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The Politics of Dumpster Diving

by MISSY BEATTIE

Carla’s a “baltimoron.”  It’s what she said in her email, when she told me she likes my articles, read that I’m going to Turkey, and would be happy to come over, meet the person behind the words, and provide information about the country she’s visited twice.  I responded with an affirmative.

Laura and Erma are traveling with me, so we invited Carla to their place (they have a lovely patio) for Prosecco, vegan munchies, and to talk Turkey. Carla brought her laptop for a slideshow presentation, but the evening revealed much more than we’d expected.

Turns out, Carla, a physician, is a dumpster diver.  When she said, “dumpster diver,” the getting-to-know-someone-new awkwardness evaporated.  Because Laura and Erma are former Olympic Gold dumpster divers. The two were proficient in synchronized diving.  I kid you not.

I shouldn’t disclose the object of Laura and Erma’s affection.  But my arm is twisting.  Here’s the story: After discovering a Tempur-pedic factory whose dumper was absent a “Do Not Trespass” sign, they boldly went where others hadn’t. The repository was filled with memory foam products and protective covers.  At some point, we (family and friends, friends of family, and friends of friends) were afloat with pillows, ranging from king size to those little curved travel cushions. Laura and Erma’s cup runneth over when they found a mattress and adjustable bedframe with a remote control that moved the dream machine to multiple positions. Selling their “catch” at flea markets, they had a profitable venture and adventure.  The pillows were in perfect condition.  Believe me, I suffer from germophobia ((working to overcome this), and I had no qualms about resting my head against the gifts.

But back to Carla.  She dumpster dives at a grocery with huge name recognition.  I’m not going to divulge the establishment, because she has claim to it.  Told us others are there, and they share.  Arriving in the middle of the night after leaving her job, she retrieves items that soon would perish if left to languish in the dumpster very long during the warm and hot months.

Silly me.  I thought grocery stores donated expired but still-safe food to food banks and food pantries.  And get a load of this: Carla told us if one egg is broken, the entire carton is tossed.

I left Laura and Erma’s that night, thinking about all this.  And the more I thought about the waste, well, the more I thought about wastefulness.  So, I did some diving of my own.  Google diving.

I read about people who feed their families solely with products retrieved from dumpsters.  And I looked at heart wrenching images of malnourished children and adults.

Estimates of the number of people who go to bed hungry each night vary but this site provides staggering information, including:  “Hunger is number one on the list of the world’s top 10 health risks.”  Yet: “Hunger is the single biggest solvable problem facing the world today.”

Here’s a visit that’ll inspire you to ask questions of your favorite grocer and your conscience:

An important first step to really caring about the issue of food waste is hopping in a dumpster, bringing home the food, and eating it.  Eating trash is a subversive act. It goes against a culture of over-consumption and gratuitous wastefulness.  Experience that initial rush, shame, fear and exhilaration of ‘stealing’ trash and eating it will change you in a good way.

I disagree, though, that eating trash is subversive. Sure, I understand the impact of the statement. I like the attitude.  But salvaging that which is still edible is responsible action. It’s the squandering that’s inflammatory.

We should follow Carla’s example and not allow anything beneficial to be destroyed.  I’m grateful to her for contacting me, for talking Turkey, and for focusing my attention on the outrage of food waste and the problem of world hunger.  Plus, she’s asked me to accompany her on one of her hunts, to another place, not a grocery, where useful items are discarded.  Part II of “waste not, want not,” perhaps.

Missy Beattie is traveling, looking for the best exotic something this week.  Email: missybeat@gmail.com

 

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Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com

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