Friday, July 17, 2009

Dumpster Diving and Empire

The irony of combining commentary on dumpster-diving and Empire are rich indeed.

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Correspondent Micah Z. posed this cogent question in response to The Fluttering Pulse of Entitlement Nation:

Today's post made me curious about dumpster diving. It seems like a good enough idea (although it seems like if the economy continues to wind down and metamorphose, the dumpsters won't have as much nice stuff in them) but I'm nervous to give it a try. Is it likely to inspire ire from business owners? Are some stores better than others? How do you know what's safe to eat and what was thrown out because there was a problem with it? A How-To might make for interesting reading (with a Big Fat Disclaimer, of course).

Excellent question, Micah, and here is the big fat disclaimer: nothing in this website should be construed as advice or recommendations regarding dumpster diving or the retrieval and consumption of food from any source, anywhere under any conditions. OK, now that we're clear on that: I forwarded Micah's question to correspondent Janet, the source of Tuesday's entry, and here is her response:

I’m so glad my article created some stir and conversation amongst folks.

Most people still won’t do what I do. They either have too much pride or they think it’s beneath them. I personally have never cared what others think of me, so dumpster diving just seems logical to me.

Being in and out of work, barely scraping by, dumpster diving has save me really. I used to get really sad about the economy, food prices and all that. But since I’ve been dumpster diving, I usually find what I need. I really don’t know what the future will bring, and I don’t care.

If I have to live in an RV, I’m totally OK with that. I see so many middle-aged women who are losing their hair or gaining weight in the mid-section and it’s all stress related. They’re on the hamster wheel trying to pay off credit card debt or keep up. The jig is up. No one cares. Nothing at work is that important. Live your life now, you will be dead sooner or later.

That’s probably why I don’t look my age, I don’t give a damn anymore and I live to please myself and make me happy. One of my family members thinks I’m an absolute nut for diving, the rest of my friends and family think it’s cool. When they come over to my house and realize I’ve found this stuff in a dumpster, they’re just blown away.

Now the excess I find I give away. I have a couple of people in my distribution route who work in the retail environment and some other folk who are unemployed, maybe drawing unemployment or disability. Most of them are barely scraping by. I’ve given them plenty of stuff. Most people in retail are treated rather shabbily by the public so anyone who treats them with dignity and respect gets their attention. Needless to say, I always get first-class service with these folks.

I have found in the last 8 or so months that the more I give away, the better God is to me, financially. An unexpected check will come into the mail, someone will give me a gift card, free food, etc, all of course on their own volition, I would never beg or ask for anything, I have too much pride and it would never occur for me to ask. I’m very independent. I hate asking for help.

One of the places I go to, the employees run to me. I remember one time my ex-boyfriend came with me one day and he was aghast at how they treated me. He said they treat you like a rock star! I said that’s because I treat them with kindness, dignity and respect. I didn’t tell him about the dumpster diving gifts or I would have gotten the ewwww factor as he cares about what others think of him. Hence the word “ex”.

I worked in the corporate sector for over 20 years. 2 years ago I got screwed over really badly. I worked my rear end off for a company that simply told me at the last minute they no longer needed me. Kinda like getting dumped, it really hurts. I’ve bent over backwards for some of these deceitful corporations and in the end they did what was best for them. So now that’s how I live, what’s best for me.

I grew up in a small town that has now been relocated due to toxic ground water. Many years ago mining companies strip mined ore, lead and zinc. Back then, mining companies weren’t that sophisticated so the groundwater became contaminated.

I had many classmates die of odd cancers. I have one relative that developed a weird goiter on her neck. My mom and grandma both died of abnormal cancers that I know was attributed to the groundwater contamination. When I was growing up my Mom and Grandma made my brother and I drink bottled water. Thank God she did. So recycling is a personal issue for me.

Micah had asked a question about the food part. I have never ever gotten sick from any stuff I’ve retrieved from the dumpster. If it’s meat like chicken, pork or beef (uncooked) I would never take it unless it had just been thrown out or was frozen when it was thrown out.

I have found that prepackaged jello, pasta, cooked meats (like those sausage links), pasta dinners etc, you name it, I’ve found it.

The food I’ve found in the dumpster is mostly produce like oranges, lemons, limes, apples, tomatoes, bananas, things with thicker skins that are hard to penetrate. If they’re too mushy I throw them out or put them as compost in my garden. The produce that is thrown out most of the time had nothing wrong with it, except for a tiny blemish. Store employees are told to throw it out as the store managers don’t want the customers looking at it. There have been plenty of nights I filled up the back of the car.

Micah – all I can tell you is just keep one eye open. I won’t print the names of the stores as I don’t want them to start locking their dumpsters and keeping people like me out. I need to remain anonymous. I go at night and alone. I wear darker clothing and keep quiet. That’s why I don’t take any newbies with me. They ooh and ahh and then eventually someone comes outside and game is over.

If a store employee confronts you, don’t argue, leave and come back when it’s quieter. Google the word freegan and you’ll get any additional information that I’ve been able to think of here.

Thank you, Janet. As Micah alluded to, we can speculate that dumpsters may well be locked to limit liability lawsuits ("I got sick from eating your garbage, give me $50,000") or to control unruly competition from scavengers.

As I noted in the entry: one simple place to start is to intercept food before it goes in the garbage by asking your friends, family and neighbors to pass along their perfectly good food in the fridge when they go on long vacations/business trips rather than dump it all in the garbage.

As I posted last month: food is still incredibly cheap in the U.S. and the amount of food thrown away as trash is the proof of that. When it truly becomes expensive people won't be so spendthrift.

Next up: Tony T.'s thought-provoking commentary on The Next Superpower/Empire.

I was reading your post on "The Next Superpower/Empire" and had a few thoughts to share. A framework I'd like to set up is that organizations belong in the following categories:

1. Global in scope
2. National in scope
3. State/Provincial in scope
4. Local in scope

I think right now, organizations that are national or state in scope control much of the formal power. So when we talk about superpowers, they tend to manifest as national entities. However, I think there is a trend for a decline in national and state power. I think many of today's issues exist at the local and global levels. For example, the environment is an issue global in scope, but the entities which are trying to solve the issue are national in scope and perspective and cannot figure out a way to properly coordinate themselves.

I think by some natural process (because the situation will naturally empower such entities to deal with real challenges) local and global entities will increase in power and influence in the future.

As an example at the local level, I can imagine that San Francisco as a city may decide to take more of a role in self-governance, and provide for its own needs as the state apparatus begins to decline. I can imagine that many local communities may exist in a more self-sufficient way as a matter of necessity as the state and national entities is less able to provide the incentive/have the necessary force to hold things together.

At the global level, I can imagine a superpower not of a nation per se, but of a certain class of "elites". These "elites" are linked via a global network, and actually, even though they live in different countries, they actually resemble each other more than they do others within their own country (and that is a destructive force to a national entity). Perhaps it is a class of people, linked by a network and a "global" identity, that may prove to be the "superpower" which will have access to the "FEW" resources.

Of course, I'm just speculating wildly.

Thank you, Tony. I was just speculating wildly, too, but I think your ideas are grounded in trends which are (as you note) already observable and therefore quite reasonable.

The informal, supranational "elites" Tony describes already exist in several forms: I would classify "global capital" as a self-organized elite which shifts capital around the globe via currency, stock, bond, futures and derivatives markets, as well as via physical plant (factories) and resource extraction (mining, oil wells, etc.) In some cases these are corporations, but they may also be hedge funds, global financial entities, family fortunes or even individual traders playing at a very high level. They are networked as need and profit demand, but their loyalties are certainly not to any one nation.

To the degree that such elites can live anywhere and have access to tax shelters regardless of the nation of origin, they already exist in a world without borders.

Another example might be the NGOs--non-governmental organizations which operate at the global level (World Wildlife Fund, Doctors Without Borders, etc.)

Lastly, there is a high-caste class of highly educated (mostly young) technocrats who move fluidly between nations as their multinational corporation employers shift "resources" to maximize return on investment (to use the polite term for various forms of exploitation). Their loyalties, for better or worse, are undoubtedly mixed.

I will end with a comment on the irony of combining commentary on dumpster diving and empire in a nation which is occasionally classified as one the most dominant in history. It seems obvious to me that as insolvency overtakes households, businesses, cities, counties, agencies and eventually the central government, inequality will soar as the State fiefdoms and private-sector elites defend their shares of the dwindling national income at the expense of the politically powerless.

Those of us in the latter category will be turning to dumpsters, gardens, and other forms of self-help as the State focuses its dwindling revenues on serving the interests of its own elites and the financial elites who dominate much of the State's "leadership."

Welcome to the Dumpster Empire. Lots of goodies are already in the garbage, starting with naive notions like "the common good."

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