I opened a Newsweek magazine yesterday. Toward the end were two stories on Dumpster diving. I lived in Seattle for a while, where the art of Dumpster diving was perfected. I knew folks who took to those Dumpsters for still-fresh breads and veggies. Most of them were young people from middle- and upper -lass homes just starting out: “Look, these idiots put this good food in the trash, and we get to benefit.”
From Newsweek, I learned Dumpster diving has now grown into a movement where the joke is on corporate America: screw consumerism, dive-in! I also learned that the movement, which includes bartering, now has a name: Freegans, Free + Vegan, with a huge membership in New York City (a population that evidently supports some delicious Dumpsters).
Back in Seattle, Dumpster diving made me cringe. Today, it still does. I was a volunteer for a homeless newspaper and volunteered with a group of writers who wrote with homeless youth and adults. Everyday in Seattle, I saw people Dumpster dive, but not the small group of youngsters who bragged about it. I saw guys pushing shopping carts full of their possessions, with a few sweaters on, in need of a shave, shower and a home.
None of the Dumpster diving kids I knew were homeless. I didn’t get it. I felt the same way about another movement that started in Seattle around the same time: voluntary simplicity. Yikes! Just writing the name freaks me out all over again. I encountered these folks at a bakery across from my apartment. They had their own coffee mugs behind the counter and got together to discuss how to make the world a better place by living more simply: the bus; less dishware; no cell phones, answering machines or computers; and more secondhand clothing.
As with Dumpster divers, I looked at these folks as self-righteous. Most of them were former Microsoft employees able to retire early from their stocks. I questioned if they even cared about other members of their community, or drove beyond their neighborhoods.
Yes, on a larger scale, I understood what they worked toward, just as I understand Freegans. It is good to fight consumerism, but call me an idealist: I just happen to think it’s still important to take to the streets or take over the civic meeting. I still think its best to fight for the poor. And somehow, Dumpster diving and voluntary simplicity seem like a form of mockery. Freegans have a choice, while others in our community fight to have a choice.