Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thankful for the Dumpster but not the System

So recently our apartment held a Thanksgiving potluck and it was a wonderful turnout with a bunch of dishes provided by many our friends. Much of it was dumpster food but I lost my camera and I wasn't able to take pictures.

For this Thanksgiving potluck, we found a large collection of frozen mashed potatoes, green beans and brussel sprouts all in the dumpster and waiting to be cooked up. We also found three boxes of cornbread stuffing, some yams, and many bags of butternut squash that my roommate turned into a soup. We decided rather than consuming all of it, we should be generous and share some of this bountiful dumpster harvest with our friends at no cost to ourselves other than taking the time to heat it all up.

There were also some dishes that were partially dumpstered. I made two types of pies (pumpking and apple-cherry) using a good number of dumpster ingredients (such as a pumpkin, butter, sugar, eggs, cherry preserves and a hell-of-a-lot of pumpkin pie spice). We even provided some eggplants for our friends' vegan eggplant parmesan that he prepared for the potluck.

Hell-of-a-lot of Pumpkin Pie Spice and leftover Pumpkin Pie

All in all it was a great amount of food, with little or no cost to provide.

But in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we tried to give as much of this bountiful dumpster harvest away as we could, while giving thanks to the dumpster for providing us with free wonderful food. While we acknowledge that we are pleased with acquiring food from the dumpster, including the fact that we have encouraged others to do so as well, we also realize every time we dumpster dive that the system that we are benefiting from is one that is completely abhorrent.

We take no pride in the fact that as members of a developed industrial nation, we are part of a larger system of consumer waste and that our meager dumpster-diving habits are a step in the right direction, but by no means a solution to the bigger problem. We realize that our activities are a fringe response to a larger socio-economic problem that prioritizes profit and ease over sustainability. The United States easily produces enough food to feed the entire world while keeping Americans completely fed, however it falls short because of how much it wastes. It is estimated that just recovering 25% of the food wasted per day in the United States could feed up to 20 million people.

 Food waste in the United States has reached astonishing proportions: Americans on average generate approximately 30 million tons of food waste each year, and of the 356 billion pounds of food produced over a two year period, 96.4 billion pounds went uneaten- a full 27%.* Therefore it isn't surprising that our dumpster "challenge" wasn't really that big of a challenge after all.

So much potentially good food wasted

The effects of  all this waste create a series of interrelated consequences . In terms of environmental costs it means that that much more food is being produced and then wasted, which means that all the inputs to this food production (fertilizers, pesticides, hormones, feed and water) are rising in costs and essentially contributing to nothing except waste and environmental degradation. Landfills, which are already filling up across the country, are receiving approximately 98% of food waste with the other 2% going to compost.

The social costs add another dimension to the dilemma of food waste. Food waste is contributing to the world's rising food prices which is pushing up the number of people who cannot feed themselves. The incidents of hunger and malnutrition across the world and in the United States can be greatly reduced with more efforts towards reclaiming/recovering wasted food. According to the US Department of Agriculture in 2008, food insecurity is felt by approximately 50 million people, a problem that could easily be solved with a food recovery program implemented in local restaurants and grocery stores.

Rising Food Prices

In light of reading my diatribe about the food waste problem in the United States, just remember this Thanksgiving that while it may be easier to throw out food, following the path of least resistance is not always the best approach. While we will be giving thanks to the dumpster for providing us with our food this Thanksgiving we will continue to undermine the system of food waste from which we benefit from.

*Facts taken from New York Times Article http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/18/weekinreview/18martin.html?_r=1

Monday, November 15, 2010

2 weeks later

The challenge ended two weeks ago. The first thing I bought was cheese and beer. I am a simple fellow. We continue to dumpster, almost as much as before. We actually have such a stash left over from the challenge, that I speculate we could go two weeks without buying or dumpstering at all!

The main thing we have added to the diet is a steady supply of milk, butter, spices, and cooking oil.  Other than that very little has changed.

Best thing we have found so far was a huge haul of maple syrup.  A few have been gifted, and a lot has already gone onto things that don't really require maple syrup, not to mention the making of things specifically to put maple syrup on.
Its really delicious.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Challenge Complete!!!!

We completed the challenge with success and ease which we did not expect.

The challenge ended two days ago, and we realized, nothing has changed.

Sure, I bought a 2 dollar hunk of delicious cheese which I had been craving and our room mate cooked us cinnimon rolls to celebrate, but other than that, our diet has not and will not likely change too much.

In fact, considering how much money we saved not buying any food or drink for 30 days, we want to stick with a frugal budget whilst allowing for some flexibility - spices, olive oil, the occasional milk, etc.  So, we are going to make a 5 dollar weekly food budget, and continue dumpstering with equal vigor.

Lessons learned?
  • We need to invest in a dyhyrator to make the most of the occasional fruit bounty.
  • Jam making is awesome, and I have eaten more, and probably healthier jam than ever before in my life (possibly summed)
  • Dumpstering sparks creativity - I have eaten some things I would never have eaten had I not found it in the dumpster 
    • For example my new love of dates.  It takes a dumpster to start liking dates, I am telling you.
    • I made mashed potatoes and gravy for the first time in years (ever?)
    • So many different pasta sauces.
    • Vegetable pie with potato crust.
  • There is so much food, and each haul can provide so much, we did not go as much as we expected to - we went probably 2-3 times a week on average.  And we still have a boatload of noodles, canned food, jam, frozen bread, etc. to last us a while anyway.
We did not update nearly as much as we thought we could, accept our appologies.
We like to go to bed early, and unfortunately you have to dumpster late, this meant a lot of dumpstering followed immediately by sleep.
Not to mention, the hauls started looking comperably massive, yet similiar.

Also, if you wait for it. It will come.  I craved coffee for the first weeks, then we found it.  Same with tea, then we found it in complete excess. Over 15 boxes of Good Earth tea. Which we had to de-bag because something clearly spilled on the boxes, but the inside was still perfect....
We hosted couchsurfers that made us food using our dumpster pantry.  This is what they came up with. It is a vegetable pie with carrots, potatoes, onions, topped with crackers, and using a potato/oatmeal pie crust.
Pretty awesome.

The challenge was an amazing success. We will now move over to a 5 dollar weekly food budget, and possibly keep posting if there is anything too spectacular not to.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Doing the Dive

My roommate and I both go to college, so when the question comes up regarding what to do on a friday night, most people we know have the typical response of "going out" or partying. When friday night rolled around for us a week ago, the answer was, of course, "let's go dumpstering."

Our other roommate decided that our challenge would be a great topic for her anthropology class and has labeled us "modern foragers." But rather than just hearing our stories about dumpstering, she decided to experience it for herself, and with that she documented our experience.

We frequent a local grocery store where the dumpsters are in a secluded section behind closed doors. The initial walk-in to the dumpster room has a distinct odor of rotten food mixed with cleaning material. The closed doors create a humid incubation that allows some of the food to ferment and putrify creating a smell that nauseates most people, but to us it smells like freedom. 

Each dumpster is usually filled with trash bags loaded with produce, frozen meals, bread and much more. To get a sense of what a dumpster bag typically looks like:

As you can see plenty of food, to the point of excess, and all still looking relatively good.

To explain how giddy we are each time we enter the dumpster room is like trying to explain the excitement that a six year-old feels when Christmas morning rolls around. Literally, we never know what to expect when looking through the dumpster, so we are often so excited we look like two kids opening up birthday presents.

Doing the dive

Being really excited for dumpster porn

 Diggin' in

The batch of food also dictates how we are going to eat for the next few days and what we are able to make. As the ol' sayin' goes: "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." In our case the situation was limes, apples, raspberries and strawberries and what we made was limeade, applesauce and jam. 

Delicious Raspberry jam


Making applesauce that we later mixed with jam

As you can see, we have become more resourceful with what we have been given, and while we aren't kitchen geniuses, we do recognize that if we just take a little time out of our lives to make some jam or limeade, we are not only saving all of this food from going to waste, but we are also able to feed ourselves and some of our neighbors. We are also trying to eat comfortably as we did before. We have made some dishes with excellent results:

Potatoes (that are about to be mashed) with some gravy made from scratch and raspberry apple sauce

Margherita pizza

Spaghetti with a tomato sauce and mixed with swiss cheese

As you can see our eating habits are relatively good and in some cases better and healthier than the average meal (since a lot of our meals we have to prepare from scratch). This goes to show that the perception of dumpster food as being "dirty" and "unsanitary" is often not true in any sense, and in fact can often be just as delicious and nutritious as a normal meal.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A weekend and some JAM making

Both dumpster challengers left the Los Angeles area this weekend.
A trip to San Diego and a trip to San Francisco.

We stocked up on portable dumpster supplies and headed for our destinations.

I luckily brought pasta and a can of tomato bisque which provided two dinners, and enough rolls, dates, and chips to last a few days.  However, I did break down and had a couple meals which I probably shouldn't have, but hey, I think we are proving the challenge possible, furthermore, I heard dumpster diving in San Francisco is quite a competitive sport to be involved in.

Aside from that, the most recent and exciting event of the challenge was a trash bag full of 30+ trays of raspberries.  They were slightly smooched, an it was well understood why they were in the dumpster, but they still looked highly edible and delicious.

We decided to make JAM and a lot of it.  Simply boiling down the fruit, and letting all the water evaporate off will eventually lead you to a delicious, if not very unsweetened, tart jam. We filled all the jars we could manage with the jam, and I have eaten no less than 2, and sometimes 4 or 5 jam sandwiches per day since this bonanza.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A humble, yet delicious quesadilla

Today for breakfast I had a Pasadena Salad. And it was certainly a salad for breakfast.

Lunch was much more lunch-like, and I had a grilled cheese sandwich (so much bread now!)

Dinner. Dinner was it. There is still a fair amount of provolone and other sliced cheeses, and with the recent tortilla find, I made a quesadilla. And it was delicious.

This weekend was Ciclavia in Los Angeles.
Apparently 100,000 Angelenos all took advantage of closed streets and hiked, skated, biked, and walked the 7 mile course in downtown.
It was truly awesome.  We packed dumpster salads and sandwiches and joined in on the awesome day.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

More Salad and Bread

3 Artisan Bread
3 Mini Pita pockets
1 whole wheat wrap
1 corn tortilla
9 salads
1 mulberry pie
1 lamb chop
1 cabernet beef pot roast
1 6 pack raisin bagels
1 loaf bread
1 pumpkin loaf
1 rolls
1 Bundt cake
3 magazines of dumpster porn

Occasionally you find a non-food item in the dumpster that really brightens your day.
Today, that prize was 3 porno mags - the first ever dumpster porn.
.................."OOps, this ones stuck together, Im not sure if thats good or bad"

I cooked mac and cheese for dinner. Pretty solid.
recipe:  handful of cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup soy milk
1/2 onion
1/4 water
Mix in about 14 slices of various sandwich cheeses
Mix with Pasta. BOMB!