Dumpster to Dinner Table

Dumpster to Dinner Table

November 21st 2016

Some people have asked how I have managed to stretch this little experiment out so long without having to work full-time “You must be eating rubbish!” Well, in short… Yes. I have been… Quite literally. This post is an homage to dumpster diving.

To clarify, things aren’t as bleak as they may seem from that opener. A big part of keeping my options open has been the lowered expenses due to our caravan living situation. Luck in finding work has helped and right now, I am lucky enough to be parked up at my sister’s whose hospitality is much appreciated. But a large part has been economical food choices and food salvaging (aka Dumpster Diving or scavenging from rubbish bins). Yup. Not joking.

Some unknown person allegedly harvesting food from an undisclosed dumpster 😉

Let me elaborate. The first image that springs to mind (to the uninitiated is of Oscar the Grouch or a hobo moving from bin to bin looking for a passable sandwich or something. Sitting here, trying to decide how to paint it in a different light, I’m struggling. It really is as simple as finding a rubbish skip and jumping in to see what it holds. But, it is what it might hold that may surprise you.

I would be lying if I said it wasn’t sometimes pretty rank in there, but the key is to find a good dumpster. The amount of perfectly good food that is thrown away (especially by large chain supermarkets) is ASTOUNDING. Here is a picture of my share (one third) of one haul. It comprises: two dozen eggs (unbroken and within their ‘use by’), a whole sack of potatoes (one of which was going green), two six-packs of yoghurt and a pot of cottage cheese  (one day past the ‘best before’, but no sign of spoiling at all), some meaty bone off-cuts (for the dogs), a bunch of asparagus (one spear was a little haggard), and an unopened box of 100 Ma Higgins’ cookies… within the best before by a few days (individually wrapped and inside 5 inner boxes of 20). There were three unopened boxes of cookies in that bin that night and lots of stuff we left behind because we didn’t have space.

The origin of my never-ending supply of cookies

This was a good haul, but not uncharacteristic of the sort of things you’ll find. All that stuff in the bakery, baked that day, which gets heavily reduced at the end of the night… that’s in the bin after close. The overstocks that aren’t selling as well as they’d hoped… in the bin. A deleted line… surplus stock goes in the bin. Anything that nears or reaches the best before… in the bin. Pre-packaged produce that has one item that looks subpar… they don’t pull the bad one out. It ALL goes in the bin. The product whose outer packaging was ripped, leaving a perfectly sealed inner package… in the bin. Common items include: breads, pastries, muesli, snack bars and potato chips, magazines, pasta, dairy goods (yoghurt, flavoured milk, cream, cheese…), bunches of bananas, bags of mandarins, nicked melons and capsicums, wilted herb plants (which you could easily plant and revive for an ongoing supply at home), deli meats/specialty sausages, pizzas, quiches… The list goes on. And don’t forget, most of what you wouldn’t want to eat would make good compost matter or worm food to nourish your garden or feed for your cat, dog, chooks, or pig.

Tonight, I cooked up a heap of dumpster fare. In fact, I thought I would itemise it to give you an idea of how it looks. I made three dishes. I made three mostly because that was the best way I worked out to use up the various bits I had plus using the things I picked up today.

Three dishes that will serve me for eight meals for under $6 (including the cost of cooking gas)

1) Salad (2 servings)
– Salvaged: broccoli, cabbage, fresh coriander, avocado (FREE)
– Reduced (for quick sale): kale, spinach (both half price- total cost $4 and lasted me several days before today as well)
– Full Price (including sale items): red onion, capsicum, mandarin (because it was getting a bit dated), olive oil + white vinegar (dressing) (total cost $1-$2)

2) Mushroom, Broccoli and Coriander Soup (3 servings)
– Salvaged: pumpkin, 15-20 large white mushrooms, broccoli, fresh coriander, ghee (fermented butter made from salvaged cream (which was fine at the time of salvage)) (FREE)
– Reduced (for quick sale): n/a
– Full Price (including sale items): cooking gas, powdered milk, salt, pepper (total cost maybe $1)

3) Pasta Sauce (3 servings)
– Salvaged: coriander, tomato paste, carrot, broccoli, mushroom (FREE)
– Reduced (for quick sale): n/a
-Full Price (including sale items): cooking gas, tinned diced tomatoes, capsicum, red onion, salt, pepper, basil, parsley (total cost $2-$3)

Now, you may be thinking “I could just buy pre-made. It would be cheaper… and not eating out of the rubbish”. Or you could choose to think “That’s 8 meals for less than $6! Less packaging or food waste. Less processed ingredients and a more nourishing product than those that would be cheaper. Everything thoroughly checked and washed, so who cares that it was in the trash?!” Believe it or not, you do actually have an inbuilt intuition to recognise food you shouldn’t eat… just like every other living creature. And it’s never failed me yet in the dumpsters. Not once. I’m a bit spoilt at the moment because I have access to refrigeration, which hasn’t been the case for several months. So these were portioned off and frozen for future lunches/dinners which may see them added to or spiced.

One salad was dinner, the other will be lunch tomorrow. Later, I ate the last of the potatoes (fashioned into fries) from the haul pictured above. Along with one of the cookies from the same haul. I still have a few left and they still taste pretty good to me, if a little hard.

A wee writing snack

Do you HAVE to eat out of dumpsters to regain some time? No. Of course not. This is part of the path I chose to start questioning core assumptions (such as basic needs and beliefs about status/ego/self). The truth is I kind of enjoy it. It often means I try things I wouldn’t ordinarily buy and there is a little thrill of anticipation of what might be on offer today every time I go diving.


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