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Dumpster diving for dinner and a better world

The Local · 24 Feb 2011, 14:55

Published: 24 Feb 2011 14:55 GMT+01:00

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Behind a Berlin grocery store, 21-year-old Tina opens up one of the large dumpsters there and spots a bunch of rotting grapes and some stained rags.

“Those smell awful,” she said.

But she doesn’t let the ripe odour put her off her goal – finding edible food that was simply tossed aside. She reaches down under the spoiled and soiled mass and comes up with an apple, perfect save for two small bruises. She puts it in her backpack for now; she’ll eat it later.

Tina belongs to the “freegan” scene in the German capital, a group whose members find their food by combing through others’ trash. The word, a combination of “free” and “vegan,” is a growing movement of people who reject society’s ever-growing materialism and want to drastically cut back on their consumption of resources.

In addition to going dumpster diving for dinner, freegans look for discarded clothes or furniture on kerbs or “free stores” and often live as squatters in abandoned buildings.

Digging in the trash for your meal might be unthinkable to many, but freegans say it’s an appropriate response to a world in which so much excess food is thrown away, even when people are starving.

Freeganism traces it its roots back to environmental and anti-globalization movements in the United States in the 1980s. It takes inspiration from “Food Not Bombs,” an international group that feeds the homeless with surplus food that is often donated.

Being a freegan has nothing to do with poverty or homelessness in Germany. Most people in the movement come from the middle class, like Tina, whose father is a pastor.

Still digging around in the piles of detritus, the 21-year-old environmental activist finds a pretty good-looking carrot, all the while ignoring the forest of mould growing around the edges of the rubbish bin. “I’m oblivious to all that,” she says. When she began dumpster diving three years ago, she used to wear rubber gloves. These days though, she digs in with her bare hands.

“People aren’t meant to live in a germ-free world,” says Jan, her 21-year-old flatmate and frequent partner in the scrounging expeditions.

According to the two, in an ideal world they wouldn’t find anything edible in the garbage, since everything edible would have been consumed. Instead, they are constantly confronted with levels of waste they find shocking - bread thrown out because it’s too brown, cucumbers tossed because they’re slightly crooked.

“All of this wastes resources that could have been used somewhere else,” says Jan.

The two activists are not alone in the critique. Organizations like the German Welthungerhilfe charity and the World Wide Fund for Nature have long decried the global problem of food waste. Filmmaker Valentin Thurn recently filmed a documentary on the freegans called “Taste the Waste,” which screened at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival and will hit more screens across Germany this summer.

No-one really knows how much food German supermarkets throw away every day, although the WWF estimates that fully a third of the planet’s produce ends up in the trash.

Done with this particular rubbish bin, Tina and Jan put on the backpacks and head down the street until they reach a large bakery. They look around carefully, though, before heading around the back of the building. Dumpster diving is against the law in Germany.

Story continues below…

Taking trash out of a company’s dumpsters is considered theft and climbing over a fence to reach a garbage container is trespassing, according to Martin Heger, a law professor at Berlin’s Humboldt University. Tina and Jan are well aware of this, and are keeping their surnames names to themselves.

It’s cold out and Tina is shivering as she reaches the bakery dumpster, a large one at five metres wide and two metres tall. Jan takes off his backpack, pulls himself up to the edge and jumps down inside the container, landing squarely on a pile of fresh pretzels and baguettes.

It’s going to be a good night after all.

DAPD/The Local/kdj

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

15:05 February 24, 2011 by marimay
Hell, why not? Probably easier to settle for dumpster fare than to desperately cling to any hope that they might be selling unspoiled vegetables at the grocery store that day.
15:21 February 24, 2011 by Surferjoe
So battling with the rats for leftovers is Berlin's newest fad. Great way to spread disease.
16:05 February 24, 2011 by lordkorner
People have been doing this in all the great cities ever since someone threw away the very first morsel, this once again is hardly news.
17:23 February 24, 2011 by germinator
amateurs. the efficient way to dumpster dive is to call a pizza parlor (a chain, like Pizza Hut) and order a pizza to be picked up. an hour later, after you don't pick it up, it'll be tossed in the dumpster. retrieve it and you have free fresh pizza in the box. mmm.
17:48 February 24, 2011 by Gretl
Middle class? Their parents are middle-class. This just seems like an excuse not to work.

Or maybe it's a statement on the level of taxation in Germany?
20:54 February 24, 2011 by BR549
They should be called "Freeks" or "Freegan Freeks"
23:15 February 24, 2011 by Bishopbayern
This is how the greens would have us live. Thank goodness for the CDU!
23:20 February 24, 2011 by derExDeutsche
I just hope we don't see any riots ensue when the Supermarkets put lock and key to 'their' garbage.

When will the Hippies claim that Dumpster Diving is a Right? and needs to be maintained just as the inside of the Supermarket?

Hippies pretty much suck now. At least in the '60's there was Hendrix, Free Love and LSD. What is there now? Rammstein, Dumpster diving, 'Days of Rage' and Adderall?

No, Thanks;)
07:19 February 25, 2011 by ukpunk1
They are eating the rest from über-consumption.
08:32 February 25, 2011 by Kayak
Isn't she photographed stepping outside from Herr Guttenberg's Alma mater?
09:54 February 25, 2011 by catjones
Are these dumpsters reviewed on qype?
12:15 February 25, 2011 by DoubleDTown
Tina says the discarded edible food is a waste of resources. Seems to me that if she has enough time on her hands to look for food this way that the food is not the only resource being wasted. Let me guess, the German taxpayer gave her a university education (or at leash hochschule) and she's spending her time looking for discarded food and feeling good about herself instead of doing something useful for the economy.
15:11 February 25, 2011 by Talonx
Wow the kneejerk reaction from you lot is pretty fierce. To what end? Your're all upset that someone is making sure something is not wasted?

Way to act like uncritical unquestioning automatons.

Bravo to this young women for caring about the world she lives in, by not contributing to waste. Anyone speaking against her ought to be ashamed of themselves, this is not a political issue.
15:56 February 25, 2011 by derExDeutsche
kneejerk reaction?

haha. umm. no.

We all Know, and have seen, Hippies.

We all know what will happen if one day, someone gets sick from an item found in the Dumpster; Riots.

If one day there is no food in the Dumpster ; Riots.

or maybe just in solidarity with someone else's riot; Riot.

or at very best, a law suit. And guess who ends up paying for that... yup, the non-hippies, again.

Thanks Hippies, for making the world a better place.
23:56 February 25, 2011 by germinator
@derExDeutsche: don't you have a lawn to chase kids off of?
00:17 February 26, 2011 by derExDeutsche
as usual, there is an Ironic part to the Hippies little schemes;

Because Hippies are no longer 'consuming' any product, less product will be produced. Therefore, your actions are leading to underproduction of food stuffs.

....now get offa my lawn!!!
07:41 February 26, 2011 by Garth Rex
My childhood was spent in extreme poverty, sometimes hungry and not knowing where my next meal would be coming from. Though I am now affluent by any measure, I cannot now bring myself to waste food: To do so would feel like committing a crime.

My children and affluent friends sometimes chuckle at me.

They just don't understand.
13:07 February 26, 2011 by Talonx
@ derExDeutsche

Firstly, these aren't hippies, and they especailly aren't American hippies (from your characterization, that seems to be the sort that you think they are). Many of these folks are against the sort of middle class opulence that was a part of the hippie sub-culture (especially in the U.S.). That is to say, they are against the unthinking amounts of waste that such groups produced alongside the waste that you produce and that grocery stores and other produce.

Dumpster divers don't eat fruit with fir, though they will use bruised fruit that many grocery stores (e.g. Edeka) readily throw out, because it's not pretty anymore. These folks are generally better and not worse at identifying edible foodstuffs than most on staff at any grocery store.
19:15 February 26, 2011 by derExDeutsche
Overwhelming Guilt Complex.... Check!

Ingrained sense of entitlement.... Check!

Misplaced and Inflated sense of 'injustice'.... check!

Dirty and Smelly... Check check and check!!!

Its a hippie.

subspecies angrycus.dumpsterdiverus
04:25 February 27, 2011 by Talonx
@ derExDeutsche

Just because you're a sh#t human being incapable of compassion doesn't mean that everyone else is, check.
14:28 February 28, 2011 by Surferjoe
@ Talonx

And because you're a pompous je#k passing judgement on erExDeutsche doesn't mean that your confusion isn't an open book, check.
21:38 February 28, 2011 by unclesean
nah, it aint that bad...i aint going there....

15:24 March 1, 2011 by BenW
As someone who has actually done this, if anyone is interested, which I doubt you are given the very fixed preconceptions - and, more to the point, the instinctive fear of transgressing social norms - we seem to be dealing with here, have some facts which seem to be absent from the discussion:

1. We aren't all 'hippies', regardless of definition. I'm not a 'hippy' by anyone's definition, unless the sole criterion is that I sometimes eat stuff out of bins.

2. This practice has been going on along time (as someone mentions above) and was as popular with anarchists in the 70s as it is today, the difference is only that more people are doing it. Homeless people have also done this for a very long time.

3. The supermarkets do - in the UK at least - mostly lock the bins, but with a standard triangular bolt which is easily opened.

4. We do also buy food, as necessary, this is - for many of us - a pragmatic issue: why not eat perfect, packaged, would-have-been-expensive food rather than let it rot for no other reason than the fear/shame/embarrassment we have attached to this practice?

5. My brother found 45 gift boxes of Cadbury's Celebrations chocolates in supermarket bins and gave them to friends and relatives as Christmas presents - this can save you thousands a year!

But I am sure some armchair judge will now retort with a good reason why we should ignore all of this and carry on buying and wasting like we always have. One of the posters above goes so far as to suggest it's basically our moral duty to buy new things constantly to support these businesses and avoid 'under-production'. Genius!
15:56 March 1, 2011 by wenddiver
@BenW- Please tell me that you told the people that got the Cadberry chocolates that you got them from the dumpster.

This is so dumb.
09:05 March 3, 2011 by catjones
@Ben...and whatever chocolates were left over and thrown out were re-gifted for Valentines Day?
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