Culture  One person’s trash is another one’s dinner

An introduction to dumpster diving for the frugal foodie

I was first introduced to the phenomenon known as “dumpster diving” at a little restaurant called The Friendly Toast in the seaside town of Portsmouth, N.H. I had just gone to a local show and was about to dig into some late-night banana pancakes when the anarchist band walked in, recognized my crew, and sat down next to us. They looked hungry, and it was clear that they were not there to order food.

I was immediately reminded of the scene in Little Women, the movie, when the four March sisters generously but reluctantly package up their own delicious Christmas breakfast to bring to the impoverished woodland family. Uh, was I expected to offer these mohawked men some of my food? I had ordered a three-stack. I was in The Friendly Toast. Gluttonous? Maybe. But then again, Beth March contracted scarlet fever from the woodland family and died from it – not everyone is rewarded for their good deeds.

But these scavengers had other priorities. “Yo, are there any bakeries around here?” asked the drummer, who had put on a shirt since the last time I saw him. As my friend directed them to one that was just around the corner, I naïvely wondered why, seeing as it was so late at night and the shop was sure to be closed.

When the band exited in ravenous haste, my more-informed friend let me know what was up. They were dumpster divers. They scavenged for trash in dumpsters – trash that often included, but was not limited to, discarded food. My first reaction was surprise. “Ew?” was my second.

I’m aware that we live in a “waste generation.” We waste time on Facebook, we waste natural resources, and we get wastey-faced every weekend. But do we consume waste…gastronomically? Apparently, we do. Dumpster diving has become a popular hobby for the frugal, adventurous, and environmentally-conscious in urban areas. “Dive” communities have formulated where there is food to be scavenged. In Solin Hall, a small group of brave students gather weekly, with a mission to find edible waste that they can later cook up in a lip-smacking, celebratory meal.

Solin floor fellow Caytee Lush, a casual dumpster diver herself, is proud of her students. “It’s free food that will otherwise go to waste,” she explains. “And it’s a way to circumvent shitty, capitalist systems that…suck.”

Every week, fruiteries, bakeries, and groceries trash food that isn’t trash. Fruit that has gone soft and day-old bread are provisions that can be consumed, rather than added to the heaps of waste we generate in such massive quantities. Our parents always tell us not to waste the food on our plate. Perhaps dumpster divers are merely the most obedient children.

There are guidelines that should be followed by any interested party. I would suggest referring to the wikiHow web site, keyword: dumpster dive. This little guide suggests checking the local laws, wearing the appropriate clothing, cleaning up after yourself, and finding “hot spots.” Jean Talon is apparently a “gold mine,” says a regular diver. Bakeries are also worth creeping, especially if you’re interested in making friends. (Translation: bread is usually trashed in bulk and can make a great college party-gift. Teenagers will enjoy eating and making funny hats with the loafs while drunk.)

Unfortunately, many businesses have started locking their dumpsters, or simply not putting their trash outside. The pickings are getting slim. Divers are getting restless. Oscar is getting grouchier. Although I’m not an authority on the subject and am probably too prissy to ever attempt it myself, I champion those garbage grubbers, and encourage them to keep the faith. I will continue eating my banana pancakes.