Geoff is one of the best friends that I made while I was in NYC and I am certain he will be a friend for life. I have never had a bad time with him. He is fun and kind. The two best qualities in a friend. So, without further ado, take it away Geoffy!
It was always lurking around somewhere in the back of my mind. But it was when I saw “The Gleaners and I,” the floodgates opened, the clouds parted and the choir started singing.
(Image found here)
“Gleaners” is a French documentary, by the mighty Agnes Varda. It’s a touching, beautiful film that inspired me to start dumpster diving. Gleaning has been a tradition for hundreds of years in the French countryside where, after the main harvest had been done, the local poor would go to the fields and take what had been left behind. Left behind for whatever reason – perhaps because harvesters had missed certain patches in the field or produce was a little beaten up, etc. The filmmaker Agnes goes on a road trip through France, meeting an assortment of characters, to look into gleaning and its place in modern society. She finds that there are still people doing this in the countryside just like hundreds of years ago – and some friendly farmers are open to it, rather than see good food go to waste. Then she goes to the city to find gleaners, which is where things started to click for me. One man gleans at his local farmers market and you’re able to see how much needless waste there is here. He survives by eating what he finds – and eats very well.
I went on the internet after the film and found a freegan group right here in New York City, who would meet frequently and introduce anyone interested to dumpster diving in the city. Perfect. Each time they would meet up in different neighborhoods, right as shops would start putting their trash out on the sidewalks. I met up with them as they did this in the West Village/Chelsea area. There was a group of about 20 others, also newbies. It was a bizarre experience. The group was lead around the streets, from pile of trash bags to pile of trash bags sitting out on the sidewalks, by a couple of bona fide dumpster diving veterans, who would address the group as if on some New York guided tour for freaks. They would give tips and pointers along the way (one of the guides had this weirdo sixth sense of what trash bag to open that’d contain the goods). Most people there, having never done this before, were understandably a little hesitant and somewhat embarrassed (I was anyway).
Walking up to a pile of trash bags on a sidewalk, grabbing one, and opening it up – then rummaging through it is a pretty full on proposition. It goes against most of the values you’ve been brought up with as a functioning member of society. It’s like you are breaking a social taboo. The night wore on and I stood back and watched as others followed the lead, grabbing up trash bags and rummaging. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. So many people were walking by on the sidewalk. I was a little paranoid and more than a little ashamed. Finally I reached my “fuck it” moment, grabbed a trash bag, untied the tight knot and that was about three years ago.
Nowadays, pretty much 95% of the food I eat comes from the dumpster, and I have to say – take a look at the photos – I have never eaten this well. I’ve never been sick from this (a common sense approach rules the day – for starters don’t take what smells strange or anything that is bloated). It’s like going out on a big treasure hunt every time, I dig it.