On Dumpster Diving by Laura Ertmer
Dumpster diving is not about trash. It is about waste.
Esteban grew up on the streets of La Paz. He knows about trash. It is a last resort for the homeless - offering little more than bones and other food scraps. In Lima, basureros pock through mountains of trash to salvage tin cans and plastic bottles to resell. In Buenos Aires, cartoneros collect and recycle cardboard. In Bloomington, we too collect from what has been discarded - but ours is a privileged scavenging. We are feasting on the absurdity of mass food production and mega stores. America is confused about trash. The wealth - and shame - of our nation is reflected in the abundance of usable, edible and wearable items that stores throw away.
We are exuberant, energetic dumpster divers. There is no delight quite as wholesome as salvaging pounds of food from the garbage. Imagine when the beam of your headlamp first plunges into the darkness of the bin and illuminates a radiant red bell pepper. And then it falls on another. And then a yellow one. Oooh! Bags of apples. Broccoli. Ah, and there's some Brie! A fish fillet! A lime! A meal begins to take shape when the light shines upon some wine a peach pie. In this big metal box behind the grocery store, we forage for food and come out with a feast.
We win! We eat for free!! And yet, in our joy we recognize that this is sick. This system of production, consumption and waste is sick. Why are beautiful apples and fresh organic milk discarded? Have we lost all common sense? Do we not see food for food? Do we see food only as profit? Do we expect perfection in produce?
There is always more food than we can take. And we take all we can. We distribute it to friends. We throw dinner parties. We dry fruit, can tomatoes, pickle cucumbers. It's not enough. The dumpster is always full. Go. Take your flashlight. Drive around back and look in the bin. You will see the absurdity of the system. YOU can eat for free. This is the truth about the trash. If we ignore the waste of the system, we let it become trash. If we reclaim the waste, we eat for free.
America's food system is messed up. We do not pretend that we are changing it. We are, in fact, relying on the absurdity of the system for our sustenance. While we continue to to harvest from the dumpsters, we need to call attention to the waste. We need to ask stores to reduce their waste - or to redistribute their "waste" to social service organizations that depend on food donations. It is the cost we should assume when we are nourished by an immoral system. We cannot become complacent. This waste is wrong even when we benefit from it.