When I first found out about dumpster diving it was introduced to me as something that helped keep student’s bellies full and an exciting after-dark activity. I was sceptical to start off with, and my parents even more so; imagining the filthy bins having rats scavenging through the mouldy scraps but decided one night to give it a go… I was hooked from the beginning. After bringing home boxes and boxes and fresh food and not seeing one mouldy tomato and realising that there was no way a rat could even get into the bins I knew that this was the start of something.
Three or four years later and I am more or less addicted to it. The thrill of going out at night and jumping around the bins, finding multiple weeks’ worth of food in just one night is something you can’t stay away from easily once started! Besides this however, as someone who is passionate about environmental and social issues the idea of how much food is wasted but supermarkets every day was completely horrifying to me. The big retailers in particular, ie. Coles, Woolworths and Aldi are by far the worst we have when it comes to food waste in Australia. Even though we have charities such as Second Bite and Fair Share the supermarkets are still throwing away a disgusting amount of food. This is due to a variety of reasons such as capacity to transport food and business efficiency (terrible excuses in my opinion!) but supermarkets are also faced with the potential of being held liable if somebody gets sick after being sold something after the best before is up (best before is basically meaningless and even expiry dates could be too conservative). However besides this is the fact that even if supermarkets wanted to sell their damaged, devalued or expired food at a cheaper price they would still make more of a profit by throwing it away and selling new food at a higher price which exposes a critical fundamental issue with the entire food system. Selling food cheaper may also be of degradation to the overall “look” of the store especially when they are targeting the middle class- a sure example of classist and consumerist disgrace. The amount of resources including water, energy, land and animal lives which goes into food production is ginormous and a very large amount of the results of this ends up in land fill because of laws and because of the laziness of our supermarket chains. In addition to this the catastrophe gets worse when you think about the huge amount of people who go hungry in Australia and the world every day. Something really has to change in the way we treat food!
Usually when we go out we come back with so much food that we can’t eat it all or fit it all in the fridge and so over the last few years I have learnt a lot about food and how to preserve it in various ways; I have done a lot of pickling and fermenting of veggies to make gherkins, sauerkraut and fermented fruit juices as well as always having a freezer full of bananas and various fruity ice creams and muffins.
Anyways, this year we were celebrating Christmas with our extended family at our house and wanted to try and have a 100% freegan (ie. Dumpster dived and home grown) celebration lunch. We were a bit unsure at first how this would go, being used to having everything very planned in advance and having to put the fate of the meals in the hands of the dumpster gods! Over the next month or so we dived, sorted, froze, dehydrated and preserved fruits, veggies, seafood (which we found frozen or cold in bins), nuts and much much more in preparation. We got lucky with a few hauls of various alcoholic drinks which resulted in about 12 slabs of drinks including Corona, apple and pear cider, Chardonnay, wine and Triple Sec. Much of this we gave away to friends but kept enough for our Christmas celebrations.
We did make sure to warn our family member guests of our plan but they were all very understanding and curious as to how it would turn out. My cousin even took part and managed to make his food freegan as well as he was able to take home a lot of food from the restaurant he works at which was closing down for the holiday season and couldn’t use over 200 eggs, cherry tomatoes and basil amongst many other things!
It turned out that despite the small amount of stress of not knowing exactly what we would be making until a few days before Christmas that it actually was not hard at all! I knew that one could easily live off dumpster-dived food but I was amazed at how smoothly we were able to get a good lot of courses sorted so well for a family occasion like this!
Here’s a quick rundown of the menu we had on offer:
Entree consisted of a cheese platter with fruits, nuts, prosciutto, hummus, carrot sticks, home-sun-dried tomatoes, home-preserved capsicum and olives as well as salmon on crackers with mascarpone and dill.
Main course consisted of a fish curry, a very large frittata (thanks to my cousin), some meat patties and steak, and salads (thanks to everyone).
Desert was really something we had been preparing for; we wanted to make mango ice cream and sorbet so we had cut and frozen a great deal of mangos that we just kept finding night after night!
We eventually ended up with perfectly cooked meringues (by perfectly cooked I mean still chewy inside!) with natural yogurt on top with blueberries, strawberries and passionfruit sauce on top with a scoop of mango sorbet and a scoop of mango and yogurt ice cream on the side. I can say as someone who isn’t a huge fan of meringue normally, that they were absolutely divine!
In addition to that I had made some little pumpkin vegan cheese cakes thanks to a very lucky dive where we got a lot of dried fruit and nuts to make the base as well as coconut cream, cashews (made into cashew milk), pumpkin and barley malt syrup to make the topping from!
For drinks we had a vast myriad of beers and ciders that we had dived over the last couple of weeks as well as a punch of lavender, lemon, blue berry and squeezed orange juice and later on even a mulled wine!
It was a marvellous day and we all sat around the table outside in the beautiful weather and enjoyed a completely freegan and seriously delicious meal together. We even had dumpster dived Christmas crackers, napkins and a wreath for decoration!
All in all, dumpster diving is for me not only a fun activity but it is also an environmentally and socially sustainable diet which provides a lot of people with quality food. For me it is also a creative outlet; when you’re forced to think of what you’re going to eat based on what you scavenge you need to get creative unlike when you think first about what you want to eat and then buy the necessary ingredients! There is a large downside to it as well in that it does often get frustrating and disheartening when you see how much food ends up in land fill- it really is disgraceful. When you think of the horrendous animal cruelty involved in meat, egg and dairy production, and the huge resources and energy required for crop production and so much of it all going to waste, it is really just upsetting! We need to put more pressure on the supermarkets to donate more food to charities such as Second Bite and Fair share… or even animal shelters (I found an entire dumpster full of dog and car meat that was still in date and was able to distribute it amongst many friends for their pets). Even better though would be if the laws were changed around the best before dates AND if the public actually could realise that the best before date is complete non-sense! I can assure you that it will not hurt you to eat the food that it passed its best before! I can also assure you that slight damage to the packaging will not make the food taste different! We really need to start rethinking our relationship with food because if it keeps going like this then it is going to cause us a lot more problems in the future.
If you’re keen on the idea of dumpster diving why not give it a go? Scout out the dumpsters in your local area and see what you can find! Even feel free to contact me if you want any tips or tricks 🙂
ps. Here’s a video of our bench after just one evening of diving!