Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dumpster Divers--The Gourmands of Garbage

From the WA Post. Yep, the Freegans strike again, only in North Carolina this time!

"Dumpster-diving is far from a fad with students at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, but 20-year-old Kaitlyn Tokay and her friends say it's catching on.

A self-described community activist, Tokay began digging through grocery store trash bins in May and blogging on Facebook about the "perfectly good" food she found, cooked and ate.

It was meant to be a month-long experiment to expose society's continued wastefulness, even in a recession.

But five months later, Tokay is still at it - only now she's part of a team."


""It has been an eye-opening experience to see not only what we throw away as a society, but how it can be used, with some imagination," said Tokay, a junior majoring in communication studies.

"I decided to make it a lifestyle habit, and to perpetuate it. A lot of friends were amazingly grossed [out] when I told them about it, but others say they admire it."


"Volunteerism is big, too, and Tokay does that by sharing her found food with the homeless, sometimes working with a program that serves meals on the streets of Charlotte.

Freegan or not, grocery stores maintain that dumpster diving is a form of trespassing.

Food Lion, for example, not only "strongly discourages" digging in dumpsters but says it will "take appropriate action as necessary to prevent this activity."


"Last year, Harris Teeter gave 539,000 pounds of food to Second Harvest Food Bank rather than see it go to waste, store officials said."


"Tokay and her peers realize they're considered a nuisance, which is why they only come out at night, between midnight and 4 a.m. Most work in teams, with one in the trash bin, handing out the loot to someone waiting outside."


"Tokay once had the wits scared out of her when she stumbled onto a homeless man who was in a dumpster looking for a meal.

Another time, she and Braun were diving and heard that dreaded "beep, beep, beep" sound that garbage trucks make when they're backing up.

"I was terrified that I was about to be dumped into a garbage truck," Tokay said. "Then, we realized that it was someone who was going to dump trash into the dumpster."


""There is an abundance of stuff. We've had times where we found enough food to fill up the entire kitchen floor, including pastries, packaged cakes, shrink-wrapped barbecue ribs and a lot of bread."

Among Hanks's observations is that dumpster divers tend to be more active in the fall and winter, because the colder weather is "natural refrigeration."


"He said they also tend to eat better, because they find fruits, vegetables and meats that struggling college students can seldom afford. He and other dumpster divers contend that much of this food was tossed out unnecessarily because of health regulations.

The U.S. Agriculture Department concurs, noting that the country has no universally accepted system for food dating. In fact, it says on its Web site that many products should still be safe after the sell-by date, if handled properly and kept at the recommended storage temperature of 40 degrees or below."


"Tokay said she now goes four times a week and has gotten used to the feeling of watermelon and cottage cheese sliding down her pants legs and rotten vegetables in her shoes.

She also has gotten used to a new way of cooking that depends on whatever was found that week in a trash bin. Lately, she's been cooking a lot with flax oil, after finding an entire case. "One bottle was broken, so the store just threw out the whole case."

Her refrigerator is brimming, including two pounds of kosher beef, eight ounces of organic pea shoots and five pounds of strawberries that she's turning into smoothies using a blender found in a trash bin.

"I have no idea what this is," she said, holding a can with the label torn off. "It will be a total surprise when we open it."

To date, only one failure has resulted from these experiments.

"Fruit and rice," she said. "I cut up apples and put in white rice. It didn't taste horrible, but it wasn't my favorite."

Now that we know where NOT to dumpster-dive (Food Lion and Harris Teeter--don't bother), I guess this changes the meaning of the phrase "going to the store."

You know those bums on the side of the road asking for money, and carrying signs that say HUNGRY: WILL WORK FOR FOOD--they aren't hungry at all! They're diving every night and eating like kings! This beats food stamp programs and their rationing effect.

As for the fruit and rice flop mentioned above, she could've made rice pudding with apple bits in it. I kind of wish I was there to lend her some of my imagination.

Speaking of diving, I did a little of my own (trash can diving): the new (well, other) laundromat I now go to (the old one got turned into a Chinese restaurant) has several garbage cans along the side of the building. I went through those and scored some clothes I intend to add to my next batch of laundry. As I visit each week, I intend to repeat this activity until I get a big enough stack of clothes I can donate to charity (besides keeping what will fit). They dive for food, I dive for clothing--perhaps we ought to get together! ;)

I tell people you can practically live for free in this country if you're willing to get dirty, think outside the box, and accept some societal shame/ridicule. I see no reason why this cannot be done overseas (and in many countries already is).

UPDATE: an anonymous diver's top 5 diving places:

1) Apartment Complexes.

2) Electronics Stores

3) Bakeries

4) Convenience Stores

5) Restaurants

I'll add this if you're looking for clothes: public laundromats and apartment complex laundry rooms.


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