Almost 4 years ago I met a girl, outside of a coffee shop on Avent Ferry road in Raleigh. We fast became friends and went on to spend several hours together in the day and several more together in the night. One such night has left me with a myriad of thoughts I have never had to process before. It has been years now and I still have yet to understand these thoughts. I am hoping that writing them out like this will allow me to understand.
The girl I met lived with her mother in a nice home, big enough for the both of them, their 2 dogs, 2 cats, bird, and rehabilitating squirrels. They shared an obscenely clean 2010 Toyota Rav 4. I’m not sure what year it was but it was somewhere between. Overall, the two of them seemed to be doing well. They had a comfortable house filled with a small army of ridiculously cuddly animals.
But as we were talking that night, I found out that this wasn’t always the case. The girl told me of years where her family could barely eat. Years where they struggled to pay for a Christmas tree. Years I never had growing up. The girl told me that during these years, they sometimes had to dumpster dive to get food. I didn’t understand, so she repeated herself. Yet I still couldn’t comprehend the thought of finding anything someone would eat in a dumpster, much less a meal for a family. I still didn’t understand.
So she showed me.
We hopped in the car and went to a dumpster. On the way the girl talked about her favorite poet, Shel Silverstein, and even recited her favorite piece; “Wishing for Wishes“. She also mentioned a whole bunch of neat science things about honeybees, but I hate bee’s with a passion so let’s not encourage that. Soon we had arrived at the dumpster and got out of the car.
It was cold outside, somewhere in the upper 30’s Fahrenheit (a little over 3 Celsius). We got out of the car and I just kind of stood, looking at the dumpster, wondering how there could be anything but trash inside. The girl was not so dumbstruck. She quickly tightened her shoes, grabbed a flashlight, and launched herself into the dumpster.
When she landed inside, a sound went off like a shotgun. In the otherwise silent night it was deafening. Almost every time she stepped another loud shotgun blast went off. I looked at her in alarm, but she laughed and explained that the newer dumpsters make these loud sounds more than the older ones and that it had something to do with the fact the material of the dumpster itself and the way it is picked up and put down by the garbage trucks. After a few minutes and a few more loud blasts of noise, she exited the dumpster with some fairly high quality bagged animal food for her pets.
That wasn’t all she wanted to show me however, and we went to another nearby dumpster. This time, I felt less paralyzed with shock and the lighting was not as good, so I held the flashlight for her from outside after she jumped in. The girl started digging and soon handed me a perfectly sealed pack of strawberries that hadn’t even expired yet. I was shocked. Strawberries are my favorite fruit. But I don’t even buy strawberries this time of year because they are so expensive in comparison to bananas or even grapes. Yet here was a perfectly good pack of strawberries that hadn’t even expired yet, just thrown a way by the food store because the expiration date was too near for them to expect customers to be interesting in purchasing it. They threw it away. Perfectly good food packaged produce could go towards someone who needs it. It was so wasteful.
As I tried to figure out how I felt about this, I heard an approaching sound; a leaf-blower. The girl heard it too and it was approaching fast. “Shit” she said getting out of the dumpster, “get in the car!” I didn’t know what was happening, but I could tell by the tone in her voice that she was scared. We started to hurry to the car but it was too late, the guy in the leaf blower had already seen us. There was no way we could get to the car before he got to us. But then I heard him shouting over the leaf blower.
“Esta Bien! Dale que tu puedes”
The girl heard too, but did not understand so I gently grabbed her arm and stopped her running. “He said It’s OK, do what you can” I told her. The man spoke to us again this time in English.
“We all have to eat” he said.
He had been a dumpster diver too. The man left us, making no judgement and resumed his leaf blowing. By the time we finished dumpster diving, we had fresh strawberries, bread, and potatoes all was completely sealed. All would have gone to waste.
On the way back, I asked the girl why she started to run when she heard the approaching man. She told me that dumpster diving was illegal and that store owners had called the cops on her back when she dived out of need to eat. Again I didn’t understand and I asked her why they would do that after they had thrown it away. She said they thought people wouldn’t go in and pay them if they got what they needed to survive out of the trash so it was better for the business if fresh food goes unused to a landfill. “As if we could have afforded to go in anyways back then” she added. She also told me that bigger stores like Walmart and Target have special dumpsters that prevent people from getting food out of them for the same reason. It made me angry.
After the dumpster diving, she changed clothes, and we went on to have a fairly normal relaxed college night. We ate ice cream and strawberries, played chess, watched YouTube, did some things Jesus would not approve of, and went to bed. But the experience has stuck with me. And I still don’t fully understand.
Why is it illegal to eat from a stores trash if not so that the stores can profit off the starving? If anyone has ideas on how to address this or there own stories dealing with hunger please leave a comment below. I would love to hear it.