Dumpster Diving Culture

Anti-Consumerism Week Highlights Dumpster Diving

For those seeking to learn more about dumpster diving, a practical workshop is being held on Feb. 19 as part of Concordia’s Anti-Consumerism week. Photo Hélène Bauer

Dubbed a “popular hobby for the frugal,” dumpster diving can be an alternative to typical grocery shopping or coping with rising food prices.

“It’s an activity, but it’s towards survival,” explained Loïc Freeman-Lavoie, a dumpster diver and member of the Concordia Food Coalition. “It can be fun, but one of the things we’re pressing is that this is not some ‘cool thing.’”

Canadians waste $31 billion-worth of food annually, as of 2014, according to “Canada’s Annual Food Waste — $27 Billion Revisited,” a study done by Value Chain Management International Inc. This finding, is not only surprising, but is also a $4 billion increase from 2010.

This wasteful reality is blamed in part on the unrealistic consumer demands for aesthetically appealing food of high quality. It’s estimated that between 20 and 40 per cent of produce in North America doesn’t even make it to grocery store stands for not looking “nice enough.”

Meanwhile, dumpster divers everywhere are breaking the myths around disposed food.

For Freeman-Lavoie, a seasoned scavenger, dumpster diving is a means to feed oneself.

“A lot of this food is people’s way of existence,” he said. “It’s dangerous and harmful to call it a sport or a hobby, because it underestimates and undervalues [how] greatly important it is.”

That said, those seeking to rebel against societal consumerism may have the wrong idea about the political statement that comes along with dumpster diving.

“A lot of people have this idea that dumpster diving is this radical activity,” Freeman-Lavoie said. “They often associate that with ‘fuck the man, I’m not buying food, I’m going to take it from the garbage instead!’ But by doing that, we’re dependant on this culture of abundance in waste through consumption.”

“They often associate that with ‘fuck the man, I’m not buying food, I’m going to take it from the garbage instead!’” — Loïc Freeman-Lavoie, member of the Concordia Food Coalition.

Ultimately, dumpster diving is not radical: in this context, it still fits in with consumerist constructs of needing the waste to be present in order for the activity to manifest itself. It can be radical though, in the sense that by mitigating waste, dumpster diving serves to actively shift the attitudes and acceptance of recuperating things and diverting them away from waste, Freeman-Lavoie explained.

Nonetheless, thrifting for food can have advantages that run deeper than the basic notion of saving on your grocery bill—becoming sensitive to what is being wasted, having a more diverse diet and developing self-beliefs towards dealing with what’s available are among the many pros of the recycled food movement.

One of the biggest cons, Freeman-Lavoie said jokingly, is the absurd availability of bread and pastries—he claims to have developed quite the addiction to readily available treats.

Some of the best tools for successful diving excursions include using intuition, good communication skills and memorizing the city’s garbage schedule. From there, aspiring divers can plan their trips accordingly.

Freeman-Lavoie says that it can’t hurt to walk into a store and talk to a merchant—you may be able to strike up an arrangement, or even just find out why all of those seemingly delicious containers of hummus were thrown out.

Another Montrealer and dumpster diver, Emma Anders, spoke to the same note, mentioning times where building rapport with storeowners can have a great outcome.

“Sometimes they’re super nice—they see you rustling through their dumpster and they will give you extra food,” she said.

While it’s technically legal to go through garbage sitting in public domain, divers still have to be cautious. If caught digging through trash, some may perceive it as making a mess.

“We need to keep a good relation between store owners and people that dive. If you make a mess, which some people do, it’s the merchants that have to clean it up,” Freeman-Lavoie said.

Both Freeman-Lavoie and Anders emphasized the importance of not leaving a behind a chaotic trail of garbage for other people to deal with. If a merchant fails to clean up garbage left behind by divers, they risk getting fined for it.

On another note, the results of a diver’s efforts are most definitely affected by the season and weather. Freeman-Lavoie says that the cold season can numb a diver’s senses, making it more difficult to decipher which food products or produce items are still good.

“The summer is better for access to your senses, but in a lot of ways winter can be a preserver,” he said, adding that he’s less reluctant to pick up a container of yogurt due to the natural freezer that is Montreal in the winter.

Dumpster diving can also go beyond finding food products. Outside of electronic stores, Pharmaprix and even the streets can be home to many trashed treasures. For many city kids, childhood wasn’t complete without finding curbside keepers with one’s parents.

Both Freeman-Lavoie, and fellow diver Leh Deuling fondly recalled finding furniture.

“I have memories with my mom of being at the dump and finding all these glass jars and being like ‘oh my god, score!’” Deuling said.

For those seeking to learn more about dumpster diving, Freeman-Lavoie and others will be facilitating a practical workshop on Feb. 19 as part of Concordia’s Anti-Consumerism week. The politics behind the phenomenon, the system of waste that exists, security and laws as well as the dos and don’ts of the activity are among the many topics attendees can look forward to.

The workshop’s discussion element will begin at 4 p.m. in the Hall Building, before participants will have the chance to put their newfound knowledge to work at Jean-Talon Market later in the evening at 7:45 p.m.

“There’s a known dumpster culture there, so it’s a low-conflict area as well,” said Freeman-Lavoie, adding that dumpstering is low conflict in general, and that both workers and divers are accustomed to seeing each other.

“There’s no rules, there’s no limits,” Anders said. “Anybody can do it.”