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  • Dumpster Diving Issues, Debates & Articles

    This page collects a few of the debates and ethical issues regarding dumpster diving that we've tried to deal with over the years on our blog. It was never intended that we'd discuss such things, our idea was to simply emphasise food wastage and promote dumpster diving, but these things are never quite so straight forward. Plus i like to waffle, evidently. Here's a quick list of contents:

    Stealing Food from the Homeless? (10.04.2008)

    here's an email i received a few weeks ago (it was posted via the comments form so i feel justified in publishing it here):

    The only problem I find with "freegans" is that you are taking from those who are truly in need. There are people who have no other choice but to go to a dumpster. they don't even have money to shop at the goodwill. Its like sometime I take clothing to the goodwill and then sometime I put in a dumpster because I know there is someone who needs it. but now we have those who can afford to buy and have decided to take from the truly poor because its in style. You aren't doing anything but taking from the poor and sick who are out there and have nothing but a dumpster to go to. They don't have anything else. They don't have a home to take the "dumpster food" to and wash and cook and make a great gourmet meal. They eat the food right then and there.

    then let them eat cake!!

    joking aside, she raises some good points, so i figured i'd try and put together some kind of reply. and it's difficult, because obviously i can afford food (quite blatantly, if i can afford a website etc). this is also why i don't like the word "freegan", it implicitly includes a choice and it's inherently middle class. and yes, i'm just a self-hating middle classer.

    but anyway. given that the statement is true, that by taking food from a dumpster we're directly depriving homeless people, there's a few defensive arguements i can come up with, of varying quality and conviction.

    the first, and possibly only solid defense, is participation in Food Not Bombs. this point is self-evident and is well documented elswhere, so i'll leave it at that for now.

    looking at the bigger picture, what we're driving at is how wasteful and unsustainable our society is. argueably, supermarket food wastage is one of the least important aspects of this, but it is the tastiest. and also the easiest to highlight in a way that everyone understands - free food. the freegan/dumpster diving contradiction is that its ultimate (succesful) conclusion is that food waste becomes zero. attaining the goal (destruction of the food industry) disables the process and is hence an altruistic goal. so in that sense, yes we're destroying a source of food for homeless people (and ourselves), but we're also trying to establish a society that actually gives a shit about such things and can sustain everybody.

    taking a more mathematical angle, you need to balance the loss to homeless people with the losses to the rest of the world caused by participation in the food industry. without significant research this argument is going nowhere, and due to the small scale of freeganism and the large scale of the food industry, it'd probably go nowhere anyway. but i still think it needs consideration, especially if the actual impact of freeganism on the homeless isn't as significant as stated. this is a possibility.

    are we really taking food that would otherwise be eaten by someone who needed it more than us? it seems valid enough, but i just don't think it's true. whenever we dive we take only a fraction of what is available (excluding that cheese the other day, our bad) and we distribute when and where possible. but that's beside the point, we go at all times of the day and night and we've never not been able to find food at our regular locations. it works both ways, if other people were eating from the same sources then at times they'd be nothing for us. but that's just not the case. there's enough for everybody, as proven by the contents of the dumpster.

    the dumpster never lies etc. so let them eat cake, and whatever else we can find.

    of course, what we should be doing is growing our own food. and we do, a little. but nevermind.

    maybe now is a good time for some panels from an uncle scrooge comicbook entitled "how to make it rich":

    any ideas for a better monologue?

    Using a Dumpster Symbol

    one of our ongoing projects (meaning: one that hasn't gotten anywhere) has been to develop some kind of dumpster logo. something akin to these:

    the idea is to create a method of communication between fellow dumspter divers, to create a lifesize map, thrown over the 'real' city, marking out the mounds of trash that lay hidden down alleys and behind high fences, to plot the hidden dumpster landscape. some wordy crap like that.

    then the other week i discovered that a dude called posterchild has already created one (great blog, btw). it's gorgeous too, but aesthetics aside, it has a few funadmental flaws. i feel really bad critising the work, but i think it's important that we analyse the implications of using such a stencil and weigh these up against its potential benefits.

    the intention is that the symbol alerts other divers to a good dumpster, and it even has variations to describe the different types of loot you can expect to find inside (food, work materials, etc), which is genius. however, and this is my main concern, it is more likely to alert the owner of the dumpster, in a way far beyond simply leaving a mess - it explicitly says "we raid your trash". chances are they wont be happy and they'll take measures against us. technically it also breaks one of the basic rules of dumspter diving, that you should clean up after yourself and leave no trace you were ever there.

    the other thing is that i can't conceive of other divers actually seeing the symbol unless they were already heading for the dumpster, flashlight in hand and bags at the ready.

    so what do we suggest? firstly, the symbol needs to less obvious (but still universally interpretable) and much simpler, simple enough for anyone to draw or spray in a matter of seconds. secondly, it needs to be away from the dumpster and be directional - a symbol (or series of symbols) that can be seen from a main road and followed. just like a treasure hunt, except with real treausre.

    Urban Self-Sufficiency (or, "Who needs an allotment when you're knee deep in garbage?")

    Wouldn't it be nice to own an allotment and grow your own food instead of buying it? To have a place where you can escape, where everything you do you're doing for yourself? To feel that when the system finally collapses you'll be okay, because as long as it's still raining outside those potatos, carrots and peas are going to be just delicious..

    Sure it would, but we're all living in cities and the only available soil in a five mile radius is on the Tesco roundabout. The art of agriculture is dead and we seem to have reverted back to the days of hunter gatherer, except now you're wielding your wallet instead of a spear. This inability to fend for ourselves is tragic and embarrassing.

    Worse still it costs us our money and our environment. Only 5% of the money spent on food goes to the people who grow it, the rest is absorbed by packaging, transportation, marketing and supermarkets' profit margins. So in theory (and ignoring economies of scale, because economics is fucking boring) you could eat for a twentieth of the price you currently do if you grew it all yourself. This isn't peanuts either, in 2005 the average family spend on food was equivalent to over a third of their disposable income (i.e. after tax, mortgage, rent, bills and food). That's a lot of beer money.

    If I could be bothered to look up some statistics on commercial waste I would make this paragraph shock and awe, but the stats aren't important because you can go out and see the waste for yourself. It's in those dumpsters behind shops and down the sides of supermarkets, the ones that are full of perfectly edible food that's only there because supermarkets can't be bothered to deal with it properly. It's slightly out of date so it goes in the bin, because there are hungry people who would eat that. The packaging is slightly damaged so it goes in the bin, because what else would they do? give it away?

    The food is there and you don't even have to spend time growing it, you just have to hunt and gather it. Yes out of a bin, but those bins are cleaner than the polluted soil covering that roundabout, and you'll find more of your food groups there than you will in McDonalds (that's not saying anything, i just wanted to make the obvious comparison).

    This is the new self-sufficiency, but most people just call it Dumpster Diving or Skipping. On any given night a supermarket's dumpsters will be full of vast quantities of perfectly edible food, your only problem is finding the accesible ones. A lot of places will lcok their bins or keep them in compounds, and if you mess with these you're breaking the law - don't forget that when you're dressed all in black with a torch strapped to your face you're going to look suspicious. This is maybe why people in Ontario go dressed in furry raccoon suits.

    Seriously though, taking food from dumpsters is easy and safe (if you're sensible). There are just three rules: And if anyone asks, you're looking for boxes, and you're leaving now thank you very much.

    This isn't for everyone of course (if it was then you wouldn't be able to do it), but if you're hesitant and need some convincing then check out this dumpster diving blog for an example of what you could find on a daily basis. You'll also find links there to further sites full of essential hints and tips.

    Hurry though, before the bananas make you free fruit and veg rippen too quickly.

    (a quick note on this article: it was originally written for BlueJumpers, an online magazine websites, and was also to be published in Greensburg Magazine, an american magazine that may not have ever made it to the printers due to a nasty computer-related disaster)

    Dumpster Diving Eggs

    when we started dumpster diving our biggest quandary was always eggs, if any issue could divide our group that was it. these days we have it sorted, but it continues to be the most common cause of concern from others.

    so to this end, our dumpster diving guide to eggs:

    you'll find eggs regularly due to their fantastic packaging design (nature knows best as always, or rather evolution does). eggs are easily broken and damn messy when they do, so when they bite the bullet they take the whole ship down with them, along with all their crew mates. these eggs, their only crime was to be layed beside a weakling, they simply picked the wrong friends. they'll be in date and aslong as they havn't been sitting in a warm bin for too long (not likely knowing dumpster divers) are as good as their comrades still sitting on the shelf with a price on their head.

    of course there are other reason for eggs to be thrown into the dumpster. they might be old so always check the date. also there might have been a recall (ooh, salmonella outbreak) which is much harder to identify. if this was the case though you'd generally expect to find egg genocide, rather than a minor cull of six. but if in doubt, and you can't find any reason why the poor eggs have been left to their uneaten fate, leave them be. because you never know.

    another important point is to not take food that's been covered in egg. that shit is not cool. also be careful when transporting your eggs home. the last thing you want is to spoil your lovely fresh broccoli and aubergine.

    when you get your eggs home check them carefully for cracks. a crack is a break and a broken egg is a bad egg. then you should do the rather crude but quick egg test - bad eggs float. this tells you nothing if all your eggs sink but it's still worth doing. if any of them do float then bin them all, it's not worth the risk and it's not like you paid for them anyway.

    to be extra safe, the next morning i recommend you scramble them and lay them down over toast for a severe interrogation. spare them no mercy.

    so to summarise, when not to take eggs from a dumpster: and one last thing that i'd like people to keep in mind, food doesn't change in the distance between the shelf and the bin. something i take from the bin could easily have been taken from the shelf two hours previously. standing in line and paying for your food doesn't put you at less risk, it just gives you the right to sue.

    The Dangers of Dark Alleys (18.06.2007)

    an often unmentioned danger of dumpster diving seems to be the one most associated with hanging out in dark back alleys - how come no one ever talks about getting mugged? sure we all act sensibly, but sometimes you just can't help running into someone who's a little less friendly than the disgruntled store owner or the angry resident who thinks you're encouraging the rats. right?

    or maybe this shit never happens, i don't know.

    we'd wandered behind a supermarket, more to use their 'toilet' than raid their bins, but since we'd found a variety pack of shampoo and shower gels i'd class this as a dumpster diving story. i'd noticed a group of hooded individuals milling around at the other end of the alley, but was determined not to give into the prejudism (is it racism? is it statistics? is it just bullshit?) and worry they were out to cause trouble. i give most people the benefit of the doubt, and it hasn't led to a mugging yet, that's what i was thinking.

    but of course this wouldn't be a story if they hadn't began to approach us as we walked along the alley. julie was busy trying to get a leaf off some random tree and didn't understand why i was trying to get her to hurry up. and in the end it was sedric who sorted it all out, with a little bravado i would never have dared stretch too. perhaps they did only want directions, perhaps they did only want to sell weed. but then perhaps they did have knives and guns. it's weird, cos people do get shot in this city all the time. although i think it's generally gang or bank robbery related. there was that great time recently where police chased a robber through a busy school playground. i heard about hailing bullets, luckily no one was hurt. justify that, you moronic police.

    anyway, i think the main point to consider is who exactly is going to mug someone who's rummaging through bins? you think i have money? you want something from me? go check that bin over there, it's full of fantastic stuff. and apparently, if you get mugged in berlin, the best thing to do is deliberately run full speed into something big and hard. dave recommends a bus shelter, just make it funny, whatever. his muggers even bought him a beer afterwards.

    A Bad Corporation Gets Worse (15.05.2007)

    looks like masterfoods have fucked up, surprise surprise. they've started putting non-vegetarian ingredients in products that used to be vege friendly, and it's completley absurd. i don't care about this because it means i can't eat mars bars anymore, i haven't been buying masterfoods products for a long time, but because it shows how little these companies care. and why should a vegan care? don't be so fucking egotistical, this doesn't suck because of how it effects a bunch of "dietary freaks" who can't eat their favourite chocolate bar anymore, but how it effects a bunch of calves.

    and it's a step in the wrong direction when masterfoods should be setting an example, not that i'd expect them to set a good one, but still. this isn't a trend we want to see.

    so you can cross twix off your list of dumpster diveable food.

    and to show you how little they understand, and (let's not be coy) what complete assholes they are, here's a great quote from paul goalby, their corporate affairs managers - "if the customer is an extremely strict vegetarian, then we are sorry the products are no longer suitable, but a less strict vegetarian should enjoy our chocolate". what a prick, and you can tell him that here.

    New Years Media Roundup (30.01.2007)

    happy new year! although by now it already feels like an old year. with england increasing the size of its airports, bush doing everything to keep up consumption whilst babbling meaningless crap about the environment, and canada dropping out of kyoto like a whinging toddler (we eat out of bins? that asshole eats babies), so where's your revoltion now? c'mon, let's spread the fucking love.

    but by now you might have guessed that our dumpster activity isn't what it used to be. you can call us slack, which might be partly true, but this city's trash cans aren't what we'd crossed our fingers and hoped they'd be. a seemingly decent foodbank program mixed with a horrendous homeless problem have created an undumpsterable downtown. even the padlocked bins aren't hiding anything worth having, and as for the compactors, well the less i think about them the happier i am. plus i hear the police force is 60% overweight, maybe that's where all the food's going.

    so we might be failing dumpster diving, but the media sure aren't. it seems there's been a huge increase in coverage since this time last year. the globe and mail (canada's second largest daily and apparently "the voice of the upper canada elite", ack) published a story two weeks ago, 'consumed with not buying food', and whilst i was in england i picked up an intersting article in the guardian, 'when is your food really past its best?'. last week we were contacted by a swedish television company interested in filming us for a documentary (lucky emil gets to deal with that one) and also the other day we were contacting by a university radio programme.

    it's all glamour in the world of dumpster diving, you bet.

    a few facts and quotes from the guardian.. did you know that sell-by-dates were introduced in 1979? and dr slim dinsdale (personally i wouldn't trust a man with that name, but apparently he's an expert witness in food related court cases) admits that they probably have more to do with "preventing customer complaints" than our own safety. i think all divers know that already. he goes on to say "people don't make their own judgements, i see that as a retrograde step". just to show how ridiculous it is (actually i doubt that was their motive), prudential did a survey that showed a third of adults regularly throw away food, worth an average of £424 per person (per year? i don't know, it doesn't say). there's your retrograde.

    the globe and mail article is mostly a lifestyle piece, and often points out that freegans (a word that seems to be gaining popularity, but i've never muched liked it, sorry) are not poor, but dumpster dive as a choice. some of us, sure. "if it's already there, why not use it? why buy more?" is one of the more sensible comments. one of the least sensible comments, and this is where it becomes truly laughable, is from elke sengmueller, apparently a clinical dietitian who's clearly never dived. she calls it "righteous eating" and claims that it can "contribute to the development of anxiety-type problems, fear about adequate food security and guilt if food actually has to be purchased". imagine if she was talking about vegetarianism, another dangerous righteous eater behaviour (incidentally, here are two articles on the environmental destruction caused by eating meat, one is slightly dodgy but with good stats whilst the other is not). heaven forbid people would actually be concerned about where their food comes from and where their money goes (or doesn't go). she also says "it could also take on an obsessive nature, as much of the fregan's time would need to be spent foraging for adequate, acceptable food". i've personally never spent more than a few hours a week diving, and that's mostly because it was fun fun fun. having said that, in this city you do need to spend the time, at least only until you've found your few dumpsters, which we haven't. not to repeat myself.

    anyway, mentally keeping up the good fight. honest.

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