Jun 24, 2009

Notes on Skipping

I've gotten some questions about skipping (the British term for dumpster diving) so I thought I'd put some thoughts out there.

Lots of people skip, many of them skip way more than I do. In London I really only skipped food and some materials to set up my room initially. My friends skipped furniture, wood for bonfires, household things for new squats, and food, of course. We had one friend who would leave at night with the bike trailer and return it full of fancy things from Wasterose. After holidays we'd have way too much ornamental chocolate.

Some people cringe when you say that you skip food. Some really freak out, which is really silly. There's a big difference between marketable and edible food. When you go into a grocery store, do you buy bruised apples? Of course not! There are 200 apples in front of you and you're paying for it, so you sort until you find a perfect apple. I do the same if I'm buying produce. A lot of what I skip is is entirely edible, but some blemish makes it unlikely to sell. A lot of the rest is stuff that seems to have accidentally fallen into the skip! Eventually you get used to seeing perfect food in bins and the exasperation fades. But I've had about 50 conversations, post skipping, that started with, "What is wrong with this potato?"

Ok, so that's produce. Then there's packaged food. Note that many items have 2 dates on them. One is sell by, the other is use by. I mostly stopped eating animal products when I returned to California because we have such great food. (Ok, I mess up sometimes, like Monday night when I blindly took a slice of frittata at a big dinner. Geeze). But I will eat skipped dairy. If I find yogurt that is being tossed on it's sell by date, then I'll take it home and enjoy it over the next two days. Whole eggs in bins make me really sad. Often a carton or flat is tossed because a few broke and got the container a bit gross, but the others are edible. Consider that a grocery store doesn't have extra cartons on hand to re-package the useable food.

For food, I have my preferences for skipping. In London I rounded up the stuff on the street after weekend vegetable markets. I cleaned up after produce stands during the week on my way home from uni or the Library House. In SF ... well, I like some nice produce spots that shall remain nameless. Some folks are way into grocery stores, of course. Slightly torn packages can land you with 5 lbs of rice, sugar, flour, or perfectly edible cookies. I hit a few grocery store skips every now and then but they're not my favorite. In SF I'm more likely to plow through green bins in search of vegetables.

Our culture of perfection has created a shitload of waste (and weird genetic modifications of food). Our culture of lawsuits and liabilities, and lack of common sense has delivered a lot of waste. In the spirit of the latter, I should say that skipping requires common sense. Grocery stores can be quite territorial about their trash, so be careful. Respect that other people are using these sources of food: Don't make a mess! Don't take more than you can use or distribute. Clean your food. If it needs to be cooked, then be thorough about that. I don't eat meat, ever.

If skipping seems too weird, maybe you can ask your local (as in small business) grocery store about their waste. My local shop used to let me go into the back and go through the produce that they were tossing. I still had to claw through the green bin, but it was inside and during the daytime, which might make some folks more comfortable. Local bread makers often give away their extras at the end of the day as well. Check around. Folks who love creating food or nourishing their communities don't like to see waste either. Often their hands are tied by bureacratic bullshit that prevents them from redistributing their goods en masse when they've moved past marketability. But on an individual basis I've found some shops quite reasonable.

A few weeks ago I was going through the green bins at a local shop when the manager, who I've known in the neighborhood for at least 5 years, came out. He said hello and went about his work. He probably had good faith that I wouldn't make a mess, and he knows that I still spend money in there, even if I look for free food as well.

Finally, don't let anyone make you feel like a criminal for skipping. The injustice is in the waste.

And in all the other crazy shit that feeds us:

Land Conversion
Water Diversion, Pollution, Theft
Habitat Loss
Animal Cruelty
Fucked Up Working Conditions and Wages
Distribution Inequalities
Worldwide Grain Prices
Genetic Modifications
Family Farm Destruction
Wasteful Subsidies


Lisa RM said...

Spot on. I've had similar conversations with family members so many times. All the stuff that just gets thrown out. Whether it's food, clothes, materials, whatever. We (especially in the US) just eat through things like a plague of locusts, only the locusts have the decency of wasting pretty little.

G. Harrison said...

I'd call myself a "spend as little as possible" person - in order to reduce consumption in as many areas as possible.

Your information re skipping is an eye opener. Very good.

Skipping may be more prevalent in Canada than I am aware, but I've never thought of asking local merchants what happens to their waste or if there's any useful items in it. I think the Q and A would make a good weekly column. I'll give it a go,


Gord H. - writer
It Strikes Me Funny
London ONT