Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"You People Don't Look Like Criminals"

As many of you may know, we hosted our 7th monthly "Dumpster Ride and Freegan Meal" event on Saturday. We rescued a lot of food, as usual. In fact, we filled up most of our cargo capacity (including the space in two accompanying cars) at our very first stop. The event was a success in all aspects. After the ride, we had a party at our gracious friend Eric Michael's house and enjoyed the bounty of our harvest (and the company of his pet boa, René). (more pics here)

But we had an extra element of excitement in our event this month. As we were leaving our first supermarket stop, some of us noticed that a helicopter seemed to be following our small band of about 8 cyclists. Less than a mile down the road, we paused at a stoplight and were surrounded by police cars! The issue was that an employee of the store was there when we were and he called 911 to report theft. He thought that we were stealing the stock that they keep behind the fence next to the dumpsters. We never met the employee, but the cops we talked to made sure he knew that we were not stealing.

The officer who confronted us asked one of our friends to open a wine box that was mounted on his bike ("That box looks familiar", the cop said). It was a classic moment when the opened box revealed not bottles of wine, but dirty potatoes and lemons. The encounter was a little tense at first, but it relaxed quickly after the cop shared our disgust in the amount of food that goes to waste. He told us that his brother, who works for a large food warehouse company, tried to start an organization to redirect his company's food waste to needy people. The effort crumbled because of tough legal requirements and food standards. Millions of tons of edible food are still wasted every day. In that light, the officer said he could understand why we were dumpster diving. He had to remind us, though, that trespassing is illegal (which I am sure we all knew). At the store we first stopped at, the dumpsters are locked behind a fence near the loading dock, where new stock is also kept. When we climb under or over that razor topped fence, we are incurring the law and suspicion of theft, even though we are careful to never take anything but trash.

One of the first things our officer friend told us was that "You people don't look like criminals". My haughty mumbled response was, "That's because we're not". (To which he replied with a lecture on trespassing laws). The scenario reminded me of a video in which my friend Ashwyn encounters a security guard while dumpster diving. The guard is telling Ash to leave, saying, "It's illegal". Ash counters with, "It should be illegal to throw some of this stuff out". Seriously, who are the real criminals here? The people who break laws about private property in order to make good use of edible waste? Or perhaps it's the corporations who are breaking laws of humanity by denying people food. The huge amount of waste has a negative effect on the environment, and keeps millions of people hungry.

On another note... What exactly did the cop mean when he said that we didn't "look like criminals"? Was he referring to the fact that we weren't hiding (since we don't feel that we do anything wrong, we allow ourselves to stick out like sore thumbs)? Or did he say that because we were a group of white people on mediocre or nice bikes? Just some food for thought...


  1. You realize why, right?

    Did you hear about the companies in New York who decided to start donating their food and clothes to the poor instead of throwing it away? For awhile it was good, but then people started suing like crazy due to bad quality food and getting "sick" from the food, etc. So the companies were forced to throw the stuff away again, and make sure no one was able to dumpster dive and take it, to protect themselves from frivilous lawsuits. It's not just greed from the companies, but greed from the individuals as well. Or you could repeat the old saying - a few ruined it for the rest of us.

  2. they were "forced" to throw stuff away. This is what im going to tell the police, I was "forced" to get the stuff that they wanted to donate to charity out of the dumpster because they were "forced" to throw what they thought was good enough for charity, away.