the next and the next…
When I got home, I was nervous that the food I received would go bad or make us sick and so I prayed. The words I heard myself saying were not at all unique, but they had more implication than ever before – I asked that the food I received would nourish us (despite being pulled from a dumpster), that God would protect us (from dumpster bugs), that God would continue to provide for us… The attitude that my friends from the communities had during the distribution suddenly made sense to me. It wasn’t that the food belonged to all of us, it was that the food belonged to none of us.

What do you want to read next?
The Irony of Dumpster Diving
Revenge of the Hidden Temple (Danica's version of the childhood game show)
Pictures Transformers in places they shouldn't be (as edited by Danica for tour)
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