Published June 30, 2011
When thinking of things to do on a late summer evening, I have to say that rummaging around in a giant rubbish bin of expired fruit and vegetables would not be top of my list. The quality of vegetables on supermarket shelves is questionable enough when within it’s shelf life, let alone when about to implode on itself. However, followers of the increasingly popular practice of ‘dumpster diving’ would argue differently.
Saving the planet one potato at a time
Initially it’s somewhat important to note that dumpster diving is illegal – you’re pretty much trespassing on a company’s private property and stealing its products. However, for those who do choose to neatly sidestep this issue and get involved, the basic premise is to search for useable food items in the large dumpsters generally used by supermarkets, bakeries and food outlets, without getting caught. People generally dumpster dive at night, alone or in small groups, with the aid of non-motorized, eco-friendly transport, i.e. bicycles. Supporters of the movement argue its not stealing but more about utilizing unused resources.
According to a regular Reykjavík dumpster diver, ‘Penny’, who first started when living in a housing cooperative in the USA, the practice makes sense both morally and financially. “It’s unbelievable that we live in a world where people are starving but, at the same time, literally tons of food is going to waste”. Every few days Penny and a small group of friends jump on their bikes, locate their nearest dumpster and load up their backpacks with fresh veggies which they then sort at home. Fellow dumpster diver ‘Sam’ found it astonishing that such “perfectly good food” would otherwise be thrown away. “Especially,” he added, “in Iceland where food is more expensive due to import costs.” Penny argued that by dumpster diving, they were also contributing to the environment in making more productive use of waste that would otherwise go to landfill. When quizzed as to the risks involved, the overriding attitude was that most dumpster divers felt the benefits outweighed the risks of getting caught.
Waiter, Waiter! There’s a fly in my soup
So let’s review. Generic supermarket with accessible dumpster? Check. Sleeves rolled up past elbows to guard against staining (unwanted evidence that could, at a later date, be used against you in a court of law)? Check. Backpack filled with four bags of potatoes, two bags of carrots, one pack of melon slices, and some cooking apples? Check. Getaway bike? Definite check. All that remains now is to get cooking.
While trying to suppress the recurring mental image of stinky carrots and lettuces rotting in their own juices, I was informed that a lot of food thrown out by supermarkets and stores is barely past its expiration date and often still in its wrapping. It seems there’s some good eats to be had from them there dumpsters, and three course meal extravaganzas are all part of the course following a success outing. So while trash cuisine mightn’t be making it to downtown menu’s anytime soon, Reykjavik’s dumpster divers seem set to blaze culinary trails of their own for some time to come. All I can say is keep some toothpicks handy.
Real names not used in this article