The Renaissance of Dumpster Diving

By: Grainne Rhuad

About a year ago I read an article that caught my eye. It was on extreme environmentalism, what the new generation is willing to do to both save the planet and be cool, hip and cavalier at the same time. The article made the proclamation that modern Environmentalist have upped the ante in their eating habits. This new level of consciousness has been given a name: Freeganism. The free basically means diving into dumpsters for your food. The ‘ganism’ part is from veganism, as a lot of the proponents of this movement are vegan, though not all.

Now this movement is a little beyond hanging about back doors of restraints and supermarkets until the food comes out. Many Freeganist actually go into dumpsters. I caught video footage of a Ted Koppel interview from 20/20 in which city Freeganists rifled through trash bags to get food left on the curb.

There is apparently a big movement around this hobby. It seems to have taken on a social club atmosphere. Some completely friendly and open, some secretive and private. There are websites for Dumpster Diving teams. Freegan potlucks and outings are posted on message boards. People list all kinds of things from sites to scavenge to partners to go with on craigslist. A quick Google search using the words Freegan or Dumpster Diving will teach you everything you ever wanted to know about this eco-eating scene. Some of these sites are “super secret” and you have to have a password. You don’t want everyone getting your tips. There are sites that sell long hooks so you can scoop your score out of the garbage bin. It’s not a terrible idea at all. What do you think happens to all that milk, juice and bagels that go over the mark? The environmental protection agency estimates that we throw away 245 million tons of crap a year. That’s a lot and I am all for cutting down on that however we can.

What captured me about this though is that this is being presented as a new idea. Something just now that edgy environmentalism, have come up with and that thought just makes me laugh.

I flashback to 1976, my brothers and I are sitting around my kitchen table at dusk while my mom and a few other women are tying their hair back in bandannas. It is warm so they are all wearing tank tops and have the kind of muscles you get from hard work and lifting kids. They look to my 5 year old mind like warrior women, although I don’t know what that is yet, I think they are strong. I know they are going out to get food for our families. It is Wednesday, the day that their favorite stores rotate food. 3 hours later. They are back at the table the haul is huge. There are all kinds of canned and bottled things, detergents with scraped labels. Even fruit and vegetables still in the packing crates. A big dinner is cooked while the goods are divied up and we kids feel safe and happy to be eating these “miracle” foods we would never be able to afford. Things like popular breakfast cereals, fancy Jams, cookies. I flash forward to my own starting out days. I moved out with my new family of two at 16, into a studio apartment barely bigger than my current bathroom. I had no furniture, appliances, anything. Lucky for me I live in a College town. Timing was everything in a college town. At the end of each semester college kids sent to school by their parents would purge their apartments into the dumpsters. Things they had bought new barely two years ago, couches, televisions, stereos, clothes, bed sheets, vacuum cleaners. This was the remembrance and lesson given to me as I grew up. People throw away useful things. The thing is we were poor, very poor. But we never really felt it. Why? Because other people were comfortable and careless.

The point here is that what is occurring in this environmental time is people are not being creative. They are looking back. But I wonder as this becomes trendy will it go the way of all things trendy? Will the people who can truly benefit from it miss out because someone wants to go slumming and see what they can find? Will people stop throwing out their old treasures? In a way I hope they do, but I hope they give them away, not put a price on things that had no worth to them before.

**Author’s Note: Assuredly the question will arise, what about the health aspect. I chose not to include this for one because this is a topic on its own. Another reason however is there is already a plethora of information out there on how to handle recovered food and how to pick through it. Suffice to say most things in packages and in clean containers or bags will be okay to eat. Many people do eat loose vegetables, etc. Most of these people note they have never been sick, but it is of higher likelihood to get sick eating loose, unpackaged food.

Author does not endorse or recommend anyone practicing in Freeganism. Freeganism is and should be a personal choice made with much thought.