Dumped Dinner is an original work of creative nonfiction by me, hikaymm. The story details my first experience dumpster diving. I'll be posting the full story up in parts; hope you enjoy it!
It had been five minutes, probably more. I spun around in my kitchen trying to build up the courage to take a single bite. My roommate snickered as I entered her room for the third time shaking my head and shoulders. Eat it, dude. I had chosen this task, and I needed to finish it.
Angry with myself, I stormed back into the kitchen, scooped a heap of sautéed asparagus and red onions into a bowl and grabbed a fork. My lungs felt shallow as I stared at the concoction in my dish.
Just take a bite. I rolled my head in a circle once more, cracking my neck. I stabbed a spear of asparagus and took a bite, then three more. I set the bowl down and stepped back—awaiting the worst. I love asparagus; what was wrong with me? Perhaps the fact that my favorite vegetables, on that night, had come from a Dumpster behind my local Trader Joe’s explained my fear.
It had been my choice to go dumpster diving (or gleaning, or salvaging, depending who you ask), but I had not thought about actually eating the food. I wanted to meet those who dumpster dive, learn how dumpster diving is done, and experience what dumpster diving is really like. I was in this for the research—for the experience, not the consequences.
So I set out to find a dumpster diver. The internet yielded no results for me, so I wandered around staring at Dumpsters for a few days, hoping I would catch someone in the act. I had no idea if dumpster divers existed in Pittsburgh. I was stuck, so I did my best not to offend my friends as I called and emailed them asking: do you know anyone that dumpster dives or salvages wasted food? Most just seemed to be a little concerned about my mental stability. Others stated simply: “no.” I didn’t blame them for being shocked. The first time I watched a special on Dumpster diving on Food Network, watching gourmet chefs prepare food from a trash can, I was appalled, too.
After three weeks, I had no leads. The divers were hiding from me, and I could not enter their world of Dumpsters and trash bags. I understood that most divers do not typically offer that information outright—some are mothers of children and are afraid they will be teased; others think they will be judged harshly for it. In one case I read about, a woman in her seventies that did not want to rely on her children to buy her expensive food, so she would sneak out of the house at night to drive to a local dumpster to gather food. She did not want to embarrass them by letting them know about this. However, she eventually was taken in by the cops ultimately, exposed. I understood divers’ fear of this moment. But there had to be a single diver that was willing to share, to teach, or, at least to let me tag along.
Later, I scrolled slowly through my phone considering each name that passed under my fingertips. No, might know somebody, no. Anyone could be a diver, right? From writers to gourmet chefs, I felt that there was no set mold for who would and would not hop in a dumpster. I paused on my manager’s name, and thought about my coworker, Sean. Sean. Yes! I knew Sean had a foot in their world. He’s a hipster, if anyone can really fit the word. I got in touch with him, and finally found what I needed: he dives occasionally, and he said he would love to take me. Success. I was going dumpster diving, and I did not know what to expect.
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