Dumpster Dividends

So much good food gets thrown away. And while I obviously really, really love food, I don’t always love paying for it: My means are limited, and the city is filled with viable food languishing in dumpsters, destined for landfills, or (best-case scenario) composting facilities. So I dumpster dive.

Only the apple was a bust (it tasted really weird)
Only the apple was a bust (it tasted really weird)

Bread is always a safe bet: Generally, it’s considered garbage after a single day on the shelf. I’m fortunate to live close to an exceptionally bounteous bread dumpster that, on a good day, yields sourdough, rustic levain, pumpernickel, baguettes, scones… pretty much everything.

Last night I hit a produce dumpster and found a bell pepper, lemons, green onions, a few tiny potatoes, grapes, a whole honeydew melon. I pan-grilled the scallions and the pepper, made a lemon dressing, and roasted the grapes. I threw the scraps in the bag I keep in the freezer for stock.

I made a salad with the peppers, onions, and grapes. The sweetness of the grapes combined with the smoky depth of the charred vegetables into a serendipitously delicious whole: Foraging for food presents the delightful challenge of figuring out what to do with totally random combinations of ingredients.

A tragic irony of dumpster diving is that to do so safely requires a certain degree of privilege: The fact that I have a kitchen allows me to wash or cook food that would otherwise be questionable, health-wise. Packaged or non-perishable foods (like bread) are usually safe. But fresh produce is expensive, as well as nutritionally vital, and when you’re digging it out of a slimy dumpster, you really want to have the option of cleaning or cooking it (I thought about eating the grapes raw, but decided I felt better about roasting them).

Although it does little to alleviate the staggering waste and injustice inherent in our food system, taking food that would otherwise be trash and turning it into beautiful, nourishing meals gives me great satisfaction (and saves me money). I’m eating honeydew melon as I write this.


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