Dumpster diving. If you’ve never heard of it it’s pretty self-explanatory; one ‘dives’ or searches deeply inside of grocery store dumpster/bin for food that is considered to be edible.
If you have heard of it, (from either a documentary/article or one of those ‘out there’ travelers you came across that one time at an alternative coffee house) you may have applauded the idea briefly before shuddering at the thought of you ever sifting through actual trash to find random foodstuffs for the week.
Now you can shudder some more because…my husband and I are dumpster divers.
No, we’re not homeless, financially struggling or nomad travelers (anymore). We’re a well-adjusted, professional family living in the North Shore of Sydney who live a very comfortable life.
So why on earth are we poking our heads around grocery store bins late at night for scraps of food?
Well, here’s a few reasons why:
1. SAVING MONEY
The average one-child family in Australia spends approximately $160 a week on food. We spend about $30.
Part of that saving is due to us being members of a community food pantry that operates out of Foodbank (a non-profit that distributes food from supermarkets that would otherwise go in the bin), and the other is thanks to our evening patrols of the bins at our nearest supermarket.
From organic chocolate-coated coffee beans to milk, cheese and bread we get it all on a weekly trip to see what the shops have decided to throw away due to overstocked shelves, ‘out of date to display’ or destroyed packaging.
2.REDUCING THE WASTE
According to the WWF about one third of all food produced for human consumption around the world goes to waste each year. Australia’s part to play in that is about 5 million tonnes each year that ends up in landfill (the government estimates that to be about $20 million worth).
Of course not all of that waste is edible, (that’s another matter of over-farming and production) but a good deal of it very much is. If there is less demand for production (buying as much as we do from supermarkets) and more concentration on what we can do with the leftovers, we can start reducing the shocking levels of waste our country and many others have.
That way we might begin to feed more of the hungry and start to heal the planet, simply by lessening our landfill.
So if our family can feed ourselves off the waste, and lessen our consumer footprint, we’ll happily take one for the planet!
3. EAT LIKE KINGS
It might sound utterly contradictory to you, but when we dumpster we eat like Kings.
My husband and I began our dumpstering days long before we even knew each other, back when we were living on the open road with the other 20 something-year-old backpackers.
Ten years later we’ve learned to recognize what’s gold and what’s gone (out of date).
But when we strike gold it colors our diet with delicacies from all over the world that we would never otherwise think to explore.
From smoked duck eggs, to baklava, goat milk kefir to caviar, we’ve had the lot! And what’s more exciting is figuring out how to actually cook or integrate these fine and random foods into a meal each week.
4. MEAT THE ISSUE
If we’re going to talk about how this wild and wonderful movement of dumpstering is actually going to save the world then we should probably talk a bit more about meat.
One of the largest impacts on our eco-footprint is our meat market. Apart from the greenhouse gas emissions livestock give off (14.5% globally) farming animals for meat impacts soil, water usage, animal feed, agro-chemicals, antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, herbicides and human energy. A more in depth breakdown of the latter has been drawn out by the FAO here.
Then there’s the transportation by land and sea, processing and packaging (plastic, paper, glass, metals), more transportation, then retail and distribution, more transportation to our homes until it’s finally a tasty steak on our plate.
I can’t remember the last time I bought meat from the shops.
I don’t even know the price-points. We’ve been dumpstering our meat (which we are very discerning about) for a long time now and we try not to order meat at restaurants if we can help it.
In addition to the emissions, think about the great waste of energy and time and actual life of an animal it is, if all that ends up happening is that it gets thrown into a bin…each and every day.
Therefore, we just choose not to contribute to the consumer statistics. But since we know it ends up in the bin anyway, we also choose to make good of a bad thing.
5. SUPPORTING FAMILY AND FRIENDS
So as well as the financial benefits, ethical factor, luxury diet and environmental impact it’s also an issue of quantity.
There is so much food thrown out each day it could feed a small village.
We’re talking hundreds of litres of milk, tens of kgs of meat, boxes and boxes of dry packaged goods and enough bread to feed many, many hungry people. And that’s just in a few of the bins we check at just one supermarket.
The initial excitement of opening up a bin filled to the brim with decadent food is soon depleted when we realize how little of it we can physically take home.
But what we do mange to fit in our car we share with our family and friends (those willing to take it).
It’s always nice to see their faces light up when you offer them bags of orange juice, olive oil, cheeses, dips and so much more.
The dinner table spreads can be quite the party!
So there you have it.
Our double life of middle-class privilege, alongside our ethically fueled protest of ‘rescuing’ food or living a close to ‘zero waste’ food life.
Ethical/political because it’s not just our planet that seems to be falling short of this major waste cycle, but the large amounts of hungry people all over the world who are literally being robbed of their lot.
And while the whole thing might be funny, cute or even intriguing to you (to others not so),
it’s a serious look at what our world looks like right now and what it will inevitably do to our future.
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