I don’t know why I didn’t wear a rubber suit. It would have helped me forget the festering association nestled at the bottom of each dumpster and that picking through trash is gross. Even while writing this, I am scratching my neck, I feel a rash. Each bag I touched was wet with something, except the bags in the Modern Skate dumpster where Jessie and I found two perfectly fine skate board beds. We snatched those up quick. All the dumpsters behind food companies, however, were merciless to my rummaging attempt. They offered limp cucumbers and dirty pita bread, smushed Styrofoam and the ominous smell of rancid mayo. There wasn’t any day-old bread beaming up at my face when I opened Panera Bread’s dumpster. Clearly, I was missing something the first night I took a stab at being a freegan.
My roommate Jessie and I were night riders, but we called ourselves the “Black Stallions.” The name suited the feel of this illegal activity, even if we were on bikes flying through the night rather than horses. It all started when I first learned there are a growing group of people who get food and other items from America’s waste. What? Who would do this? But the idea tickled me, and resulted in an itch to try it myself. Was it really possible to find edible food in containers known for their foul stench, like I had read on freegan Web sites? Would I really eat it? One site called it “urban foraging,” probably to reduce the image “dumpster diving” generates. I wanted to be in the bin, feel the steal, the redemption of attaining a free item, even if it was thrown out. There would not be laws against it if it was not somewhat taboo.
[peters3]”Rather than contributing to further waste, freegans curtail garbage and pollution, reducing the over-all volume in the waste stream,” www.freeganinfo.com reads. To freegans, who probably dress appropriately for the duty, dumpster diving is beyond getting free stuff. It is boycotting the consumer culture that brainwashes, telling us to renew instead of reuse. It is boycotting wastefulness.
According to a study done by University of Arizona in 2004, 40 to 50 percent of food ready for harvest never gets eaten and is purged despite the growling stomachs housed by America and the world. The profit motive of most companies outshines the ethical considerations that should be taken in production, often resulting in human rights violations, environmental destruction, animal abuse, and of course, landfills of wasted material. The problem rests in the system of production, and freegans’ response is to not support any of it.
“Freegan” stems from the combination of “free” and “vegan.” A vegan is a person who refrains from eating animal products. I think we know what “free” means: hugs. Often as a child I heard my dad say, “Nothing is free in this world,” and I would say, “Dad, except love!” But even love costs, he said. He obviously has never salvaged from another man’s trash. Joining free and vegan implores a whole different system of economics: sharing. Freegans not only search for outcast food – they barter with each other, bum rides and live together, with the heart of their beliefs pumping for the act of recycling.
Each dumpster bore a distinct scent – distinct enough to bottle and sell behind a glossy Marshall Fields counter. Giving Garlic, I would call Big Apple Bagels’ scent. Unpurified Cheese Grease would be Olga’s. Trippers’ trash was trippin: I would have to call it Hott Sick Ass. Panera’s trash smelled exactly like the store, I call it Panera Bread. Odd.
Taking any old food from a dumpster is somewhat risky, especially if you will be wearing its scent for a few hours. Ultimately, it depends on how willing the predator is. If the dumpster smells like it is internally rotting, it would probably be best to find another. “When you’re looking to get something, you have to worry about the condition of the dumpster,” journalism junior Brian Bower said. Bower lives in Vlach-Bower, one of the twelve co-op houses that occasionally dives headfirst into our city’s waste. I would never take dairy products or meat, he said. Prepackaged products are the way to go. Bagged bread or chips are great examples. This is probably why I had no luck with my trampling. The companies I snuck behind were local restaurants, whose trash was a collage of scrap food, used utensils and plates and the occasional Jimmy John’s wrapper.
People from Bower do not call themselves freegans. “I don’t really like the term,” Bower said. “It is a little confusing. My main intention of it is taking something and making it a moral choice.”
I did find it slightly confusing the same food being boycotted is being snatched from the trash: freegans are depending on the very system they want to change for their own sustenance. Who is to say what the better choice is if America’s greed feeds us all?
Money is the key factor. If you buy product from Tyson animal products, with knowledge of PETA’s 2007 cruelty reports (including severe chicken beatings and stabbings committed by the slaughter machines), you are supporting this operation by default. Freegans avoid contributing to an economy that yields goods from ill-practiced means.
If you pick a pickled pepper already punished to purgatory, does it really matter? “Yes, people are relying off other people’s ostentatious wealth, but a lot of regulation comes from the FDA. Good stuff is being thrown away simply because the FDA says you can’t sell it,” Bower said.
Meijer’s dumpster would have been a sea of natural greens, had I the sense to gander. Too bad; I really enjoy a fresh swim. Maso Sabotic, a Lake Lansing Meijer produce employee, said it is sad throwing away good looking produce. “It’s every day. Every day we throw away so much. For example, a bag of mushrooms. If we look at the expiration date, and it is today, we throw it away even if it still looks good,” he said. I guess I know where to find mushrooms now. Bower said his housemates can find greens, veggies, bread products, juice boxes and even soap behind companies like Meijer. The strict hygiene laws preventing these companies from salvaging are really feeding us small, environmentally intact freegan armies. Yes, trying it one night clusters me in this group, momentarily.
Psychology junior Bobby Singh knows campus like his mother’s face. He can walk from Holmes to Albert blind folded, through wind and rain and still impeccably sniff out the bins he rifles through every day. “I walk around to recycle,” he said. “You see that trash can over there,” – he pointed to a lone bin by the stark library fountain – “there’s probably one Mountain Dew bottle in there. If I walk around the entire campus I can get two bags full.” Singh is technically unemployed; picking through MSU’s trash and recycling is his job. He recycles cans and bottles he finds, which in no way pays for his housing or education. He does it for Mother Nature.
“I’ve gotten looks like I’m homeless before, but I nod them off because I have my iPod with me,” he said. It is probably the beast of hair glued to his chin, which looks good, may I add. The great thing about Singh is his spirit, his freedom in admitting he picks through garbage, his vibe others feel when seeing him help a general cause he makes personal. Slowly I am starting to see everyone’s garbage is not just a bulk of castaways, but individually useful, beautiful.
[singh]If we looked around East Lansing, at the places most avoided, maybe we’d think more about the immense consumption and excretion quietly operating. “Outside of Bruegger’s Bagels, they have a lot of bagels they throw away, like 15 or 20 bags every day which starving people can eat. It’s just one store,” Singh said. Little Caesars throws away pizzas all the time, he added. Living the freegan life is in the realm of possibility for Singh. “Most people spend their lives maintaining. If I were to lose it all, I would be happy to know I could survive. I could live off the food people waste here,” he said.
I, however, may need a little egging on. Despite how easy freegans make salvaging seem, it takes a brave spirit to eat the food you find. I arrived to Big Apple Bagels on bike with my eco-friendly grocery purse slung over my left shoulder. I felt the suspense required to lift open the government owned waste receptacle while constantly checking for the garbage police. I couldn’t get in the dumpster. It wasn’t the clothes, it was the concept. No bags of bagels were found by my uselessly limited arms, despite my prior imagination of swiping assorted onion, everything and cinnamon raison bags. Instead, we found lone mangled bagels scattered within costumers’ trash, coffee grind and smeared veggie cheese. I should have jumped in the dumpster, ripped apart everything to make sure, but that idea takes some time to get used to. Eco bag empty and swinging, I left for Frandor with the high hopes of a first timer. During my night of dumpster diving, I learned not to wear my street clothes. I learned how thoughtless a piece of trash seems.
I think I’m going to mount my garbage picked skateboard to my wall, make a nice little shelf out of it.