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A Shout Out to Eating Garbage - On Dumpster Diving

Dumpster Diving on CBC

Towards the end of last year, some folks from CBC followed a friend and I as we went on one of our dumpster diving excursions. I’ve linked the video in below. I had illusions of being a very eloquent dumpster diving apologist, speaking about how we began and why we do it…but at turns I was not eloquent or was not asked the questions, and most of what I did say ended up on the cutting room floor. Oh well! I’ll take this opportunity to share what I meant to say, and hopefully by joining us on a dumpster run a few more people in other cities will decide to give it a try and will save more good food from the trash.

How Janel and I began to dive

After hearing Ryan talk about it for many months and sampling his wares semi-regularly, I decided to give it a shot. I went with my younger brother, who was living here for the summer on a tight budget. We weren’t quite sure what to expect and were a little hesitant about it, but we found it as described and enjoyed wedges of spiced Gouda cheese (among other things). The more we went, the more confident we became and the more systems or routines we developed (Janel says she’s happy to eat it, but she’d rather be the quality control when we return and would just as well stay out of the dumpster.)

Why do we dumpster dive?

  • God does not call us to try to live as comfortably as possible in an affluent culture—God calls us to live faithfully in the midst of it. Our culture of excess, overconsumption and waste is one that we feel compelled to oppose and this is one way we can actively do so. When we began we just imagined that we would save edible food from being wasted, but we’ve found that one step leads to another. Now when we get home and do the sorting, we find that we get a large amount of perfectly good food, but also a smaller amount of spoiled food. We’ve found that we can compost a lot of that and recycle a lot of the packaging it came in. If meat that we find doesn’t pass Janel’s quality control, we can feed it to a friend’s dog. So we are finding better uses for even much of the food that we won’t eat.
  • It’s good for the environment (this is related to the first point)
  • We save money. We have been able to set aside a chunk of money each month which would have gone towards food for ourselves and we donate it to other important causes. We take turns choosing where to give and how to divide the money.
  • It reinfuses the phrase “Give us this day our daily bread” with new meaning and reminds us of our dependence (on God and also on the regular cycles of the planet).
  • It feels like a parable rescuing garbage and acknowledging its worth.
  • It’s kind of fun.

How to be a good dumpster diver

  • Be quick
  • Go after hours so customers don’t see you when they come to shop (and to give them some time to dump the “Sell by’s” for that day.)
  • Keep the area clean (Don’t leave trash outside the dumpster and don’t pile up bags of food—I recommend working in a team with one person in the dumpster and one person moving them to the car more or less as you find them just in case a store worker comes out. Garbage bags look like garbage bags and if you’re piling them on the ground, it would be easy for them to assume you’re making a mess that they will have to clean up.)
  • Be polite, not antagonistic to store workers (if you encounter them). A number of times I have even gone and asked permission at the loading dock, but normally we don’t even see anyone around.
  • If you have a distribution system (friends, workplace, church, Food Not Bombs, etc.) take more than you can eat and share it freely with others. The more you take and can actually use, the more environmental side benefits you reap by rescuing it from the dumpster and the more resources you potentially free up for other good causes. For example, when we find a big haul of bread, Ryan sets up a table at work where people can take bread and drop a donation into a bucket which goes to Bread for the World (he calls it “Bread for bread for Bread for the World”).
  • When you need to supplement your diving for nutritional or other specific needs, try to buy local. In the summer we joined a CSA as a supplement, and now we try to find any extras we might need at the local food Co-op.

And now, the CBC piece:


Ryan has added a post to the God’s Politics blog with links to some other relevant pages. Here are some of those links and a few more:

Update II

I’ve expanded parts of this entry into an article on Catapult Magazine, including a small slideshow of some of our finds.

Update III: 12/4/09

Ryan’s got another blog post regarding the documentary “Dive!”: Dive!: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Dumpster Diving but Were Afraid to Ask