Dumped Dinner is my original work of creative nonfiction. The story details my first experience dumpster diving. I'll be posting the full story up in parts; hope you enjoy it!
Click here to read Part 1: Finding my Dumpster (http://www.vingle.net/posts/351319-Dumped-Dinner-Finding-my-Dumpster)
Click here to read Part 2: Diving for bagels (http://www.vingle.net/posts/351393-Dumped-Dinner-Diving-for-Bagels)
We pulled in to Trader Joe’s parking lot, and I nervously noticed a lot of people still filtering in and out of the store. Unlike Einstein’s, Joe’s Dumpster is in the parking lot in full view of the store’s customers. Deciding I did not want to linger on this thought, I hopped out of the car behind Sean and followed him to the Dumpster. We peeked in and saw bags upon bags of stuff. We used Sean’s height as our only search mechanism as he reached in and moved a few things around. We grabbed a few plastic pots out of a small Dumpster and looked around a little more before Sean started to head back to his car.
You’re kidding me, right? That was it? No diving, really? I stuffed my hands in my pockets, defeated, when I heard someone ask about our finds and if we had jumped in. I shook my head no, and she hopped out and headed towards the Dumpster, a boy parking their car and then following close behind. I sent one more lingering glance their way as I got into Sean’s car, where he was warming his hands on the heater.
Something about the way he called her “crusty” made me ask him to wait for a few minutes. I headed back towards the Dumpster and saw the girl standing on top of it, fastening on a headlamp. I approached the boy standing outside the Dumpster watching her and introduced myself.
"I’m Brian,” he said, “and that’s Chelsea. You’re welcome to hang out—it’s not like we mark our territory or anything. Anyone can check these Dumpsters, ya know?”
Chelsea was already in the Dumpster sifting through the bags, and Brian had grabbed a box to gather their finds in. I was not sure what to say, but I just told them it was my first time diving. Brian’s gold feather earring caught the light from the street light as he turned to me and told me more about themselves.
The two, who live somewhere in the south of Pittsburgh, get all their food from Dumpsters. Trader Joe’s is one of their favorite spots, though the findings have not been as good since Trader Joe’s installed Agro-Dumpsters that are used to recycle certain types of food into fuel. Some of Chelsea’s favorite items, like eggs, go there now instead of into the normal Dumpster. It’s good and bad, they say. While they are glad Joe’s is taking the initiative to not waste as much, they miss their eggs.
I wondered why Joe’s made this choice. Many establishments dislike divers. Not because they want to waste obnoxious amounts of food, but because of the legalities and possible lawsuits that can come about from someone eating their trash. Supermarkets across the US install similar Dumpsters that cannot be jumped in to prevent these lawsuits from occurring. Then, to combat the bad publicity that comes from doing so, they donate what bruised fruit and wasted food they can to food pantries without putting themselves at risk for a lawsuit if someone were to get sick.
It had only been ten minutes since I met Chelsea, and already she was waist deep in garbage. She had systematically started on the right side of the Dumpster going through every item and checking to see if it was usable. One particularly fruitful bag seemed to be the leftovers of an employee refrigerator. Here, Chelsea wasn’t interested in the molded and inedible food, but instead collected all the Tupperware she could find and passed it out to Brian, who joyously explained to me how much they need it.
I looked back, and Chelsea was examining a jug of milk. She unscrewed the cap, poured a bit into her hand, and took a sip. Every dumpster diver in my readings used this technique, but the extremity only struck me in person. Eighner points us to three questions to ask: use your senses to judge if the food is safe (check), know the area you’re diving in (check), and always ask why something was thrown out (not checked). Chelsea didn’t seem to care about the third bullet point as she handed the jug to Brian—it must have passed her standards, if those existed.
"Oh sweet, yogurt! This is the only stuff I’ll get really grimy for. It’s my favorite find,” Chelsea explained to me as she opened container after container of yogurt. The full case of 32 ounce containers had been tossed since some of them were cracked, and I watched as she scooped spilled yogurt from the bottom of the bag into an un-cracked container she found, licking her fingers off after closing the lid. Brian just laughed as she handed out some four packs of organic yogurt she came upon in the same bag.
I bent to look through the box of finds Brian had packaged up so far. They had done well so far. Most divers, when they go out, find only a few items per Dumpster. Sometimes divers get nothing but smelly clothes. Meanwhile, Chelsea was scoring big at just one store. When I stood back up, a prepackaged “sauté kit” of frozen asparagus and red onions was shoved in my face.
“You know, you haven’t really salvaged if you don’t eat it yourself. Here, take these. You have to go home and eat these for dinner with those bagels you got, or else you’re just wasting your time right now.”
I blinked. I came here to experience dumpster diving, not to eat the food. I reached out and took the two packages nodding my head. Not making any promises.
They offered more of their finds, but I stoutly refused, not wanting to take any of the sustenance they lived off of. Chelsea adjusted her headlamp, and as she did, I took a better look at her. She was pretty and younger than I originally thought. I wondered what had brought her to this point, but she told me that it just seemed necessary. Why pay for food when she can get it here? She will buy some things at the store, but never meat. She only eats meat from the Dumpster, she told me as she munched on somebody’s leftover spicy chicken nuggets.
Eighner, on the other hand, avoids most meat except beef, which usually keeps better than other game like poultry or fish, which he would instead leave to his dog, whom had no qualms about their smell. All dumpster divers, it seemed, had different rules for what they would and would not eat, and Chelsea was breaking every rule I had studied before coming into the field of Dumpsters.
Chelsea flipped through the last few bags with her now red hands and climbed out. She then handed me a four-pack of organic strawberry yogurt and told me that I had to eat it, too. It’s her favorite. I smiled and thanked them both for letting me hang out. They told me to enjoy my dinner (“You better eat it, dude!”) as I headed to Sean’s car. That’s right, dinner. With my terrible sense of smell, I rarely eat any food that gets near its expiration date. And then there was Chelsea, who took a swig of milk out of a carton from the Dumpster to check its condition before tossing it in with her keepers.
“I’ve never gotten sick from any food I’ve taken before. People assume that the food is bad just because it’s in a Dumpster. You just have to be smart about it.”
She expected me to do the same: to take the food home and eat it myself. To be smart about it. I had asked to be allowed to experience her way of life, and she expected me to mean that.
To keep reading, follow my collection "Dumped Dinner" for the final installment!