There is such a thing as a free lunch…

Dumpster diving: who knows what treasures you'll find! Credit:

Local Dumpster

Your Alley (or Anyone Else’s, for that matter)

Los Angeles, CA

Bike Access: varies

Bike Parking: varies, but likely not an issue

Attire: whatever you want (but probably leave your True Religions at home)

As a resident of the Westside, I pretty much take for granted the phenomena that my neighbors compost, my grocery stores purvey organic-local-free range-vegan rubber bands, and every third car on the road is a silver Prius (in fact, I’ve made up a club for them: Silver Prius Owners of Santa Monica, SPOoSM for short).  But occasionally I’ll encounter a person or visit a town where such progress is viewed with suspicion rather than acceptance and, even more bizarre, I’m deemed something of a hippie because I refuse disposable bags and bike to places.  My reaction to this label is usually surprise, flattery, and then a good 2 minutes of head-scratching.  I mean, yes, I support adjusting one’s lifestyle to reduce impact on the environment, but doesn’t everyone?  Turns out (obviously), no, not everyone does, and my baseline is particularly skewed because I hang out with my oink partner E.  E is the first girl I ever personally knew who bikes for everyday transportation.  Back when I first met her, that kind of activity was downright renegade to me.  She also grows her own veggies, doesn’t eat meat, despises big corporations, and brings her own cup/Tupperware to coffee shops/eateries.  As far as environmentalism is concerned, she is something of a hero to me, someone I have a lot of catching up to.  I guess that’s why I never consider what little bit of sustainability I practice to be radical, except to Bill O’Reilly maybe.

I went over to E’s for dinner tonight.  This would make the second time in a week she had fed me, and I felt a slight tinge of guilt as I parked my bike on her porch.  As I sat down at the table though, I realized there was no need for guilt!  The meal was free for her as well!  In fact, all of the food we were eating came courtesy of her local…dumpster!  We had a salad of lettuce, apple, pear, pistachio, feta, and blue cheese accompanied by Trader Joe’s multi-grain toast and herb butter.  The only things that did not come out of the dumpster were tomato picked from another oink partner’s backyard and dessert.  Seriously!  This freshly dumped food fed 4 adults!  It’s just astounding how much food is wasted on a daily basis.  I mean, the herb butter was sealed!  And it wasn’t going to expire until October!

You are probably thinking, “OK, so it’s not rotten, but it still came out of a dumpster!”  I will be honest…I had to talk myself into it in the beginning; it was not an automatic act for me.  But I can also state with equal honesty that everything I had tonight tasted completely fine and indistinguishable from any other lettuce, apple, pear, etc. I have had anywhere else.  I am NOT saying that everything found in a dumpster is food-grade.  But, when confronted by judiciously picked ingredients that were clearly tossed for reasons other than spoilage, I experienced the power of the psyche on the palate.  This was a completely eye-opening adventure and, evidently, one that requires no more of me than a trip to my back alley.

Now that I had stepped outside my food comfort zone, E rewarded me with my most favoritest course of any meal: DESSERT!  Just like the preceding dishes, this was not cooked by E but came out of the very capable hands of her neighbor Melanie.  First there was apple pie with an amazing buttery crust.  But, let’s be honest, who cares when she also provided home-made ice cream!  This lemon verbena charmer had real personality: it started off with a hint of marijuana (no joke: at least 4 people, myself included, independently noted this), then transitioned into cold, refreshing citrus, and finished with the refined flavors of…milk after it had been steeped in Froot Loops for 10 minutes.  I hope you are not turned off by this, because I mean to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my scoop.  It was just a bonus that it offered such complexity and interesting dinner conversation.

TAKE-HOME MESSAGE: This experience was not about exploring dumpster diving/Freeganism.  Instead, it was about realizing how much food gets squandered in the face of starvation, rising raw material costs, and decreased food productivity due to unsustainable agriculture.  I say, try making a meal of dumpster-collected goods if you can handle it.  But, if not, at least stop buying more food than you need.