The Rich Taste of Free Food

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You won’t believe what I scored when I went dumpster diving last night.

I sometimes peer into bins outside local bakeries but until yesterday never found anything other than stinking trash. Last night was my first real dumpster diving adventure. A very savvy friend, who I will call B, offered to show me the best spots in town to go. He had a mental list of the most bountiful bins and he knew the specific times of day they put out their stuff. He also knew the etiquette: when to be still and avoid attracting attention, when and where it was okay to be digging completely out in the open. We visited fancy grocery stores and a restaurant supply company.

Two hours later, we had four bouquets of orange tiger lilies and purple, white and rose-colored carnations; $60 worth of expired organic juices, in carrot-beet, super greens, and grapefruit flavors; bruised but edible zucchini, corn, avocados, potatoes and apples; thickly cut slices of huge wheels of Parmesan cheese; and maybe 40 pounds of handmade pasta, including smoked salmon ravioli, made earlier that day. The food filled several milk crates. It was such an amazing feeling of abundance that we had an endorphin high. We divided up the cache between ourselves (B lives with eight roommates) and put the rest on a “free porch” — a local residence known for giving away donated food to the community on a weekly basis.

I told a woman who lived at the free porch that it was my first time dumpster diving, and she told me, “You’ll never buy anything again.” Well, I don’t know about that. “Anything you want, the universe gives you,” she said. “Even stereo equipment.” I admit I have never experienced such a feeling of generous possibility as I felt last night. (And it’s true that Portland has a vibrant free culture. People leave boxes of free clothing and books and furniture on street corners regularly.)

When foraging plants, there is usually a sense that one is imposing on an ecosystem — stinging nettle may be hosting butterfly larvae, for instance — and, especially in an urban environment, there is a sense of limited space, a feeling that there’s not enough. Not always, because sometimes you can go into a place that’s overgrown with “weeds” that would otherwise be sprayed, and of course you can harvest plants sustainably, but it’s the general feeling. With dumpster diving, though, you’re indulging in what someone else has already consented to give away and toss in a heap. You’re reveling in the riches without stepping on anyone’s toes. It feels very positive and inspires feelings of generosity and neighborliness. When you find what must be 40 pounds of gourmet pasta and Parmesan cheese, is there any other thought besides, “Let’s call everyone we know and have a great feast”?

No doubt some will say, “That’s great and all, but if it’s thrown away, is it really fit to eat?” That is a risk. I got a little caught up in the excitement of the score and ate some things raw I probably should not have, and I do have a bit of stomach trouble today. It’s nothing serious. What’s an adventure without a little dirt, anyhow? I’d do it again.

5 thoughts on “The Rich Taste of Free Food

  1. I love dumpster food. I have gotten out of the habit, but have fond memories of all of the lovely things I have acquired. For free. I read about your blog in Edible Portland and am so happy to see all you have shared. I have been eating Dandelions for quite some time, but am happy to have more information about wild edible things. Ever since I moved to the area 6 months ago, I have been longing to figure out which of the lovely, yummy looking plants in my yard are edible. I had my first wild sorrel from my yard this morning thanks to the article. 😉

  2. its fascinating how free things spread around. i not feel good with dumpstered food we had it at our scandinavian ting meeting. an and it messed up all things a leed to confusion. people stoped taking care and just go to the kitchen eating dumpstered bread with tahini or peanutbutter. the bought organic foods got bad. still people not washed the food before puting in the kitchen.

    i think if you dumpster be aware of htings you will not notice. i know there is this famous sentence. I have been eating dumpstered food for a while and ihave been never sick. this is not proofable. still poisoning get slwoly. we mostly poisoned over decades over generations. so poisoning will maybe not get us instead our children. or will affect us in later years.

    i suggest keep cautious on dumpstered food. yeah it looks like heaven. when opening thei trash boxes. or its like christmas. still its mixed up with a lot of chemicals and they use a lot of modified processed foods in the kitchens so be awayre. its an experience still it can lead to chronic inbalance. its often that we forget to feel to feel. so its not matter that we get poisoned or not. its just a way to stay clean.

    the body is realy able to cope over some years with malnurtition and wrong diets. after this time it cracks and you get health problems. so be aware of your golden resources and be careful with it. if your are on a clean diet stay on it. and notice that everything who get a ticket in need a way out.

    be aware of dumpstered foods.

  3. Nice one. If you ever want to do a guest post over on Click Clack Gorilla (I write a lot about dumpster diving and freegan-type living) or submit something to my dumpster find ‘o the week posts, I’d love it. Sweet blog. High fives for you.

  4. I used to dumpster dive as a teenager (admittedly, it was for some really unhealthy pastries and the like!) and found it to be great fun…and a really eye-opening experience. I have to second Chris in saying that it really is amazing what people will throw away. Especially considering they could just as easily give it away to people in need. But no, they would rather pitch it. Sad.

  5. Great post. Some of my fondest memories as kid are of trips to the rural dumpsters near where we lived in Montana. Dad and I would get up early Saturday morning and head for the dump where he would often hold me upside down by the ankles to reach things at the bottom of the dumpster.

    Years later when i was living in the Driftless Area of Iowa I used to hit a circuit of rural dumpsters on weekends end found everything from clothes, to stereos, to computers.

    It’s amazing what people will throw away.

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