Dumpster Diving

GleanerskitchenThe majority of the food we eat comes from the dumpster. In 2013 we started a free dumpster fueled restaurant in Boston called The Gleaners’ Kitchen, and the Genome Collective is the second generation of that project. More information about The Gleaners’ Kitchen can be found at these resources:

 

(thegleanerskitchen.org) (Interview(Article)

This web page however, is dedicated to the philosophy of dumpstering itself. What is the value of a good meal?

 

What the Dumpster Holds

 

It’s not possdumpsterible to hop inside a dumpster overflowing with good food and not be confronted with questions of value. What is the value of all that food? Is it worthless because it is in the trash? Pursuing answers to these questions has lead us to some unusual places. Below we explore some of the insight that can be found in the trash – that value is malleable and multidimensional – that at their best, food and community interpenetrate each other – and that the contents of a dumpster can embody all the numinousity of death and rebirth.

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Value

 

There are many reasons why good food ends up in a dumpster. One of the most common is packaging damage. Every grocery store dumpster invariably contains cartons of eggs with one egg cracked. When the packaging gets damaged, it costs more money to pay an employee to clean the eggs and replace the carton than it costs to just throw the whole thing away. No one will buy a carton with damaged eggs when pristine packages lie right next to it. So despite the fact that there might be valuable food inside, when a package is no longer sellable, for the grocery store it is worthless. This disconnect between value and sellability is the ultimate source of food waste. Sometimes ripe fruit ends up in the trash because a new, fresher shipment has arrived, and no one is going to buy the old stuff. The fruit might still be valuable, but it can no longer be sold. Grocery stores deliberately overstock their shelves – the logic being that if they don’t look like they are overflowing with abundance, then the desirability of all the products diminishes. Similar rationale goes into the marking of expiration dates. Consumers want their food ‘fresh’ – and that means making sure the right symbols are printed on the side of the package – the smell and taste of its contents are no longer sufficient indicators of its worth. What these managerial justifications of food waste reveal is that, surprisingly, grocery stores are not actually in the business of selling good food. Instead, they are in the business of selling convincing packaging. They sell the idea of freshness, the dream of satisfying desire. So grocery store aisles are painted with logos, with slogans, with mascots. Symbols upon symbols layered so thick that their original meaning – a representation of the quality of the food within – is lost in a virtual sea. A food’s ‘goodness’, once an objective quality to be confirmed by sight, scent and flavor, transforms into an amorphous property to be manipulated by advertisers.

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But not so in the dumpster. On grocery store shelves most labels are circumspect. But when they are surrounded by trash, when they are ripped, torn, and soaked with slime, the price tags become utterly meaningless. Signifiers and signified all jumbled together, all deemed worthless. Considered worthless because all the things that used to make food valuable – its aesthetics, its utility, its emotional significance – have been compressed into a one dimensional measure: How many dollars can this thing be sold for? When the answer is close to zero, the food gets tossed, despite the fact that value is present in unperceived dimensions. The task of a dumpster diver is to reveal wealth that others overlooked – value that most people don’t believe can exist, even when it is right in front of their eyes. The value of an object in the dumpster cannot be perceived from its context, nor from the decaying descriptors that surround it. Its value must be reborn anew, grounded this time not in money, but community.

Gleaner Dollars

 

Communal Living

 

Dumpstering works best when you’re not just trying to feed yourself. The dumpster provides a preposterous quantity of specific foods, like 26 quarts of yogurt or 114 mushy tomatoes. There’s not much a single person can do with 114 tomatoes, but if you live in a group, tomato soup is for dinner. More abstractly, the necessity of sharing dumpstered goods facilitates a fundamentally different relationship with material possessions. That label on that filet mignon says it’s worth $16.99, but why would you covet it when it came from the trash, and there will be another one like it there tomorrow? The value of food becomes more directly linked to the effort of acquisition, to an items utility, and to the joy it brings when shared with close friends. One never need worry about rationing dumpstered items – they can be given freely without any financial repercussion. And the fact that they can be so readily exchanged without worrying about the money they could have been equated with ironically makes them more valuable. In addition to flavor and nutritional value, which are roughly equal to store bought items, dumpstered goods have the extra feature of facilitating the experience of giving.

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We use dumpster diving as a way of building community around the act of sharing food together. There is something indescribably wonderful, almost sacred, about sitting down in the company of familiar faces, and looking around to see people eating out of bowls that look just like yours. It is a sense of connection, and of pride. A community of eaters is unified by this physical, tangible, delectable thing – wholesome food to make us all feel whole. A web of connections is tied between farms and dumpsters and dinner tables. It sometimes feels too large to fathom, but at the same time it is as simple as the loop between your plate, your arm, and your mouth.

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Death and Rebirth

 

In a thoroughly modern way, dumpstering allows us to connect to our food palpably, corporeally, just as our nomadic and pastoral ancestors did. The ritual of embarking at midnight into the darkness in search of food is not wholly unlike embarking on a hunting expedition. The dumpster allows us to feel like we have truly earned our food – earned in a way that is distinct from the symbolic currency exchange which dominates most nutrient acquisition today. We dig our hands into muck and slime and pull out new life. This is the promise of dumpstering – and the promise of our agricultural mythologies – death and rebirth. In the past, it was the plants that died. They withered in the autumn but through their seeds they were reborn in the spring. But this story was always understood to apply to far more than just our crops –  it was we who died and were reborn anew. Jesus died for our sins, and was reborn on the first days of spring.  The cycles of Samara are eternal, and death always gives way to new life. And so it is with dumpstering. Withered orchids can be nursed into bloom. Abandoned herbs are replanted in the garden. Discarded food thought worthless is brought within our bodies and sustains our life.

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Food comes out of the dirt. Life and death are intertwined. For the majority of human history this fact was intimately understood, as every individual’s life was devoted to the creation of food. But today that fact is systematically hidden from us. Like the young Siddhartha, whose gardens were pruned so that he could not discover a single wilting flower, we are paraded through grocery store aisles that are meticulously scrubbed of any signs of decay. Our food comes wrapped in plastic logos insisting that it should be nothing other than sterile and pristine. And ironically, the result of this process is our partial death. Never before has food been so abundant on this planet – and never before has so much of what we eat been so harmful to us. When we forget that food comes from dirt, and life comes with death, we also forget how to tell good food from bad. And so dumpstering promises rebirth on two levels. First there is the rebirth of the food itself – waste into wealth. But there is also a rebirth of the dumpster diver – a renewal of connection with what sustains us, a rediscovering of this ancient task, which for so long defined what it meant to be human.

And that is why we dive into dumpsters.

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Our Genome

What is a genome?

A genome is a collection of information, embodied in a stable, static form, which an organism interprets to stay alive. If we are being strict with terminology, a genome is exclusively made out of genes (DNA molecules) but this definition is overly restrictive for the purposes of this document. This document is a genome made from words.

Jewish humans call their genome The Torah. American humans call their genome The Constitution. Some people store parts of their identity in novels, or hand written letters, or social media profiles.

Our genome is an ever growing eclectic collection of texts which together constitutes the identity of the Genome Collective. It’s much more than a set of rules, although it does contain a list of best practices. This genome is a touchstone, a reminder of what it means to be a member of this living community.

Genomes are living documents. Genomes evolve. House members are expected to read and contribute to this document, and to modify it often.

 Click Here to read the most recent version of our genome.

Permaculture

Permaculture is an agricultural philosophy which seeks to reintegrate human lives back into the natural landscape. Our urban ecology constrains us with asphalt. We respond by cultivating life in the concrete jungle.

In the densely packed city space, our permaculture design necessarily focuses on our house itself. Every window sill sprouts plants. Our basement burgeons with oyster mushrooms. Raised beds fill the driveway. In these ways, we integrate plant, human, and fungus into one living organism.

The first principle of permaculture is to observe. Our community is still very new, and there is much to learn about this space and ourselves before we can show visible signs of development. So let this virtual page be a declaration of intent. We strive to feed ourselves sustinably and our community justly. We will bring new life out of the cracking concrete.

Check back here in a year or two or five. Green things will have emerged.

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Image from http://permacultureprinciples.com/

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Don’t hesitate to Contact Us if you want more info!

Why Live Collectively

. . .

We choose to live together because human lives were not meant to be spent alone.

. . .

Let us tell you a story about life (in 4 minutes).

. . .

800 million years ago, life was isolated in the seas. There were no oak trees, no honey bees, no aardvarks. The only life that existed were tiny, unicellular creatures, swimming around in their primordial soup. Each of these cells was an island – an individual self in a chaotic world. These cells floated alone in the sea. They ate, or were eaten, then ate, or were eaten, for hundreds of millions of years.

But then something amazing happened. Some of these cells started to group together. They found that life was easier around others like themselves. They began to share – one cell made body parts to be used by another. Soon, in addition to individual cellular selves clustered together, a new kind of self emerged – a multicellular self with a collective body.

Now let’s fast forward to around 2 million years ago, to when these multicellular selves had evolved into primates, our ancestors, who had just climbed down from the trees and were exploring the savannah. The grasslands were wide and full of wild beasts, and these early humans had no claws or fangs to hunt them. But they had one thing which no other animal did: language.

Words allow thoughts in the mind of one human to become experiences in the minds of others.  For our ancestors, words were the difference between a lone ape scavenging food with fingers, and a tribe of humans who relied not on claws, but cunning. Language was about much more than, “You go right, and I’ll go left.” Our ancestors used symbols to cultivate collective identity. Tribes have names, and from this point forward, being a human meant identifying with a group.

Now let’s fast forward again, this time to around 15,000 years ago. Before this time, all of our food relationships were antagonistic. We ate, or were eaten. We killed, or were killed. But then, in a place now called Iraq, something shifted. Instead of wandering through the landscape, searching for the next creature they could kill and eat, our ancestors realized that they could spend their lives taking care of the creatures that they would one day consume. We began planting seeds in the earth, and never strayed far from our flocks. Our lifeways changed. We stayed in one place, and our communities grew larger. And not just larger with people. A host of animals and plants gathered together to create this arc we call civilization. From this point forward, being a human meant cultivating non-human life.

. . .

The arc of history moves onward. First came cities, then religions, and nations. Soon enough there were trucks and roads, concrete houses, and border police. Our social groups grew larger and more complex, and also more difficult to identify with than with those early tribes. Saying “I am an American” means something more abstract than, “I am Zulu” or “Spartan”, or “Algonquian”. So, we erected a host of intricate barriers like property law and religious creeds to keep our social structures in place. These barriers unified larger groups of people than ever before, but they left many on either side of the boundaries feeling isolated and alone.

In the age of the megalopolis, few people know the names of their neighbors.

Collective living is a response to all this. By choosing to share our space, our food, and our lives, we recognize that from our earliest unicellular origins life was better in a group. By choosing to grow our food from the dirt at our feet, we recognize that a human life is not well lived unless it is spent cultivating the lives of others. We regard the boundaries our society builds between physical dwellings and symbolic ethnicities with equal disdain. We chose to share our lives in spite of them.

We choose to live together because human lives were not meant to be spent alone.

 

Location

65 Park Ave
Binghamton NY, 13903

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This is where we live! Contact us if you want to come by and visit. Someone is always home, and there is always good food to eat. 

If you are interested in living with us, please fill our our Housemate Questionaire, and then come and say hello 🙂

 

Housemate Questionnaire

If you are seriously interested in living with the Genome Collective, please fill out our Housemate Questionnaire. It should take about 30 minutes to complete.

You can email the completed questionnaire file to innergenome@googlegroups.com.

Or, you can use the questions to make your own document and send that to us.

(creative formatting encouraged)