Dumpster Diving: The Result of the Food Waste Issue in the U.S.
I first encountered a “dumper diver” about a year ago. It was unusually warm for April that day. You couldn’t walk a few feet without being sticky with sweat. But this particular woman was draped in a flowery fabric. She waddled sluggishly ahead of me, her shopping cart rattling feverishly in front of her. It was evident that she wasn’t homeless however.
She halted suddenly, sidestepping towards a large grimy dumper. Without hesitation she flipped open the lid, reaching both hands carefully inside. Fresh fruits, vegetables, and still sealed pre-packaged foods emerged, she grinned gleefully, stuffing her already overflowing cart with new goodies. I looked upwards, the red sign reading Trader Joe’s taunting me. When my head tilted back down, she was gone, along with her loot.
I couldn’t escape the image of all that food laid out in her cart before she scurried away. I held a bias, much like the entirely of America that dumper diving is exclusive to the homeless, or people of little income to randomly come upon rotten food and damaged goods. But this was a decorated woman, who wasn’t unfortunate and this was food that moments ago was perched on a shelf for consumers to buy. It prompted my interest in what truly is dumper diving and is it an ethical way to combat America’s increasingly bad food waste problem.
According to Wikipedia dumper diving is salvaging from large commercial, residential, industrial and construction containers unused items discarded by their owners, but deemed useful to the picker. Citing most participants are from the developing world and perform such actions as a necessity from crippling poverty. However, in the developed world, it’s a bit conflicting. Some individuals dumper diving solely for the betterment of the environment or personal profit. And it’s not hard to see why with America’s food waste issue.
Shockingly more than 40 percent of the food manufactured in the USA is never consumed. The depressing reality is that dumpsters are places where ridiculous amounts of perfectly edible food gets sent, cause we’ve created a destructive mentality of perfection in our food, making perfectly bruised produce unsellable for retailers. But dumpers divers aren’t swayed by a dented tomato soup can. Willingly to eat what consumers won’t for free, only having to scrummage through a dumper for it.
“I’m going to interview a dumper diver.” I spit out.
My mother scrunches her eyebrows in confusion. “Dumper diver? Like they’re diving into-”
“Oh no. They don’t physically dive into a dumper. I mean… they do sometimes, but only to salvage stuff.”
“Like crackheads.” She blurts.
I laugh involuntarily, attempting to explain the logistics of the certain dumpster divers. She nods simply, trying but failing to abandon the notion so ingrained in our heads about them.
I brought my mother reusable Trader Joe’s bag, not sure if I’ll need it. It’s incredibly hypocritical, but at least it’ll remind me to ask her about the supermarket giant and her experience with them. I don’t know much about Dorthy. I know her Facebook persona and word of mouth from my friend, but that’s it.
“Dorthy?” I squeak nervously. She’s more polished than I imagine. Dressing almost what I would imagine a Banana Republic model would. I ask if she’ll like anything to drink, being inside a Starbucks. She declines, mentioning something about their child labor in Guatemala. I dive directly in (no pun intended), asking how she embarked into dumper diving.
“I was introduced by a coworker. Of course at first I was completely mortified with the idea. Like you eat food from the dumper? I thought it was disgusting.” She guffaws, scrunching her nose.
“But then I invited myself from curiosity. You could imagine how ashamed I was. I thankfully never faced food insecurity growing up, so the concept of going headfirst into a dumper was absolutely ridiculous.”I lean inquisitively. “What did you find inside the dumper?”
Dorthy chuckles sadly over the radio edit of Dolly Partons 9 to 5. “It looked like the entire supermarket was in there. One bag was only filled with expensive cheese. ‘The kind that have their own shrine in the grocery store, it was the very first time I tasted them.”
“How do you know what’s truly safe to eat?” I question, imagining sloggy moldy food.
“A major portion of the food they throw away is edible, so that helps, however its common sense. If something smells rotten, it’s rotten. Most of the food in the dumper are past their sell-by dates, but there still perfectly fine and that’s the issue.” Dorthy eyes dart towards the pasterties behind the glass and something in her eyes says she knows that the uneaten will be thrown away at the end of the night. And something within me wonders if anyone will be waiting for them.
“Does chains similar to Trader Joes follow these practices as well as other smaller supermarkets?”
“More so even. They’re d-marts, places where food is thrown out nightly like clockwork in abundance. You’ll find a dozen dumpers clustered together filled with slightly damaged cereal boxes with the cereal still sealed up inside, and a mammoth bag of potatoes with only one bad one. It’s such a waste.” She vocalizes, shaking her head.
“Do you believe that dumper diving can solve the food waste issue in America?”
“Hell no, dumpster diving is one way for us all to get proactive in reducing food waste, but in the end its the agricultural system whose implanted and upheld the belief that fruits and vegetables are always perfect and only particular parts of animals are edible.”
“What actions can we as a society take to eliminate food waste?”
“I honestly can sit here for hours and lay out a clear, effective plan like many others, but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. Humans are a selfish, greedy species that are highly resistant to change and that’ll be our ultimate destruction.” She mutters tight lipped.
“I hope to see a time when I struggle to find edible food being trashed and when dumpsters are reserved solely for actual waste, but ultimately the odds of this happening is slimmer that
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