How I got all of this food for nothing

a dream lived greener zero waste food ottawa

It’s not new. It’s not a secret. In fact it is quite common: dumpster diving. All of this free food you see above, was free. I finally fulfilled one of my goals in life: to go diving into a dumpster and see what the fuss was really all about. A few weeks back I was invited to join a few divers and I quickly jumped on the experience. I wanted to get right in there and so I did. Right into the dumpster. One of them was kind enough to lend me their gloves.

We met at a well known organic grocery after closing hours and got to work. I wasn’t disappointed. When you hear things like dumpster diving, you conjure up images of disgusting, horrible, smelly whatever and are immediately repulsed. People like me, get excited. As much as I had heard and read about the goods you can find, I definitely didn’t imagine finding this much perfectly good produce and grocery items that could still be eaten. Even with seven of us working the bin, there was way too much for all of us to take home. We left boxes behind and all of us walked away with this amount, give or take a few yogurt tubs and hummus dips that some lucked out on.

It’s not beneath me to jump into a grocery dumpster to get food and eat it. If one argues that it’s dirty – ask: do you know how your food was made (especially processed food), who has handled it and what the facilities looked like before it even landed on the shelves? Personally, I’d rather eat produce from the dumpster than processed food ladened with chemicals.  And don’t scoff at the idea, one day our economy might collapse and we’ll all be doing the same thing: looking for food in the garbage. Just because you have a job and a house now doesn’t mean you’re “safe” from poverty. If you’ve ever taken the time to talk to anyone living on the streets, you’ll find they once had a job and a house too.

Anyway.

When I asked a few of the divers with me how long they’ve been doing it, a few said a couple weeks and others said months. They do it weekly and are saving money on their grocery bills. People often look down on people that do this, as though they are better than others. But I’ve watched documentaries about wealthy individuals like Doctors who do the same thing and all for the same reason: not to be wasteful, to save money and to prevent unnecessary items from going to landfill. I’d rather know more people that are trying to prevent waste. There are enough people already who excessively consume without any regard for how it’s being made, who is making it and what it does to our environment.

I often wondered why are so many people in our wealthy city hungry? And now after this, it seems ridiculous that it happens in 2016. Why are people still going without food? Why is there so much food waste? Why are there not better regulations for this? France is banning food waste. Why can’t we? We even have a law that makes it legal for us to donate food if it’s for charitable causes called the Donation of Food Act. Why are there not more compost receptacles on the streets like Vancouver or San Francisco? Why do we live in such a wealthy city that can be the leading game changers for global waste issues, yet we are so slow to accept responsibility and make change?

I know change starts with us and we’re not perfect. No one is. But seeing this much food being wasted (and this is just one day!) and knowing people can’t afford to eat – how is this right? It’s not… so being the weirdo that I am, I’ve been giving away food to people for free. Whenever and where ever I can with whatever I have. I look on Kijiji, Buy Nothing, people on the streets. If I have leftover food someone else is going to enjoy it, I’m delivering or I’m cooking for them. My friend and I are even in the process of making it a website where people can just sign up for free meals or free groceries. We even have the logo designed.

Seriously though, my son and I are only two people. Some days he eats like a teenager but others he eats like a bird. I always feel like I have an abundance of food. I’m seriously blessed to feel this way, knowing many do not. What I spend the majority of my money on in a month is generally good, wholesome and healthy food. Unprocessed, home-cooked and plant-based. And my logic is, if I have food to spare, I’m going to share it.

And speaking of sharing, I just wanted to share with you what I was able to cook with all of this:

  1. Applesauce with pear
  2. Carrot cake (my Mom baked this – it wasn’t vegan/gluten-free so I didn’t eat it)
  3. Veggie lettuce wraps
  4. Scalloped potatoes
  5. Baked potato and carrot fries
  6. Chocolate mango fruit smoothie
  7. Tofu scramble
  8. Balsamic maple beets
  9. Roasted broccoli dipped in hummus

And yes I’m very much still alive.

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14 thoughts on “How I got all of this food for nothing

  1. What an inspiring, thoughtful and kind post. So grateful I found your blog and started following it; you are truly an inspiration.

  2. Hi Mai,

    What a healthy-looking haul! 🙂 Great to hear that you enjoyed it and could rescue all this food for good wholesome meals!

    I am so keen on dumpster-diving..! But have never met anyone else whom I could join.. After watching ‘Just eat it!’ and similar documentaries / videos on youtube, having done a two-year project on sustainability of food and food waste related environmental impact, and striving for zero-waste lifestyle – I cannot tolerate food waste.. Well, any waste.

    Someone posted on instagram the other day (addressed to zero waste people) – ‘Would you buy / get food in packaging if you know it is reduced to clear?’ It was a no-brainer for me. We all strive to be zero waste – but it is not only about packaging. Waste is waste – whether it is packaging, food, materials, time, etc.. We should prevent any waste. Since this food is going to landfill anyway, i’d rather rescue it regardless of whether it has packaging or not. And being environmentally-conscious there is a better chance that we will at least recycle / reuse that packaging properly. 😉

    Anyway.

    Great job!!!

  3. Good for you for diving in! This disturbs me every time, to see how much GOOD food is wasted, yet we have people in our own communities who are starving and have a tough time finding and cooking nutritious food. What you were able to gather doesn’t even scratch the surface of global food waste problems. His did it get so bad? My grandparents sure as hell didn’t live like this; they used up every piece of the animal, and every piece of the vegetable, and whatever was left over was given to the poor in the community. And now? Our banana has a black spot and is thrown into the abyss of the garbage. Have you seen “Just Eat It – a food waste story”? They also have quite a luxurious and giving dumpster diving experience outside of a photography studio that took snaps of food for some kind of publication; jackpot!

    1. Hi Nadine,

      Thank you for taking the time to write and for your support. Our grandparents were smart in many ways, weren’t they? We have much to re-learn. And yes, I love that documentary. Those two fellow Canadians inspire me! Thanks 🙂

  4. Congrats on finding so much healthy food. It is a shame that grocery stores are required to dump perfectly good food into a dumpster. Why couldn’t they just leave it somewhere in a bin for people to pick up after hours instead of treating it like waste? I had a house guest a little while ago who had brought food for himself for the time he stayed with us. After he left, I checked the fridge and all of his food was gone. Then I saw it all in a garbage bag – even canned foods! I couldn’t believe it. While I didn’t want the kind of food that he is accustomed to eating, at least he could have asked us what to do with the leftover food. I ended up given some to the dogs and composting some, then recycling cans and jars. But this is how way too many people are accustomed to treating food. I wonder how things would be different if more people learned to grow their own food? Then you really learn how much effort and attention and time goes into growing food….

    1. Definitely agree with you there, people often take food for granted and would be better off learning to grow it and cook it themselves.. I’m glad you were able to find something to do with some of it. Thank you for the comment 🙂

  5. awesome! I just found your blog and I’m really impressed! I’m vegan for 8 years now and I only began being much more aware about consumption / zero waste. So far it works great. Unfortunately my husband, which isn’t vegan either, isn’t that conscious 😉

    1. Hey Anna,
      Good for you for doing it! I am humbled to meet a long time vegan! How do you find navigating around your differences?

  6. Hi Mailyne,
    Let me know when you go next. I will totally suit up (and bring gloves)!
    From one single mama to another…Ottawa can be our oyster. 🙂

    1. Hi Charlotte – if you’re able, I suggest joining FB groups: The Food Movement and Foodsharing Ottawa, if not me, someone else will definitely go with!

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