February 21, 2010

Dumpster Diving and Dining

Many people see dumpster diving as gross, degrading, dangerous, or something only for the really desperate and destitute.

I see it as a choice, a statement about who I am, an adventure, a way to save my limited financial resources for other priorities, a way of reducing the tremendous amount of food waste produced in this country, a way of reducing my own personal impact on the planet, and a chance to be an example to others.

Apple/pear sauce with yogurt and shredded coconut on top, cinnamon bun (everything but the coconut from the dumpster).

I semi-regularly visit a local grocery store dumpster. It's nice to go when I'm on my way somewhere to buy food. That way, I see what I can get for free, then I can purchase anything I was not able to find or something to go with my finds to make a well-rounded meal. On my most recent dumpster visit I acquired some strawberries, apples, oranges, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, salt pellets (for salting the sidewalk), and some plastic pails (originally used for holding cut flowers but will be reused as planting containers, or small garbage pails, or tubs for hand-washing clothes).

Baked fish, cauliflower corn stir fry, and salad with onion dressing 
From the dumpster: cauliflower, peppers, lettuce, cabbage. Freezer/pantry stuff that needed to be used up: frozen corn, frozen tilapia fillets, hemp seeds, onion dip mix, sour cream.

There is almost always too much edible food to take it all. We often take a lot and process it and try to give it away. Some of the things we've made in the past from dumpster finds include freezer pickles, apple/pear sauce, dried bananas, roasted peppers, dried peppers, dried zucchini, dried cauliflower, fruit leather, tomato sauce, zucchini muffins, banana bread, and zucchini soup.  

The leftover cauliflower corn stir-fry became a stew with the addition of some pasta, seaweed, and dumpstered canned black beans. Rolls are from the dumpster, cheese is the last of a tasty holiday gift from some thoughtful Wisconsin-ites.

Food isn't the only thing I'll pull out of a dumpster... and it generally isn't what people start with when it comes to reclaiming trash. Many people have seen something nice sitting on the curb on trash day, or perhaps peeking out of a trash can. I've furnished apartments this way. Some cities have specific days set aside for pick-up of large items but many great finds can be gotten by just keeping your eyes open whenever you're driving, walking, or biking around town. The biggest dumpster occasion of the year is the end of college. Dubbed "Hippie Christmas" by some, this is the favorite holiday of the year for many dumpster divers, cheapskates, and just folks who like a good find. I've found clothes, lighting, furniture, office supplies, sealed food, bottled water, and more. I've heard of people finding electronics - laptops, mp3 players, etc. I have not, but I'm still looking!
 Dumpstered cut flowers - my favorite romantic gesture

One of my favorite things about pulling stuff out of the trash is those magical moments when you find exactly what you were looking for - you needed a laptop case and voila, there's a brand new one; or you've been doing a lot of canning but are running low on lids, and there are a couple boxes of unused ones on the curb; or you were just talking to a friend about wanting a Boggle set, not the regular 4x4 board but the larger 5x5, and there's a Big Boogle set in excellent condition on the sidewalk you're walking down. It doesn't always happen, but if you keep your eyes open, it'll happen more than you  might expect.

If you're interested in dumpster diving, the best way to start is just to go for it in the way you feel most comfortable. Start off slow, bring a buddy, use caution and common sense, and get excited about your finds! I know I do.

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