Creative Politics: Dumpster Diving with Mom

If there’s one thing that could convince your parents garbage might actually be food, it’s finely-made chocolate.
I’ve been telling my mom stories about dumpster dive scores for almost a decade. During that time, dumpster diving has been a main source of food for me and my friends. It all started in 2002 when I moved into a punk house where everyone relied on free food from the dumpsters. We were trying to eke out a living on part-time jobs and precarious work. My mom was initially disgusted and had concerns about the safety of the food. But over the years this became begrudging acceptance. The next step was for her to come along.

I know she’s really got a sweet tooth. So when I was home for a visit and mentioned there was a chocolate factory in Victoria with an easily accessible dumpster, I knew it would pique her interest. The idea of free chocolate germinated in her mind for a while and on her next visit to Victoria she agreed to accompany me on a late night mission to the mythical chocolate dumpster. I was hoping it could serve as a gateway drug to an entire new world of free food.

She rode shotgun in her 1997 teal Ford Escort station wagon as I drove through a suburban maze of dark Saanich streets. We bickered about which direction to find the chocolate factory. My mom swore it was left but I went right, probably just to be contrarian. We drove further into the sprawl, uncertain as to whether we were driving the right direction or if we’d even find
what we were looking for. It gave me some time to think.

While every Canadian news outlet from Global to the Edmonton Journal seems to have run some sort of exposé on dumpster diving or the Freegan movement, I still encounter people who are surprised to discover my friends and I eat food from the garbage. I never feel the need to heroically celebrate my late night scavenging, but I maintain that dumpster diving is more complex than any news article represents.

Certainly we must confront the horror that more than half of the food Canada produces ends up in a landfill. But it is one thing to read statistics on waste and quite another to be literally in that waste, sometimes up to your own waist. Day after day we wade through this trash, with all its putrid smells and sticky juices. Scarcity is a convenient myth that fuels the capitalist monster, and swimming in the discarded seas of surplus year after year you come to know the absurdity of capitalism not as an abstract fact, but as an obvious and evident reality. You know this not in your mind, but in your body. Particularly your stomach.

Back in the teal station wagon, we continue up the highway, and I have a growing suspicion we’re going the wrong way. We turn
around and try the direction my mom wanted to go. After 10 or 15 more minutes of driving, the road finally appears. “Ha, I knew it was this way,” she says smugly. We drive right up to the unassuming single dumpster on the side of the factory. As we get out of the car and I turn on my flashlight, I expect my mom to watch from the sidelines, but she gets right in there with me, even tearing
apart the garbage bags. I had perhaps underestimated the strength of my mother’s desire for chocolate. And then, of course, arrives the magic moment: she opens up one of the bags to reveal hundreds of chocolates. She laughs and shouts with glee as we find more and more. She tastes one to discover they are peppermint, one of her favourites.
We drive back into the city snacking on minty chocolate patties, and I realize that it’s not so much what we find that matters, but
how it might be shared with all sorts of unlikely accomplices. (Julian Evans)

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