[sixties-l] Fine diving [dumpster diving] (fwd)

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Date: Mon Jun 17 2002 - 18:59:35 EDT

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    Date: Fri, 14 Jun 2002 10:41:14 -0700
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: Fine diving [dumpster diving]

    Fine diving


    Young anarchists with guts of steel raid dumpsters for edible "trash." The
    idea? Divert waste to end wastefulness.

    By Laurie Essig
    June 10, 2002

    Normally I am a fun date. I like good restaurants that serve ridiculously
    vertical entrees and dry martinis. It doesn't hurt if the lighting is good
    and the servers are attractive. Cooking at home, I am a diva of fresh and
    perfect produce. I love slicing kumquats wafer thin into salads of freshly
    picked greens and concocting ever more exotic dressings. But lately I've
    been thinking a lot about the politics of food and, as we all know,
    thinking about fun always ruins it.
    I'm not just speaking about the very scary genetically engineered potato on
    my plate, or the
    even scarier idea that we'll all die of mad cow disease in a few years, but
    the very premise
    of fine dining: conspicuous consumption and the waste that is central to
    its enjoyment. When
    I buy unblemished produce or eat at a restaurant, I am not just supporting
    a market that charges far too much money; I am part of an economy of excess
    and luxury that leaves far too much in the trash. Which brings me, albeit
    in an abrupt manner, to the topic at hand: dumpster diving.
    Dumpster diving itself is not new; those without have been diving into the
    trash bins of those with
    since the beginning of time. But dumpster diving is not just about need. It
    is often about a political
    impulse to liberate the excesses of the rich for the poor. It is part of a
    larger ideology of radical
    nonconsumption. Thirty years ago, the Diggers liberated the waste of
    capitalism for those in need. Long before the Diggers, Franciscan monks
    liberated the waste of feudalism. What is new about
    today's waste liberation movement, sometimes known as "Do It Yourselfers"
    (DIY) or just plain old anarchists, is that it is part of the larger
    movement against global capitalism, a movement made most visible when they
    gather en masse at G7 meetings and other iconic events of the global economy.
    The dumpster divers are the most logical subset of the anti-globalization
    activists because
    they live in a way that does not create any demand for goods and therefore
    their lives do
    nothing to propagate the very system they are protesting. It is difficult
    to know how many
    anarchists occupy this wing, especially since most of them are not
    particularly thrilled about
    talking to the "liberal media." (When I first started this article, many of
    the anarchists refused
    to speak to me because they felt I represented the "liberal media" and
    would therefore distort their views or, worse, expose them to police
    intervention). It is fair to say that the Do It Yourselfers have a
    national, if not international, presence that is evident on many of the
    anarchist Web sites and in much of the anarchist media (especially 'zines).

    Do It Yourselfers are not just living off the grid, but off of the excess
    that the grid produces. In an incredibly idealistic act of faith, they
    believe that by redirecting consumer capitalism's "waste stream" to those
    in need, they are actually dismantling the master's house with the master's
    tools. Although I am far too cynical to believe that global capitalism will
    be affected by the redistribution of waste, I am impressed by the strict
    ethical code that gets this food to people in need. Through both informal
    and formal channels, such as Vermont's Food for Folks program that only
    distributes reclaimed foodstuffs to the needy, Do It Yourselfers are doing
    something that seems both useful and incredibly ethical.
    I was so impressed by the strict ethical code of the dumpster divers that I
    began following
    them around Burlington, Vt., where I live. Because this is a small city,
    and dumpster diving is
    illegal, all of the people I spoke to asked me not to identify them. They
    also asked me not to identify the dumpsters since some owners might feel
    compelled to stop the "theft" of their trash by getting compactors and
    locks. Suffice it to say that the people I spoke to, all of whom were in
    their mid to late 20s, are able to get day-old bagels, food from grocery
    stores that would normally be thrown out because it has passed its
    expiration date or is overripe, and pizzas and other fast food that has sat
    under warming lights long enough that it cannot be sold, and even candy
    that is either imperfect or past its prime. In other words, a relative
    healthy meal and dessert too.
    The media, complain Do It Yourselfers, often get dumpster divers wrong,
    believing that they
    are not just using what's left over, but stealing from large corporations
    as a way to put a wrench in the capitalist machinery. This has been
    particularly true since the publication of "Evasion," a picaresque memoir
    of a young Do It Yourselfer that also is a how-to manual in shoplifting.
    The fact is, however, that most of the people trying to live outside
    consumption oppose theft.
    As Chubba explains it, "Theft still falls under the category of 'creating a
    demand' ... When something is taken off the shelf of a lot of corporate
    grocery stores, there isn't a difference between the space created by
    stealing it or the space created by purchasing the product ... there is
    just a space. A space dictating a call for more of the very same product."
    Doing-it-yourself doctrine relies on a critique of capitalism as an immoral
    distribution of wealth, and
    on an anarchist-inspired call to action. According to Andy, a 28-year-old
    political puppeteer,
    dumpster diving and anti-consumerism more generally come out of a "wish not
    to participate in a 'work economy' or to participate in an economy that is
    causing a lot of misery." Instead, the waste of the miserable system is
    diverted to the miserable, or whoever happens to be around when the bounty

    "Last time I went to Burlington," says Andy, "I picked up three hitchhikers
    on the way home and sent them off with three boxes of food, all from

    Dumpster divers also are siphoning off the one thing consumer capitalism
    cannot live without: waste. Without waste, consumer capitalism cannot
    charge for the luxury of the flawless tomato or the freshly baked bagel.
    According to Adam, there is "so much tied up in what I call the 'perfect
    capitalist vegetable.' If there's a blemish it's thrown out." Similarly,
    everything baked is tossed at the end of a day so that fresh things can be
    baked in the morning. In other words, without waste, conspicuous
    consumption becomes far less conspicuous.
    Like most of those involved in diverting the waste stream to those in need,
    neither Adam nor Chubba grew up without food. Adam is from a fairly
    privileged family in Connecticut and went to college to study literature.
    Chubba was able to "travel and goof around" for years after high school and
    even go to art
    school for a while. But, as Chubba explains it, the more education he got,
    the more he didn't
    believe in the capitalist system as "a viable model for humanity to
    practice." Besides, he says,
    the process of diverting the waste stream is a politically ethical stand
    that also happens to be fun.
    "The excess is not just a pear here and a case of tomato sauce there," he
    explains. "It is more food than you and your 20 friends know what to do
    with. I have had to solve such problems as: What do we do with seven cases
    of wrapped chocolate? Is there a recipe that calls for 100 red bell
    peppers? How many ice cream sandwiches does it take to give you a stomach
    ache or how many grilled cheese sandwiches will 15 loaves of bread, 30
    tomatoes and 40 pounds of extra sharp Grafton cheese make?"
    The idealism, if not the actual food and criminal activities, of such a
    movement is enough to
    turn some peoples' stomachs. It is difficult for even the most optimistic
    among us to believe
    that eating trash will actually have an impact on global capitalism, but it
    does have a cultural
    one. To eat "trash" is to go against our cultural consciousness, which
    imagines that food can
    be "tossed" from the realm of what can be safely seen and discussed into an
    abject state of
    invisibility and taboo. To consume the abject trash is to risk
    contamination and status as a fully
    civil human.
    Eating trash turns my stomach, not just because I'm squeamish, but because
    I'm socialized into
    a culture that separates food from trash and humans into "deserving" and
    "revolting." Yet I
    find myself more attracted than repulsed by those who live off of and
    redistribute waste. It's
    not that I would actually eat out of the trash (I tried, I can't), but I
    know, we all know, that
    landfills should not be full of perfectly edible foodstuffs, and no one
    should ever go hungry. That there are some who structure their lives
    around this knowledge is inspiring and I am grateful. So grateful that I am
    tempted to join them. And probably will. Just not for dinner.
    About the writer:
    Laurie Essig is a professor of sociology at Yale University and the author
    of "Queer in Russia" (Duke University Press, 1999).

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