Posts Tagged ‘punk’

In our urban environment we can equate dumpster diving to the modern day food scavenging. If we are looking to steer away from supporting large-scale agribusiness and corporate monoculture and towards having a smaller ecological footprint, then dumpstering is a step in the right direction. There are a certain number of ‘risks’ associated with dumpstering. Although dumpstering may appear to be risqué, these risks are socially constructed and reproduced through proprietary and capitalist rhetoric. Health risks, legal risks and the risk of being stigmatized are all embedded in socially constructed ideas of what our food systems and consumer habits should look like.

When I told my folks of the meals that I had eaten with ingredients acquired from a dumpster, they gasped. My parents first concern was my health. Their idea of a dumpster is that filled with useless material, filth and decay. However, there is quite the difference between household trashcans and commercial dumpsters. Behind produce shops there are different bins for organics that are separated from other waste. Produce that is not esthetically pleasing will be thrown out because there is a huge disparity in people’s perception of what is acceptable for the grocery shelf, and what is edible. This disparity is what goes to waste. “Without waste, consumer capitalism cannot charge for the luxury of the flawless tomato or the freshly baked bagel…In other words, without waste, conspicuous consumption becomes far less conspicuous.” (Essig 2003). This perception of what is edible is created by rhetoric around food health, which is produced by agribusiness and food marketing. “Advanced capitalist societies are organized around surplus value or valorization for capital. That IS one reason why perfectly useable goods will be discarded rather than given away” (Shantz 2005). Our strict health codes expiration dates, best before and sell before dates allow huge amounts of edible foods to be thrown into the trash. Behind grocery stores, dumpsters contain sealed containers, cans, bins and bags of various preserves.

dumstering Granville Island

Dumstering Granville Island Organics

It is astonishing that one would be breaking a law by consuming others’ waste, but there is an ownership around dumpsters. Vancouver Safeway stores have placed locks on their dumpsters and some favorite dumpstering locations now have signs, locks or guards warning dumpster divers away. “This garbage proprietorship is also expressed in the fact that it is often multinational fast food chains that have the strongest dumpster security, including in some cases razor wire enclosures” Plocek (2004). This security then makes it illegal to dumpster. Health care rhetoric is also used around these laws. It is assumed that someone who eats out of a dumpster would get sick then proceed to take legal action against the dumpster owner. This idea is absurd as we can recognize that most folks collecting meals from dumpsters are either disenfranchised or anarchist. “Taken in tandem, the waste of food and the protection of waste [is seen] as the avaricious gluttony of American society” (Clark). We can see that the legal risks around dumpstering are a part of a systemic capitalist problem.

Perhaps the most disabling gap between mainstream and dumpstering is the stigma and the idea of dumpstering as an extreme. The idea of climbing into a dumpster is far from glamorous, too far, too radical for most. But for those who have been inside the dumpster, the amount of waste is too much to ignore. “Punks regularly liken mainstream food geographies to colonialism because of their association with the [developing world]: destruction of rainforests (allegedly cleared for beef production), the creation of cash-cropping (to service World Bank depts.), and cancer (in the use of banned pesticides on unprotected workers and water supplies)” (Clark). We can see not only the waste in the dumpster but the misuse of resources on a global scale. Dumpster diving folks or “Do It Yourselfers are not just living off the grid, but off of the excess that the grid produces. In an incredibly idealistic act of faith, they believe that by redirecting consumer capitalism’s “waste stream” to those in need, they are actually dismantling the master’s house with the master’s tools” (Essig 2002).

Efforts to support local permaculture and disable large-scale agribusiness will ideally lead to the end of Dumpstering, as there will be no conspicuous consumption and therefore no excess to thrive off of. However, in the meantime there is plenty of loot in those dumpsters, so lets move past these socially constructed risks and step towards a smaller ecological footprint by stepping into the dumpster.



Clark, Dylan. 2004. “The Raw and the Rotten: Punk Cuisine.” Ethnology. Vol. 43, No. 1.

Essig, Laurie. 2002. “Fine Diving.” Salon.com. http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2002/06/10/edible_trash

Plocek, Keith. 2004. “Free Lunch.” Houston Press.   http://houstonpress.com/Issues/2004-11-25/news

Shantz, Jeff. 2005. “One Person’s Garbage…Another Person’s Treasure: Dumpster Diving, Freeganism, And Anarchy.” Verb. Vol 3, No. 1. http://verb.lib.lehigh.edu/index.php/verb/article/viewArticle/19/18



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