What is it about dumpster diving that excites such extreme disgust and disapproval? Sometimes I think it’s not just a visceral, illogical reaction to the thought of eating food that was—however briefly—considered trash. I think for some people caught in the earning and spending cycle the thought of anyone getting something for nothing makes them mad.

It’s been a strange couple of weeks. On Tuesday my old friend Stephen Dubner wrote about me and my life in his blog, and my own blog went from 40 or 50 views a day to over 3000. A few weeks ago when I began this blog Ed Cone was also kind enough to post something in his blog about mine too, exciting a little flurry of discussion. The people who posted comments here have, for the most part, been approving of the choices I’ve made in my life. Not so the people who have posted elsewhere! Of all the things I do and believe, dumpster diving seems to bring up the strongest emotion. I’m going to try to answer some of the comments here. As always, everyone—dumpster diver or dumpster diver-hater—is invited to chime in.

dd: “I went dumpster diving for food with mom and daughter; hung out as they cooked up dinner for their Food Not Bombs charity;” Is anyone else bothered by the juxtaposition of those two events? Shudder.

Liz: Well dd, as anyone who has ever worked in any kind of food service will probably tell you, paying for food is no guarantee of sanitation, but that aside obviously we inspect and wash everything before we cook it. Often the food we get out of the dumpster is still cold; why is something safe while it’s in a grocery store and suddenly dangerous half an hour later when it’s in a dumpster? One correction to Stephen’s post: Food Not Bombs is not a charity. Anyone who wants to can cook, anyone who wants to can eat—it is structured to work as effectively as possible against the “us” and “them” dynamic of a typical charity.

Justin James (excerpt): I had the occasion to meet some of my local neighborhood anarchists a few years ago. I was baffled at how they could be claiming to live “off of the grid” and with “no dependency on the government” considering their lifestyle: Eating food disposed of by a for-profit food store. Sounds to me like a pretty parasitic way to live off of the institutions you claim to despise…. Everyone I have met who claims to be an “anarchist” and tries to live that lifestyle was living no differently in function (albeit a bit differently in form) than the welfare cheats I have met and the criminals I have met. None of them could exist if everyone followed that lifestyle…Any system in which the world would stink if we all followed it, and is completely unsustainable if we all followed it? No way.

Liz: You sound very angry Justin! I wonder why? It seems almost as though you feel that anarchists are forcing you to be a kind of galley slave while they lounge around on the deck living off your labor. I’d be interested to understand what you find parasitic about eating food that would otherwise go to waste. Surely it’s not as parasitic as making a profit off of minimum wage workers, using up the world’s resources and leaving it to our children to pick up the tab, and contributing an outsized amount to climate change. For the record I have never claimed to be off the grid; I’m not even quite sure what “the grid” is. I do try to live responsibly and sensibly, but I’m no backwoods survivalist. We do agree on one thing though: I also say “no way” to any system in which the world would stink if we all followed it, and is completely unsustainable if we all followed it. It actually sounds a lot like the world we live in right now, doesn’t it?

The CA: People who willingly eat out of the trash can when they don’t have to and brag about it are worthy of some ridicule because that is just plain stupid for a number of reasons, health being at the top. Ridiculous actions deserve mocking responses. I could go on- for example, how do you live in an “anarchy” within your own home? Such foolishness seem calculated to draw attention. Sorry folks, but some things when done by educated adults are just plain silly.

Liz: I certainly agree with you, CA, that some things done by educated adults are just plain silly, but I think I’ll forgo the mocking response. I would guess that my housemates and I eat much more healthily than the average American. Dumpstered fruits and vegetables vs. McDonald’s? Tough call.

overeddie: I’m glad my mom isn’t doing any dumpster diving.

Liz: That is, of course, between you and your mom, overeddie, but you might be surprised. In my experience middle-aged women are up for a lot more adventure than most people give them credit for. It’s a big exciting world out there!



Filed under collective living

8 responses to “Eew!

  1. I’m all for dumpster diving, but it’s been years since I’ve done it myself and I don’t know how to discover good dumpsters, how to avoid getting caught, etc. Maybe you could expand on this entry with advice for dumper-diving newbies. 🙂

  2. Mani

    Online though it is, you might do good to remember that Dubner’s blog is hosted on the New York Times – and I suspect that us New Yorkers have very different dumpsters than yours. Maybe it ellicits a visceral disgust because our images of dumpsters are more disgusting – and more unsafe to loot.

  3. You completely evaded Justin’s point, choosing instead psychobabble about his “anger.”

    His point is that you are living on the surplus of capitalism while condemning the system that provides the surplus — the very definition of a parasite.

  4. Vada Bostian

    Phil, I doubt very seriously that fleas condemn the cats they live on…but to sau that is to say that Liz and others are truly parasites, and i believe they are not. There is nothing wrong with showing the world that what our society throws away is enough to feed the hungry, in fact I think more people need to awaken to that fact and realize that so called prosperity is really sheer greed and gluttony. Those are far more disgusting to me than eating out of the trash.

  5. Mirco

    Hehe, go Liz!

    The dumbfuck who accuses dumpster divers of being parasites cannot grasp the fact that if there were no dumpster divers (i.e. there was no need to dive) the world would be a wonderful place since we would have, finally, understood that over-production and greed-driven business is harming the economy.
    The answer of that woman standing in the backdoor of her grocery store is just perfect. The brainwashing procedure which has been imposed on us by whoever was in ‘power’ comes shining through, cristalline, in that answer:”The Law!” I will print a t-shirt with this answer on it. “The Law!” HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

  6. Margaret

    I would like to respond to the fellow who is glad that his mother doest dumpster dive. Well Liz IS my mother and I taught her how to dumpster dive and she got a ticket at the time (for those that think revolution should be violence against cops?) I found an article that i have only skimmed so any strong statements are not endorsed by my mother or myself (before there becomes a flaming overload) but it does hold some interesting facts.
    There are many ideas of where the world is headed but the facts don’t lie that in the only two hundred some odd years since the industrial revolution the acceleration of using resources and producing waste is becoming detrimental to the whole of the world even if can be an enjoyable, if not narcissistic, experience for a select few.

  7. Mani

    Phil – “Surplus” and “waste” are not synonymous. She is not dependant on that “surplus,” and she is only using as a resource because it would otherwise not be used at all. Eliminating waste for free, in a method that is beneficial to you and others, is not parasitic. (If you want to talk about the “very definition” of things, parasites harm their hosts, and/or the host derives no benefit from them.)

  8. 1. I am shocked and appalled by the comments of the woman who said the law is more important than feeding the hungry. I think it should be perfectly legal to salvage food (or anything else) from the trash. (In fact, it’s a low-tech and immediate form of recycling!)

    2. I think the almost everyone who disapproves of dumpster diving believe that food from dumpsters is probably either spoiled (“Why else would anybody throw it out? And if it wasn’t spoiled before, it’s been sitting there for days, just rotting.”) or else contaminated — almost as if it had been retrieved from a portable toilet. These facts may be wrong but given their (presumably mistaken) beliefs, their visceral reactions are perfectly appropriate. Have you tried explaining how/why the food is still fresh and sanitary? I think that will help eliminate, or at least reduce, people’s reactions.

    3. “Surely it’s not as parasitic as making a profit off of minimum wage workers, using up the world’s resources and leaving it to our children to pick up the tab…” I don’t want to justify any of the other actions you mention, but I believe that employing and paying workers — even at minimum wage — is clearly productive, which is exactly the opposite of parasitic! After all, the alternative to employing them is leaving them unemployed, which means they would be getting *nothing* rather than something. Salvaging food doesn’t harm those workers but it doesn’t help them either. If you meant that employing people is good and you think it would be even better if they were paid more, that’s not what you said or how it came across.

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