From February 15 to 19 Concordia held its Anti-Consumerism Week, an event series aimed at “consuming less, […] questioning the economic systems failing us, and inspiring our community to adopt a more self-sufficient lifestyle,” according to the event’s Facebook page.
Events included do-it-yourself (DIY) workshops to teach participants to make everything from kombucha to personal hygiene products, a clothing swap, and a farmer’s market. The dumpster diving workshop attracted hundreds of interested participants to its Facebook page.
The workshop, hosted by the Concordia Food Coalition, sought to teach participants how to dumpster dive safely and ethically, and also offered an excursion to Jean-Talon market where participants could try their hand at finding free food.
Jamie Klinger, Montreal community activist and veteran dumpster diver, told The Daily that he has seen a growing number of students dumpster diving in recent years. “That, I think, is more than just not being able to afford to buy food, but also that the culture of dumpster diving has become larger and more accepted,” Klinger said.
For many students on a budget, dumpster diving makes practical sense. “It could potentially be a really good way to feed myself and save money as a student,” said Melody Kwong, a U2 Environment student who attended the workshop.
“The element of mystery is something that really appeals to me – it’s exciting to not know 100 per cent what you’re going to get,” said Aidan Gilchrist-Blackwood, another workshop attendee and U2 Political Science and History student.
“I wait for the day that dumpster diving is no longer even a possibility because we all have the food that we need and we’re not over-producing.”
Asked whether employees at grocery stores and restaurants felt kindly toward dumpster divers, Klinger said, “You just have to be human with them – it’s really not more than that.”
“Tell them that you’re hungry, and that you’re going to feed a lot of people, and most of them are going to want to help you,” Klinger emphasized. “It might be the upper management that’s going to be reticent if it’s a large corporation, but if we’re talking about a small, local fruit store that’s tossing out some old fruit, they don’t care. There’s not more value to them in throwing it in the trash than giving it to you.”
Dumpster diving not only allows students to save money, but also has deep ideological roots in anti-consumerism and environmentalism. Kwong explained that it was only after seeing the magnitude of food waste up close that she developed an interest in reclaiming some of it.
“I’ve worked three restaurant jobs, and in the restaurant industry you really see food waste at a huge scale. […] I’ve seen so much perfectly good food just go directly into the garbage,” said Kwong.
For Gilchrist-Blackwood, who is also an executive of McGill’s Plate Club, which lends reusable dishware to students to reduce the use of paper and plastic, dumpster diving is both an environmental and an anti-capitalist action.
“An important part of environmentalism is the question of why so much is needlessly produced, and then not used, and why we feel like we have to buy so many things, essentially. There is a direct carbon footprint attached to each and every one of our purchases,” Gilchrist-Blackwood noted.
Klinger described his transition from dumpster diving out of necessity to dumpster diving as part of an ideological framework. “[We] needed food on the table, we went, we got it, we put it on the table. As I did it over a longer period of time, I started to see what we were doing in a larger scale of things,” he explained.
“It’s important to recognize that my ability to be excited about dumpster diving for the first time is at least partly contingent on me having the privilege to pay for food when I need it.”
“We would take more than we needed so we could offer it out to more people so that we would build more of a community of people who would come and eat with us – [so] that we would have a greater number that would be spending less into the capitalist marketplace. […] It became a post-capitalist action.”
Gilchrist-Blackwood warned against forgetting that dumpster diving started as, and remains, a fundamentally practical act for most people.
“I think it’s important to recognize that my ability to be excited about dumpster diving for the first time is at least partly contingent on me having the privilege to pay for food when I need it,” he noted. “Dumpster diving for some folks is a necessity, and I think part of anti-consumerism should also necessarily […] involve recognizing that anti-consumerism isn’t a voluntary choice for everyone.”
“I wait for the day that dumpster diving is no longer even a possibility because we all have the food that we need and we’re not over-producing. That’s going to be a glorious day,” said Klinger.