Free Falling for Food

Free Falling for Food

It’s college, right? When textbooks run $500 a semester and paying a parking meter is difficult, some students are looking for ways to eat for free. A growing number of MSU students are finding an alternative way of getting their groceries, and let’s just say this practice requires a strong stomach.

Dumpstering or dumpster diving is, well, exactly how it sounds. It has become a bi-monthly routine for some students. The downside is climbing into dumpsters and rifling through garbage to possibly find a couple of unharmed cans of soup or a bag of partially bruised apples.

“My experience was kind of a letdown,” said Katie Adams, a professional writing senior, of her first unsuccessful dumpster diving trip.

When the concept was explained to me, I imagined opening a dumpster to find bags of bagels, loaves of bread or boxes of unharmed rolls. I pictured them being available to reach from the bin and take home to toast for breakfast the next morning. This, however, was not the case when I — excuse the pun– dove into the challenge. After three dumpsters full of empty cups, plastic bags and coffee-stained boxes, I found the ends of a few bread loaves mixed in with other trash. I was an amateur, at best. I gave up my first attempt at freeganism after three hours and five dumpsters filled with nothing but garbage. 

The upside, however, is free groceries, and potentially a lot of them.

“The trick is to be systematic,” Adams said. “Some of my friends who do it all of the time get a whole trunk full of bread. I guess you just have to pick the right place and time of day and hopefully you’ll get lucky.”

Jessica Checkeroski, a studio art senior, is a bit more dedicated to the cause. She doesn’t consider herself a freegan, though she goes dumpstering about twice a month.

“I look for bread, fruit, and vegetables. Anything else like cereal or vegan hot dogs is just a nice surprise,” said Checkeroski.

Sticking mainly to grocery stores with compactors or bakeries, Checkeroski doesn’t feel nervous about the cleanliness of the food that she picks up because most of it is packaged or surrounded by other food.

“[It’s] like finding a garbage bag of just bagels or a box of just potatoes,” she said.

Checkeroski won’t just take anything, though.

“If something looks gross, it probably is. I used to think the idea of taking food out of a dumpster seemed unsafe but once I went, I realized that the food isn’t in that bad of shape at all. Especially now that it is winter, my logic is that if it is frozen its shelf life is longer.”

Checkeroski has never known anyone to get sick from the food they’ve found on a dumpster dive but understands why it won’t sell in stores.

“I get why the food can’t be sold – bruises, freshness, too ripe – but [for it] not to be used is wasteful,” said Checkeroski.

In regards to issues of legality, Checkeroski has never experienced any problems, though she has heard of others who have.

Hannah Nowicki, an employee at Great Harvest Bread Company in Okemos, had never heard the term freegan before, but she has heard stories of college students rummaging through their dumpster after hours.

“About 2 to 3 months ago we were taking out the garbage while closing down for the night, and the girls found some students digging through the dumpster,” said Nowicki.

Since Great Harvest Bread Company gives their extra bread to soup kitchens in the area, the students could not have been finding much more than a few loaf ends.

“My friends who were working told them that they wouldn’t find anything, but the students refused to leave. The police were called because they were trespassing,” said Nowicki.

Checkeroski feels that the food she finds in dumpsters is fair game.

“Once something is in the trash, let me decide if the risk is worth taking or not,” she said.

Freeganism isn’t just about dumpster diving. It is an entire lifestyle based off of surplus food and materials that are put to waste daily by consumers and manufacturers. The freegan movement was started in the 1990s as part of the environmentalist and anti-globalization trends happening at the time and has grown quite large in New York, Los Angeles and London — where foraging waste is called bin-diving or skipping.

According to, those who first practiced freeganism still purchased items. They tried to boycott major companies that tested products on animals, violated human rights or abused the environment, qualities that didn’t set them apart from most activist groups of their kind. After realizing that every purchase they made was still “supporting something deplorable,” freegans took on a new, unique set of principles. By almost fully rejecting the entire economic system, freegans maintain the concept of boycotting all things mass-produced, animal tested or environmentally unfriendly.

Although dumpster diving is the most common practice, many freegans are also vegans. Vegans chose a diet that consists of only animal-free foods for political and health reasons. Freegans often adopt this lifestyle for the same reasons but also because a cruelty-free diet is more economical than one that includes animal products.

Freegans aren’t alone in their quest for free food. Some students who do not wish to dig through garbage have applied for bridge cards as a way of avoiding the cost of groceries. Bridge cards are like electronic food stamps and are offered by the federal government to anyone who qualifies (qualifications vary from state to state).

“I would say most of the people who have it need it. It’s hard to say exactly who does,” said Alan O’Donnell, a human biology senior. “Technically, I’d probably survive without it, but it definitely helps.”

Applications can be filled out online, and they ask questions about personal income but not about parents’ income or whether the applicant is claimed as a dependant. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is an entitlement program, meaning anyone who applies and meets the requirements will automatically be given a bridge card. The idea is that the card will help facilitate the costs of monthly spending on groceries and not be the sole means for providing food.

The card is issued by household, so everyone who applies is given a different amount to spend each month depending on his or her income. Bridge card owners cannot purchase alcohol, cigarettes or household items (including toothpaste), and are limited by the amount they are given by the government.

According to Marie Boyle and David Holben in their book, Community Nutrition in Action, one of the drawbacks of the card is that it does not necessarily allot enough money to buy nutritional items, so the USDA and the DHHS are concerned that bridge card users cannot afford to follow the dietary guidelines that they set for Americans. Because of this, these organizations are rallying to give more money to people with bridge cards, which could mean a lot to students who struggle to make ends meet.

Though my first experience with freeganism didn’t yield anything but a few photos of garbage, I feel like the dumpster divers are on to something. If you can stomach the idea of getting into a pile of trash, you can walk away from the experience with food for the week or at least a story to tell friends. Then again, not everyone is cut out for the freegan lifestyle – I stopped trying after a few hours and ended up at Noodles & Company. Inside, that is.

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Parking Sometimes Risks Assault

Parking Sometimes Risks Assault

As the end of the year approaches and the temperature drops, more and more students are choosing to drive to class or the library. Since the parking space on campus is limited, this often means that drivers end up walking alone from parking lots or structures. According to the MSU Police Department’s website crime alert page, the commute from on and off-campus parking areas can be a dangerous one. Though 75 percent of sexual assaults happen to women who are in a familiar place, a small percentage occur while women are walking alone on campus, sometimes from their vehicle.

“We had a couple of people who were groped in Lot 93 earlier this year,” said Sgt. McGlothian-Taylor of the MSU Police Department. “Most cases of assault occur when the woman knows her attacker and in those situations we will prosecute the person.”

Taylor couldn’t ballpark how many people are involved in stranger assault and get away without charges, but he said that victims of assault are offered any assistance in tracking their attacker that the police department can provide.

The MSU Police Department guarantees full confidentiality in regards to sexual assault cases, as well as a sensitive and professional approach to each situation. Sexual assault victims will be provided an up-to-date report of all legal action taken with the attacker and are offered assistance to set up any medical or counseling appointments needed.

Students who find themselves walking alone at night can do a few things to reduce the risk of being assaulted.

“Call a group of friends to come pick you up so you’re not walking alone from your car,” Taylor said.

“It’s important to let someone know where you’re going and what time you leave if you expect to be walking alone,” said Lauren Allswede, the advocacy coordinator for MSU’s Sexual Assault Program. The best way to react if you find yourself about to be assaulted is to try to overcome the initial “freeze” that you feel when you’re frightened, she advised.

“Use whatever is around you as a weapon and yell to get the attention of anyone who might be near by.”

The best defense against sexual assault is awareness, Allswede said.

“I’ve heard of a lot of advice that women are given to avoid sexual assault like not wearing a pony tail or not talking on the phone while walking, but the truth is, if someone is intent on attacking you, they will. The most important thing is to stay alert.”

LaShonda Windham, the co-coordinator for the Take Back the Night event that happens annually on campus, agrees.

“A lot of women believe that they could have done something to prevent an attack. The truth is that the only person who can prevent an attack is the assailant. [Getting attacked] is not your fault,” Windham said.

Windam also said that assault victims are often given too much blame.

“A lot of people read about cases of assault on campus and are quick to assume that the assault is the victim’s fault. They say things like ‘Why was she walking alone late at night?’ or ‘Why was she wearing this or that?’ If you think about it, these are ridiculous statements. Everyone should have the right to wear what they want and walk freely around campus,” she said.

Windham said the university could do more to prevent sexual assault and stated that MSU should provide more education to students about the danger of being attacked.

“Being educated about sexual assault and domestic violence is the best way to protect yourself because there are so many myths surrounding the topic.”

The Take Back the Night event was established as a good place to get involved and help spread knowledge about rape, assault and violence against women. Take Back the Night is a day full of events that raise awareness about sexual assault and domestic violence. Typically, the day consists of a march around campus, which symbolizes a unified resistance to violence against women, as well as short skits to raise awareness and a candle light vigil. This year Take Back the Night will be held on April 21, 2010 during Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

MSU does offer some services to students who might be walking alone late at night.

“There is a two hour self-defense class that I recommend,” Allswede said. “Also, there are people who will accompany you on a walk home or to your car if you’re leaving the library after dark.”

The green lights on campus have proven to be quite affective as well.

“If a button is pushed, someone will be there as immediately as possible to help,” Allswede said. “Ideally, the best way to signal help using the green lights is to continue pushing them as you run from your attacker, though it’s difficult to plan such a calculated route.”

In addition, MSU Safe Place is an on-campus program for students, faculty, staff and retirees in the Lansing area who have experienced sexual assault or domestic violence. It offers counseling and other educational programs about abuse and assault, as well as a confidential place to stay for victims who experience continuous domestic violence or need somewhere to hide.

Olin Health Center and Sparrow Hospital also provide support for students who have been sexually assaulted. Both have a 24-hour crisis line available to anyone who has been a victim of rape or assault, needs medical attendance or would like resources regarding what to do after an incident. Sparrow’s Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Program offers a confidential examination, STD treatment, referrals, emergency contraception and education for victims. For more information and counseling, contact the Sexual Assault Program located in the Student Services Building. The program is part of MSU’s counseling center and is offered to anyone in the area who has been a victim of sexual assault. Last year the program helped over 300 people with legal or medial aid and acted as a place to go for those who were afraid and confused after an assault incident.

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