without a doubt, a professional. Young and bearded, a safety pin through one earlobe, wearing a tshirt and cut off jeans, he looks like my idea of an anarchist dumpster diver. Pulling his bike up at our meeting spot I notice a crate strapped behind his saddle, filled with plastic bags and a backpack and a very bright flashlight. Seven of us have gathered for this latenight foray. The other newbies look young, maybe college freshmen. Four of the five are girls. They wear jeans and hoodies and have long, blond hair pulled back into ponytails. They all seem so normal. I secretly doubt these clean-cut college students will actually eat food from a dumpster. Matt splits our large group up into two—increasing our stealth factor. One group takes the Sugar House loop. Myself, Del Porto and one other female diver follow the downtown loop, lured by the possibility of nuts, produce, fish and chocolate. We perform a slow pedal-by of our first dumpster after spying a group of cops. Diving isn’t technically illegal. But, some divers have been known to earn trespassing charges. Parking our bikes at our first site, my new partner wrinkles her nose unconsciously as she peers into the dark container. I look down at my open clog shoes and nice pants. “By
Local short video on dumpster diving: Trashed Each day, people in the US throw away enough trash to fill 63,000 garbage trucks. This Spyhop production by students Mallory McDaniel, Conner Estes and Jon Tatum, takes a look at a group of people, commonly referred to as freegans, who take recycling to the next level through dumpster diving, community farming, upcycling and repurposing. “Trashed” follows the daily lives of Salt Lake City freegans as they explain their anti-consumerist ways in our proconsumerism country. 2011. The makers of “Trashed” are waiting on a verdict from the Sundance Film Festival regarding the 2013 festival’s shorts program. We’ll let you know in the January CATALYST if and where you can see it.
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far the best way to go through a Dumpster is to lower yourself into it,” advises Eighner. Del Porto hasn’t read the essay, but he is a professional. I offer to hold the flashlight. Del Porto jumps in. “I have found tons of dried fruit and boxes of cereal,” Del Porto had told me during a conversation the
Divers understand better than anyone the transience of material and the abstract nature of value. week prior. “An egg cracks in a carton and the store has to pitch the whole dozen. There are arbitrary expiration dates or something accidently gets left out of the fridge or frozen section. It thaws and they have to throw it away.” Now, Del Porto is handing out loaves of French bread. He pulls up some miscellaneous fish parts and puts them into a bag. Hands them out, too. Tonight, we find lots of trash, only a little food. Sometimes there are other things: bike frames, computer parts, art supplies, shelving units, wood, furniture, clothing. Sometimes, finding so many things can make a hoarder out of a diver. At the same time, as Eighner eloquently points out, divers understand better than anyone the transience of material and the abstract nature of value. “Diving changed my attitude towards what is useful and what is not,” says Del Porto. “I pick up
THE OTHER FOODIES
stuff on the ground and wonder if it has a use.” A bag of cat food, useless to Del Porto, becomes a gift to a friend and cat-owner. A huge score of bread gets divided among his friends. Within half an hour we have scoured the entire bin and retrieved half a dozen loaves of bread, but not much more. Most of the waste remains neatly stacked in a corner of the dumpster. Larger pieces that we took out to make the job easier, we replace. Then, we close the bin lids. “Leave no trace,” says Del Porto proudly. “It’s not just a Boy Scout motto.” For another hour and a half hours we search the depths of two more bins. Our final dive reveals a box full of under-ripe tomatoes and another of wilted lettuce and flatleaf Italian parsley. Around mid-night we call it quits and pedal back to Del Porto’s house, the rendezvous point. The other divers arrive and we begin the ritual of dividing the spoils. All of our finds go on the kitchen counters. There are: burritos, salsas, mini-cheesecakes, cheeses, tons of bread, a bunch of chard, celery, tomatoes, strawberries, apples, bananas. Looking over our stash with supermarket eyes I find the apples small and bruised, the bananas under-ripe, the strawberries verging on
slimy. Two of the girls grab the red fruit excitedly making plans for smoothies. The newbies filling Del Porto’s kitchen go about the work with vigor. Quickly, they claim the prepared foods. The containers, still covered with mystery juice from the bottom of the various dumpsters, get washed in the sink. Finally convinced that these kids indeed intend to eat the food, I can’t hold myself back from the big question: why. “I’m in school and I’m out here on my own,” offers up the soft-faced, curly-haired boy. I push him little more. Does it have anything to do with the current economy? “Yeah, I guess,” he says, thinking. “Since the recession, my parents haven’t had enough money to help me much.” One of the blond girls joins in. “It’s nice to save money,” she offers. “And, it’s fun.” Riding away from the house a little later, I contemplate my shopping trip. Balanced on my handlebars are two grocery bags of tomatoes I plan on canning in the morning. There is some wilted chard that will end up in my compost after sitting in the fridge for another week. The crusty bread will go to the chickens. It has been the longest and least successful shopping trip of my life. I am exhausted. In a way, I am grateful to those who chose to reclaim discarded food. It’s recycling at its most extreme. And, while I didn’t see too much needless dumping in Salt Lake’s bins, there is no good reason that any food should go to waste. But, reflecting on my night and the ample grocery money in my bank account, I decide to leave dumpster diving to the professionals, whether they be anarchists, artists or college students. u Katherine Pioli fights fires in the summer, raises heritage fowl in the 9th & 9th area, and writes for CATALYST.
Photo by Pax Rasmussen
CATALYST Magazine January 2013 Issue