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.