Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Actual Legitimately Dirty F-ing Hippies

I tend to sympathize with the hippie. Though I am not actually in the thrall of this sub-culture, I'm with hippies on the majority of socio-political issues, and their music kicks serious ass. However, reading this article about "dumpster diving," which we should all really think about doing because it's good for the environment, has seriously filled me with disgust and loathing. Who the hell would do something like this?

I've heard about dumpster diving, and read about dumpster diving, but in conversations and articles that seemed to identify it as the pursuit of anarchists and gutter punks --nothing that served as a guide for upwardly mobile middle-class squares. A few weeks ago, though, some hippie Dan went to high school with mentioned she was going to Trader Joe's to score for free the very same foodstuffs we paid good money for. It was just as good, just as edible and sanitarily packaged, and it didn't cost $100 a week if it just came out of the trash, she said. We felt like suckers.

Just to reiterate, they felt like suckers...for paying for food...merely because it didn't come out of a dumpster.

Picking up that first handful of free groceries is a bit like Christmas, exciting, enchanting. I hadn't known what I was going to get, so I hold the goods out in front of me for inspection. And here it is, my favorite kind of present: something I want and can actually use. I feel satisfied and, absurdly, a little proud.

I mean...she's picking through refuse for bags of banana chips, and then feeling a sense of entirely unearned self-satisfaction. Anyone could go score free banana chips in the garbage bags behind Trader Joes, lady. We don't cause we have a little thing I like to call dignity.

It wasn't an especially big throw-away day at the store, but I stand shin-deep amid the waste with a snake light wrapped around my neck, tearing open huge clear plastic garbage bags and examining their contents for salvageable eats. A sweet pepper, a dented tub of chocolate chip cookies, yes. A package of precooked sausages leaking juice out of a hole in the package, no. Half-pound hunks of somewhat moldy Monterey Jack cheese, sure.

At this point, I started to think...it's April 1, this is satire. AlterNet's not really suggesting we all start eating moldy cheese out of supermarket dumpsters. If this is incredibly self-aware, cutting satire, AlterNet, I salute you...but I fear it is not, and that this is serious. Because it gets even worse.

(Also, a sweet pepper? A single sweet pepper? I hope that was in a bag...)

When Dan says, "Watch out for rats," I yell at him for freaking me out, but I am most certainly immersed in the habitat of disease-prone rodents. When I do jump out, it's right onto the ground, right onto my ass when my feet slide out from under me because the pavement is covered in ice. Like last time, we can't find a parking space in our complex when we get back to our apartment because we live in a busy downtown district and it's club-going time on a Friday night. We run the garbage groceries, which for some reason are coated in the smell of trash this time, a block to our building and then up four flights of fire escape to our door. My fingers are that obnoxious biting pain that just precedes numbness, since I buried them in several unidentified stinky wet stuffs, and the wind is cutting across them now as they grip the plastic bags. Everything needs to be washed -- the cellophane on the cheese, the box of waffles -- to get the reek off, and we crack open a box of baking soda and put it in the back of the fridge, hoping it'll help restore appetizingness to our food.

Please be satire, please be satire, please be satire...


rednikki said...

It's not satire. They call themselves "Freegans". It's been common for a while now. The New York Times did an article in June of last year, and LA Times did one in September.

I'm of a couple of minds on this. On the one hand, it pisses me off in a big way that so much food (and it's SO MUCH - we're talking gigantic dumpsters full of food) just gets thrown away every day, in its packaging, because of an expiration date. There are people in the US who go hungry and could use this food. Food banks are desperate right now, because the price of food is going up, corporate donations and donations of surplus food are going down, and the number of people going to food banks are increasing exponentially. Legally, however, the food grocery stores are pitching can't be given away. It has to go in the dumpster.

On the other hand, I have a knee-jerk issue with taking anything out of a dumpster, the trash, etc. (My mom induced a lot of germ-phobia in me; it's only within the past two years that I've been able to bring myself to eat leftovers that have been in the fridge for longer than 36 hours - and amazingly, despite what she says, I'M NOT DEAD.) And I feel like it's wrong to take from them when I can afford to pay for the food.

I'm on a mailing list called Freecycle which bears some similarity to this - people post stuff they don't want to the list, and other people take it. That's how I got my couch. That's how someone else got my old vacuum cleaner.

Yes, it's real, and I'm still examining my feelings about it. You might find the LA Times and NYTimes stories illuminating. I also suggest you search the term "Freegan" and see what you find.

Lons said...

I've actually heard of dumpster diving before, and even talked to a guy at a party once who assured me he was a regular behind the Whole Foods in on National. But I was imagining people just taking boxes of food that would OTHERWISE be thrown away, perhaps something that had even been SET ASIDE be friendly and/or helpful Whole Foods employees.

I was sort of hoping this whole "trouncing through dumpsters in search of lone peppers" escapade was fictional, because it's so gross.

I mean, I hate the fact that we waste so much food in America (and energy and money and every other resource). But eating out of the trash doesn't really feel like a tenable solution.