photo / Ben Black                         illustration / Ken Baughman

Dumpster diving– the practice of taking another individual’s trash and putting it to good use– is becoming a more widely accepted practice. Every day, millions of people throw away food, clothing, furniture, and other items that can still be used. These items only need to be cleaned, and sometimes repaired or re-purposed, before they can be used again. Individuals who scour dumpsters and alleyways for these useful items are often referred to as “freegans.” Many freegans adopt diving as a way of life, knowing that there is more than enough thrown away every day to meet their needs.
I recently watched a documentary called Dive! which brings attention to how wasteful we are, especially with food. The movie presents a shocking statistic, that 50 percent of all food produced in the United States and Europe is thrown away. When compared with the fact that millions of households in the United States don’t know where their next meal is coming from, it becomes clear that there is an inexcusable gap between those who need food, and those who have enough to throw away.
A great deal of the food going to waste comes from restaurants and supermarkets. It is mandated that these places throw away food that is past its expiration date. However, the majority of this food is still good to eat for days after it expires, as the expiration date is more of a “sell by” or “best before” date. This is where freegans and divers come in. Bags of produce, dairy, meat, and packaged goods are left in dumpsters at the end of the night, filled with food that is still perfectly consumable. Most diving requires a little bit of work to sort out the good from the bad, but with a little time and know-how, it’s easy to come away with a good haul.
Unfortunately, the same mentality that causes most people to cringe at the thought of eating out of a dumpster is partly responsible for the food wasted in the average household. Most people just don’t know the difference between spoiled food and food that can still be salvaged. Dive! presents the example of the supposedly bad egg. Many people throw eggs away, unsure as to whether or not they are safe to eat. However, there is a simple test for this. Fill a bowl with water. If the egg settles to the bottom, it is still good. If it touches the bottom of the bowl, but part of it is suspended in the water, it is still edible, but probably best used in baking. If the egg leaves the bottom of the bowl, it is bad. This is just one way to save food and money. Other examples include, moldy cheese, which is often still good after the mold is removed, or bruised apples, which can be boiled like potatoes to make homemade applesauce. Tons of food could also be saved if people were willing to put more effort into solutions, rather than settling for the quick flick of the wrist necessary to throw away day-old leftovers.
It is commonly asked whether we have the means to feed the world’s ever-growing population. If half of the food we produce is thrown away, then it would stand to reason that we have only to look at food production, distribution, and consumer education to find the solutions necessary to end world hunger. The question should not be how to produce more, but rather how to use what we are already producing effectively. This is something that begins with all of us. I challenge you to look at your own habits to find ways to decrease the amount of food you throw out. Who knows. You may also decide take a few dives yourself.

(An aside)
In light of recent events and accusations, I thought this would be an appropriate time to clarify the current state of affairs here at the Pilot. You may have noticed that I am no longer writing humor. You see, the quality of my writing was so great last semester that they decided to put me on something that actually matters: agriculture and sustainable living. However, due to an unforeseen drop in Pilot sales and consequent budget cuts, I’ve been moved to a smaller office. I’m not letting it get me down, though. I no longer have to share an office with the campus oaf. I won’t mention his name, but his cable-knit sweaters and poorly-groomed facial hair give him the look of a crazed Maine lobsterman named Noah, and he wears cheap glasses made from something akin to imitation tortoise shell. The office is in the basement and I don’t have to walk as far to get to the vending machine. I also get first dibs on all the refuse that ends up in the dumpster.

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