Daniel and Amanda’s Weblog

May 19, 2008

NY Times article on food waste

Filed under: dumpster diving,recycling — theburts @ 2:50 pm

Thanks, Jennifer, I hadn’t seen this article yet.

One Country’s Table Scraps, Another Country’s Meal


February 28, 2008


We’ve had over 1,500 hits on our blog since yesterday…up from our average of around 50. I guess that’s what people call the “Oprah Effect.”  :)  Hi everyone! Welcome. We’re really glad to have all the visitors and all the wonderful and encouraging comments.

We’ve had a lot of people express their interest in the subject and even in possibly organizing a “trash tour.” Though we’re unable to answer everyone’s comments, I am so glad to see enthusiasm in the idea that ordinary people can make a stand against our nation’s rampant consumerism and waste. The trash tour would be more difficult than in New York, since we can’t simply walk from place to place. But we might be able to figure something out. At the very least, I would love to organize a meeting where we could discuss some of the different aspects of freeganism.

Thanks again to the wonderful people at Oprah who invited us to this conversation. I just have a couple of initial thoughts after the show.

I’ve seen a couple of comments on various places pointing out (often angrily) that “freegan” is just a new label for something that’s existed for years. That may be true. People have been dumpster diving ever since there were dumpsters, although freeganism is certainly much more than that. People have been repairing and reusing clothes and products for years. Many people in this country who were involved (whether adult or children) in the Great Depression still hold high values such as thrift, frugality, resourcefulness, and minimal waste. However, the voluntary practice of freeganism in an attempt to make a statement against overconsumption may not be as well known. In fact, we didn’t really know what freeganism was until long after we started practicing it. Even now, our approach is different than true freeganism, as are some of the ways in which we carry out our convictions. So don’t get too caught up in the term “freegan”…if you’re doing your part, you can call yourself a “bleekybleeky” for all I care.  :)

One other thing I’d like to quickly address is that of corporate donations. The show made it seem that no grocery stores donate any of their products, whereas that definitely does occur. I actually just found out that a guy at our church works specifically to convince corporations to make donating mandatory for local store managers, all in an effort to get more food donated to Second Harvest Food Bank (from there, it’s distributed to homeless shelters, etc). Costco donates, at the least, shopping carts full of bread and other pastries every day. So we do know that this happens, and encourage it. We will say time and time again that we wish dumpster diving wasn’t possible because stores donate everything possible, but that’s simply not the case…yet.

To those involved in the food / grocery business, please check out the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, signed by Clinton in 1996. It removes any liability for good faith donations to non-profit organizations such as Second Harvest. We have so much surplus food in this country that no one in the United States should ever go hungry. Please, I beg you, to consider those who are less fortunate and take the time and energy to see to it that everything that can be used is donated. It may take a little research on your part and it might require a few extra hours of labor a month, but even outside of your moral obligations the financial benefits are plentiful (the Second Harvest website is a wonderful tool and great place to start or increase your donations).

With that said, food donations are wonderful, important, and needed…but they will never be enough. Freeganism, like I mentioned, is about so much more than how much food we waste. We should get surplus food to where it’s most needed, we should recycle our cell phones after we’re done with them, and we should always give to places like Goodwill before we give to our landfills. But none of that significantly decreases our consumption of the earth’s resources, and it’s time we started thinking about the devastating effects of that overconsumption. Freeganism goes further than being responsible with our waste; it begs the question “why do we have so much waste in the first place?” It’s time we started loving our neighbors by shredding our credit cards and treading lightly on the earth…somewhere other than a shopping mall. 

Since we leave Friday for a medical mission trip to Haiti, we’ll be out of touch for a bit. I promise we’ll try to answer some comments eventually. In the meantime, so that our blog doesn’t become a meetup site (grin), here’s an e-mail where you can let us know of your interest in getting together with us…either for a trash tour or an informal meeting to discuss freeganism in Nashville. It’s nashvillefreegan@gmail.com and as soon as we get back we’ll start working to make that happen. In the meantime, browse around the blog and feel free as always to leave comments!!

Peace to all.

February 26, 2008

Freegans on TV

I’m not sure what we can or can’t say about our upcoming TV appearance. So I’ll just post this straight from the website…


Yep, that’s me in the dumpster (those tomatoes were yummy, by the way). The show will air tomorrow, Wednesday the 27th. Hope you can tune in!!

Madeline did a great job, we thought. Amanda and I felt that we were too scared and shell shocked to really articulate ourselves well, but our hope is that at least viewers can see our convictions in action if not in words. Hope you enjoy. And don’t laugh at my hair…they used a gallon of hair spray and tried hard (though it was quite difficult for them) to make it look like I cared about fashion and appearance. :) Amanda was gorgeous, as always.

Hope you enjoy. We’d love to hear what you think!

February 18, 2008

Why we dumpster dive and recycle, Part 3

In Part 2, I discussed the reasons why we recycle. This post will focus more on reasons why we dumpster dive. And this, my friends, is (I think) the last post in this whole series! My goal in writing this series has been mostly that of inward reflection…thinking out loud about our reasoning behind some of the things we do. In a few days, Amanda and I will be appearing on a well known national talk show to talk about our dumpster diving habit. I figured writing about the topic first would help me better articulate my thoughts on the subject.

We had/have some reservations about being public about it. 1) We’ve only been doing it a couple years now, where people have been dumpster diving ever since there were dumpsters to dive in, 2) We’re a long ways from where we want to be regarding our energy use, simplicity of living, and even waste production (we don’t even compost yet!) and 3) Most people wouldn’t necessarily welcome national media attention for digging through trash. But we later decided that we didn’t have to be representatives of the entire dumpster diving population, that imperfect people can make a positive difference, and that nationwide attention probably wouldn’t ruin my career. :) A platform to call for change. A once in a lifetime opportunity to speak some of our convictions to the world. It still seems weird how that something two ordinary people are doing can bring so much attention. I guess it’s because the act of dumpster diving, especially when the divers are both professional career persons, is anything but ordinary. Which brings us to one of the reasons we dumpster dive…

Dumpster Diving is a radical way to point out the overconsumption and careless waste in our country. (Radical enough to be noticed by national TV, I guess!) Hopefully not just to point out the flaw, but to educate and encourage the audience to change some of their own habits. We are not going on TV to convince people that they, too, should dumpster dive. But we do hope to ask everyone to come up with creative ways to decrease their own personal consumption and waste.

Remember when the desert fathers made their radical move away from the affluence of their day? Well, we’re not like them. :) But, in a very small way, it’s similar. They weren’t asking everyone to join them in the desert. Instead, they were making a radical statement against the church’s new marriage with the wealthy empire by taking vows of poverty and moving to abandoned areas. Amanda and I feel that our nation’s consumption and waste is out of control, and we feel so strongly about it that we will live in a way that speaks loudly against it. Like I illustrated in the story I wrote, our nation comprises around 5% of the world’s population, yet we consume around 30% of the world’s resources and produce 30% of the world’s trash. I mentioned in the last blog that one of my reasons will explain why recycling isn’t enough. This is it. Yes, we need to reduce our country’s waste production. But we are also consuming the same percentage that we’re wasting. The earth has a limited amount of resources, and we are using far too much. We may have been born privileged into a highly luxurious, technologically advanced way of life with every comfort imaginable. But that doesn’t give us the right to irresponsibly trash the planet. It’s simply unacceptable, and we all need to do our part to care for the earth.

Now, to be perfectly honest, we don’t think about all that every time we dumpster dive. It’s not like we’re sitting around discussing how our nation is over consuming and over wasting, then decide to hop in the car and go save the world by redeeming trash. But dumpster diving does help us keep consumption and waste in mind, and is a constant reminder to use the old instead of buying the new. It’s drastically reduced our desire to go to the store and buy something, and therefore has helped us in our desire for simplicity as well.

Now, for some more tangible reasons why we dumpster dive…

It saves money! Every item redeemed is a dollar saved (or $40, occasionally!). Just like with the money saved from living simply, this frees up more resources for good (giving, getting out of debt, work less / volunteer more, etc). Josh estimates that he only spends about $10 a week on food nowadays…the rest is obtained from dumpsters. We’re not quite that good at it, but we do save a lot every month. When we got married, we started our grocery budget at $200 a month. So far, we haven’t come anywhere close to that number, mostly because of redeemed food.

It’s an adventure! Amanda likes to relate it to a treasure hunt, because you never really know what you’ll find. I think it’s like a birthday, where the presents come wrapped up in a big dirty metal box. Either way, it’s fun, exciting, a little daring and thrilling, and often results in joyful celebration when there is much loot. On a side note, we do often discuss how that we should probably celebrate more when the dumpsters are empty! Our preference would be that dumpster diving isn’t possible since stores didn’t throw good things away. Instead, we’d rather they donated all good food to local food banks, and slightly damaged items, poor selling items, or overstock items to Goodwill (which we think Target does some, by the way). But, until that day happens, we can at least have fun when we score big. :)

It’s a cheap activity! Read what my former community member Ariah Fine said. “Some people like to go bowling, to concerts, out to eat, I like to dumpster. We all want entertainment, I’ve just struggled to spend $8 on an evening of leisure when so many in the world never think about leisure and entertainment as their stomach growls. So, I’ve endeavored to find things to enjoy that don’t include spending money (thus redeeming my dollars from wasteful self-pleasure), one of those things is dumpstering. And it’s been a lot of fun.”

It’s the only way we’ll ever obtain certain “luxury” items! The coffee pot, for instance. We don’t drink coffee, but my family does and I make coffee for some homeless folks when I volunteer at my office once a month. It would’ve been hard to justify a purchase of a new coffee pot over the borrowing of one every time I needed it. But it’s sure nice to have now that I found it in the trash (and replaced the cut cord)! The pepper grinder is neat, too, but we never could have justified spending $10 on it. It’s like going on a guiltless shopping spree…guiltless because your convictions about using money wisely are completely irrelevant when shopping in dumpsters!

So there are some reasons why we dumpster dive. We’re a little crazy, we know, but we’re OK with that. Who knows, maybe a few hundred of the 7.4 million who watch this show daily will be spurred to action. Maybe someone will decrease their spending habits and experience joy in their newfound respect for the earth. Maybe a corporate leader or grocery store manager will do what they can to donate everything possible to local homeless shelters. Maybe some will catch a brief glimpse of our happiness and realize it’s possible to be wonderfully free and content with less. And then, instead of pursuing the American Dream, maybe they will find happiness in doing small things with great love for God, their neighbors, and the rest of His beautiful creation.

February 16, 2008

Why we dumpster dive and recycle, Part 2

So now for the why. Here’s a one sentence answer. We recycle and dumpster dive because we care about God’s earth and its inhabitants, and we believe that consuming and wasting too much of the planet’s resources is destroying both.

As I’m starting to write out my thoughts on this, I’m realizing that recycling and dumpster diving are both similar and different. An obvious similarity is that both reduce waste. Whether you’re pulling something out of the trash or refusing to throw something in, you’re reducing waste either way. The difference? Recycling and dumpster diving are attacking different parts of overconsumption. Again, I highly recommend that you watch Annie Leonard’s video on “The Story of Stuff,” because she explains the life of products much better than I can! I’m not even going to try explaining all the ins and outs of that process, but here’s a small part of it.

In the making of a product, there is consumption of resources to make that product, and there is what happens to that product after its usable life. (Of course, there’s more to it, like the assembly and marketing of the products and all the people involved in the whole process of production, but I won’t try to tackle everything at once.) For resources used to make a product, we use both limited (oil, metals) and renewable (trees) resources. Then, when we’re done with it, we dispose of our wastes in several ways, some more harmful than others. Recycling simply takes what can be reused and puts it back into the process of production, reducing waste and the materials needed to make new items. Dumpster diving not only reduces waste, but also demands less consumption of the earth’s resources.

To give an example, when I redeemed the coffee pot from the dumpster last week, I no longer need to buy a new one for my office. The resources required to make that new product I needed can be saved. I didn’t only free up a square foot in the landfill that coffee pot would have filled, but I freed up resources that would’ve been used to make the new coffee pot I’d have had to buy at the store. It seems totally insignificant when you think of one item, but if a thousand coffee pots were redeemed along with thousands upon thousands of other still-good products thrown away every day…the resources needed to make those, the energy used to manufacture them, and the space they’d have otherwise filled in the landfill all add up.

Recycling. We recycle because it’s an easy and fun way to show concern for the environment. When God gave humankind “dominion” over the earth, I don’t think He meant for us to trash His creation. Dr. Matthew Sleeth, in his book “Serve God, Save the Planet,” parallels that to leaving your kiddo in a daycare and coming back later that day to find your kid beaten and bruised. He also points out that, when we loan someone our automobile, we expect it to come back in the same shape. Shouldn’t we care about God’s beautiful creation at least as much as we care about our cars? It’s easy to find information about landfills filling up, animals being killed from our trash, toxic wastes being released into the atmosphere from incinerators, etc. Aside from our devouring of earth’s resources, we’re causing tons of problems just with our waste alone. In 1960 the average person produced around 2.7 pounds of waste per day. I’ve seen various numbers, but all of them report over twice that currently (some say three times that amount)…we’ve more than doubled our waste production in the last 50 years. Recycling reduces waste, save energy, reduces water pollution, creates jobs, protects wildlife, prevents more contamination of the atmosphere, and creates more demand for recycled products, increasing the effect (source).

Amanda and I went to the Dominican Republic a couple of years ago with a church. We toured two entire “cities” of hundreds upon hundreds of homes built into massive landfills. Before that trip, I’d never given recycling a thought. But I saw the effects of a civilization’s waste, and as I’m finding to always be true, the one’s who were paying for it were the poorest of the poor. It is the same here in the U.S., and will be the same in the future for any country or civilization. It’s the poor family whose children are dying from the toxic fumes of the incinerator, the poor who are drinking water contaminated by the landfill next door, the poor who are forced to find whatever scraps they can and live in the landfill. After I returned, it only took a little convincing by my close friends to let me see how recycling relates to the Christian call to “love your neighbor.”

It’s also fun. We’re amazed at how much stuff can be recycled. It’s almost a game looking for the little recycle symbol (I won the game last night, heheh). I look forward to teaching my children how recycling their stuff is respecting the earth which our God created. We’re showing Him that we think His creation is wonderful, and that we care about it. And, like Dr. Sleeth, I want to involve them in the process…peeling off labels, rinsing out cans, biking together down to the recycle center with a few bags of aluminum cans, etc. Don’t get too excited, mom, we’re not planning just yet. :)

So there are some reasons why recycling is important to us. If everyone would simply recycle, our impact on this gorgeous place would be so much lighter…but it’s not enough. Coming up next are the reasons why we dumpster dive, and one of those reasons will (hopefully) point out why something more than recycling is needed.

February 14, 2008

Why we dumpster dive and recycle, Part 1

First of all, let’s clarify a few things about dumpster diving. For most people, myself included, when they first hear about people voluntarily dumpster diving (that means they can afford to buy new but choose to redeem things that have been tossed), certain words come to mind…disgusting, ridiculous, nasty, dangerous, illegal, stupid, gross, and icky. The last term was Amanda’s contribution. :) I thought maybe I should start this series by answering some common questions about this subject. So, without further ado, here’s my first ever FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions). Hope it will give you a better idea of what dumpster diving is like.

  1. What kind of dumpsters do you go to? Any store that doesn’t have a compactor is fair game, but mostly the smaller grocery stores, low price variety stores, etc. Josh and I have been scouting out some other possibilities lately…shoes, clothes, electronics, and more. The main point here is that corporate trash is very different from private and restaurant trash, which we do not pillage. Well, there’s the occasional retrieval from our apartment dumpster…specifically our coffee table.
  2. Is it legal? In some places, like Britain, laws make it clear that trash belongs to the owner of the property until the trash guy picks it up, and then it belongs to the trash guy. There, to take trash is to commit theft (even if they’re just going to throw it away). People still dumpster dive there, of course, but we haven’t had to make that decision yet because it appears to be legal here. See what my newspaper friend found out when researching that here. Josh has actually been stopped by the police before, and after a short discussion with said police was allowed to get back to business.
  3. Isn’t the food contaminated by rats (and rat poop) in the dumpsters? I don’t know who came up with the idea that dumpsters have rats, but they must have sent out a mass e-mail chain, cause everyone asks this. Yet we’ve never once seen a rat, or evidence of any type of rodent, in a dumpster. These dumpsters are large. A rat can’t simply crawl up the side of it, open the door, and dive in. But let’s say one did somehow manage to get in. The next day, natural selection will eliminate this critter by a process called “the trash guy,” and said rat loses all his privileges of further contributing to the gene pool. That’s my take, anyway, but no…there aren’t rats in these dumpsters.
  4. Aren’t dumpsters dirty? And wouldn’t the food in there be dirty too? Yes, and often yes. Which is why we wash our food. Do you eat potatoes, carrots, radishes. Don’t forget that all these come from the most dirty place possible…dirt. And yes, there’s often fertilizer in that dirt (that’s poop, for you city folk). How about corn, broccoli, peppers, apples, pears, strawberries? These and all other vegetables and fruits grow outside (usually) and in the process of their growth have everything from worms to bird crap to dirty, unwashed workers’ hands on them. But don’t fret, these foods are washed thoroughly, or at least we trust that they are. Amanda has a theory that our food is safer, because we know it’s dirty and make sure it’s washed well, whereas food that we buy is assumed to be OK and therefore not washed…and who knows what’s touched that food up unto the point of sale. Another thing to point out, though, is that most of the food we get is either packaged or canned, and hence not “dirtied” in the dumpster.
  5. If the food is still good, why is it thrown away? Good question, self. Here are a few possible reasons:
    • Missing labels. Ah, the joy of creating meals around these “mystery cans.”
    • Expired, or past the “sell by” date. We eat cereal, chips, and some canned foods that have been expired for months. Is there something that magically happens that makes the food good one day and bad the next? We use common sense, and we’ve never once gotten sick from eating dumpstered or expired food. (It’s the same with anything that expires…my dad, a pharmacist, admits that pills are still good for up to years after their expiration date. And in my profession, I can’t honestly say that a 2 week contact lens goes bad on the 15th day…though we, and the grocery stores, still have to recommend using the product for it’s approved time.)
    • Broken jar makes mess. Frequently, we’ll find a dozen jars of salsa or spaghetti sauce that got messy when one of the jars broke. There’s glass and sauce everywhere, but after washing up, you’ve got 11 perfect (even non-expired!) jars of food.
    • A bad spot. If one green pepper in a package of 3 has a bad spot on it, they toss it. Same with tomatoes and even whole sacks of potatoes and apples and oranges and onions. One bad apple may spoil the bunch…but if it just went bad, common sense again will tell you whether its neighbors are good.
    • Dented cans. Stores throw it out if it’s got a dent (this includes milk jugs and orange juice cartons, btw). Yes, it’s true that if a can is dented badly enough to break the seal, it could be contaminated with botulism. Look out for swelling and dents around seals.
    • We have no idea. Sometimes we find things that are in perfect shape, not expired, haven’t been recalled…we have no idea why they’ve tossed them. :) Our best guess is either overstock or maybe the items were sent to the wrong store.
    • Damaged non-food items. With coffee pots and chainsaws and crock pots and glassware and…you get the idea…any slight blemish or crack or broken piece will render the item unsellable. So we’ve found a crock pot with a broken glass lid, coffee pot with a crack on the handle, glassware that’s got a couple broken glasses, and on and on. Non food items are especially fun for me, even if they require a little work to get them back in good shape. I’ve found that stores cut the cords before they throw out electrical appliances. Annoying, but not deterring. :)
  6. If you can afford to buy food, shouldn’t you leave what’s in the dumpsters for the homeless? Thank you, Josh, for suggesting this question for the FAQ. It bothers us greatly that there are folks who go hungry every night, and yet so much edible food is thrown away. However, the areas where we go are not really accessible to those who need it. We specifically don’t go to dumpsters in areas where we see homeless, because we don’t ever want to be in a turf war with someone who really needs it. Only once have I run into someone at the dumpster, and we ended up trading some things each of us had found that night. Also, much of what we find needs to be cooked and prepared, flour or potatoes or canned peas to name some examples, and therefore isn’t really of any use to the homeless person without a kitchen. It’s funny, last time we were hanging out with a few homeless guys, we went dumpster diving and then went home and had a feast…and they were laughing at us the whole time we were diving!
  7. What do you do with the excess? I think it’s always a good idea to leave some, just in case there is someone else coming later that night. For instance, Food Not Bombs (a movement of mostly young folks who dumpster dive, among other ways, to get food for the homeless and then distribute hot meals on Sunday afternoons…or after crises) usually dumpsters Friday and Saturday nights in Nashville, so we make an effort to leave plenty for them on those nights. We also donate large quantity items to local shelters. My favorite is Safe Haven family shelter, where I’ve taken everything from children’s underwear to cases of frosted shredded wheat. We also distribute it to each other. I’ll give my east Nashville friends surplus of some item, and they’ll do the same. We’re not quite as organized as cooperatives like the New York divers, but it’s still nice to share finds with friends.
  8. What is involved in a typical night of dumpster diving? Do you need any special equipment? We usually go after store hours to avoid any unnecessary confrontations with store employees who might be frightened by the human being in their trash. Since it’s after dark, we take a headlamp, and we wear old clothes and dumpster gloves.
  9. Is the actual dumpster diving dangerous? As long as you check the depth of the trash before you swan dive in, and as long as you miss the sides of the dumpster with your head when doing flips, it’s perfectly safe. All joking aside, though, it’s safe. The only thing to really worry about is getting cut or poked while in there, hence the dumpster gloves. I know people often worry about HIV infected needles, and whereas it’s certainly something to watch out for I’ve never once seen a needle in these corporate store dumpsters…they’re not the type of places where youngsters stand around, do drugs, and throw away their needles. I also have started placing an empty box in there to stand in as opposed to just stepping into unknown territory. It could possibly avoid a potential glass cut, and my shoes don’t get food on them.
  10. What are some of the more unique items you’ve found in dumpsters? My favorite so far is the electric chainsaw, but I’ve also enjoyed the battery powered pepper grinder more recently. Batteries, 44 two liter bottles of CitroZip, Josh found 113 cans of peanuts one night, luggage, approximately 2,000 envelopes of all colors (greeting card size), just to name a few! Amanda and I also post our fun and unusual items on our blog, so keep checking back. Also, Ariah put together the Dumpster Diaries where you can find videos and pictures of dumpster diving finds from several people.

Hope you enjoyed my first FAQ ever! I realize the title was misleading since there wasn’t anything in this post about why we do it. Don’t worry, that’s coming up next….so stay tuned!

January 24, 2008

A Story

We’re going to have a lot of people coming to our blog soon. Many will have questions about why we do what we do. So I’m glad we started this series. But I also wanted to share a story, or a parable I guess, that I made up this morning while I was still in bed (and also while taking a shower, which is funny considering what the story is about). It’s for anyone who wonders how “love your neighbor” can apply to recycling and, specifically, dumpster diving. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Once upon a time in a land far far away, there was a village. :) There were about a hundred people in this little village, and in the center of the village was a small pool of water fed by an underground spring. Every day it would fill up with the same limited amount of water, about 15 gallons or so, and every night the villagers would come gather water for their families. Some of the poorest in the village would simply cup some water into their hands and drink from the pool, but most would bring a small cup or jar and take that back to their homes.

One rich man, though, would completely fill a five gallon bucket and haul it back to his family of five every single night. At their dinner table, they would each use pitchers instead of cups, and whatever the man and his family didn’t drink they’d pour down the sink. Then the mother and daughters heated pans of water and soaked their feet, giving them the fairest feet in the village. Meanwhile, the father and his son loaded up their water pistols and played out in the yard. Whatever water was left over at the end of the evening was simply thrown outside on the rocky path leading out of the house.

On the other side of the village, however, things were not so pleasant. You see, around 30 to 40 of the villagers didn’t get much water, and often none at all. It was usually the poorest folks, since they had to work longer and were the last ones at the pool. And the water was frequently gone by the time they arrived. These people were almost always sick, and every so often, one of them would die.

One day, the son of the rich man went out to play with his friends. He did not know that he wasn’t supposed to play with the poor village boys. Actually, being young and innocent, he didn’t even notice that they were poor. But on this particular day, what he did notice was that one of his best friends wasn’t there. When he asked about him, the son learned that the boy had died the night before…because he didn’t have enough water. The boy remembered all the water they threw out and the water fights they had every night, and he decided to do something about it.

It didn’t take him long to think of some ideas. The next day, at the end of the evening, he asked if he could throw out the leftover water. Then, when his parents weren’t looking, he ran back to the well and poured it back into the pool. Why not reuse that water, he thought, instead of wasting it? Everyone at the water pool was so thankful, and there were only a few that night who didn’t have enough. Not satisfied, he started gathering up water after the water pistol fights, even wringing out his wet clothes into the bucket, and using that for his own water…asking his dad to not get any water for him out of the pool. He realized how wasteful the water fights were, and decided he’d do his small part in making sure that perfectly good water wasn’t wasted while others were in need. He thought that if only he could convince his two sisters and his mom and dad to do the same, everyone in the village would have enough.

He was right…if only.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.” ~Mohandas K. Gandhi

Hopefully, my story was clear enough for you to figure out why we might recycle and “redeem” perfectly good food that’s been tossed out (if not, reread that last paragraph with that in mind). What you might not have figured out is that the statistics are accurate. We in the U.S. have 5% of the world’s population, yet consume 30% of the world’s resources. Hence, the 5 gallon bucket and the 15 gallon pool, the family of 5 in a village of 100, etc. Of course, those statistics are about all resources, not just water, but you get the idea.

So it seems like it would have been pretty obvious to the rich folks in this story, and that they’d probably have done something about it long before people began to die…and right you may be. Or maybe the village would have outcast the rich family before it got to be a problem. Our problem is that we are so far away from the other side of the village, and also that we have so much power. We never have to be around those who can’t get enough water, we never have to see the destruction we cause by raping the planet, we never have to see landfills if we’ve got enough wealth, and we never have to worry about a country of starving people setting us right because they’re not powerful enough.

So that’s the problem. The answer is different for everyone, and definitely doesn’t always include dumpster diving! But the Christian call (and the calls of other faiths) is to love God, love others and to seek justice throughout the land. We simply have to care about our nation’s overconsumption and all the ways in which that relates to so many millions having so little, and each person needs to decide what they’re going to do about it.

January 14, 2008

The “Why” Series

We realized not too long ago that there’s not much in our blog explaining the reasoning behind living the way we do.

We recycle, we redeem food and other items out of dumpsters, we don’t buy new furniture, we try to shop only at secondhand stores, we are trying to have a smaller eco footprint, we refuse to follow the “American dream,” we don’t have cable and don’t watch a lot of TV (except for last week, as Amanda mentioned), we are peace lovers, and we try to share all our excess with our less fortunate neighbors worldwide.

We are far from where we want and need to be. We could live more simply, use less energy, and give away more. In all these things, though, we try to approach the issue not with legalism and judgment, but with creativity and fun as we seek out ways to implement our convictions into daily practices. And it is fun! Living simply hasn’t turned us into miserable, unhappy ascetics. On the other hand, we’re finding out how much joy there is in a lifestyle of “living simply so that others may simply live.” And finding alternative ways to recycle or “precycle” has been an exciting adventure, not a dull and mindless task of guilt-ridden necessity.

With all that said, we decided it would be beneficial to all parties for us to write a series of blogs on why we live the way we live. What motivates us to live simply? Consume little energy, or dumpster dive? Does it come from our peers, our rebellion, our frugality, or our disgust with the industrial / corporate world? Probably all of those things have influenced us. We’re all affected by others, by advertising, and by our upbringing. But we are going to be looking at why we do stuff, and we invite you to that discussion.

I mentioned that this discussion will (hopefully) be beneficial to all parties. It was already mentioned that we feel our archive of blogs so far hasn’t really done the best job at explaining our why behind things, so we hope to offer some explanation to our confused readers out there. The second party is us…we want to do this primarily to review and remember all of the reasons why we live differently. It’s easy to forget one’s motivation, even if it’s practically lived out on a daily basis. We want to strive to always do what we do for pure reasons, and this will force us to take a close look at our lives. In one of the most famous writings on love, the early apostle Paul said this:

“If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

Ultimately, this points to the very basic reasoning behind all of it. Everything we aspire to do in our lives comes from a world view that, by faith, claims there is a loving God who wants us to live in unity with Him. Love God, love your neighbor. Without that, we gain nothing.

Hope you’ll enjoy the series! I hope it will challenge and inspire both you and us.

January 5, 2008

UFTW (Update from the Wife)

Filed under: dumpster diving,Just for fun — theburts @ 6:11 pm

Quick Update from the Wife!


We got to go to my parent’s last weekend. I went home Friday, then Daniel came Saturday. We had dinner with my dad Saturday night, then went bowling. Last time we all went bowling, Daniel scored a 253 or something crazy like that. So, my dad had to redeem himself this time! They ended up close to even after 4 games. On Sunday, Daniel and I cooked dinner for my mom & John for their Christmas present. We cooked for 3 hours! The menu was: chicken stuffed with ricotta, mozzarella, & proscuitto ham, bacon wrapped green beans, and stuffed tomatoes. It was yummy!


For New Year’s, we had dinner with some friends’ of Josh’s, then went over to another couple’s house for the rest of the night. They had a nice fire going outside, though it was quite windy! We stayed there til a little after 12, then went to Heather & Jonathan’s for some card playing. Fun times.


This week, we’ve been complete lazy bums. We got Lost Season 3 for Christmas, and have watched an average of 4 episodes per day since Tuesday. While I don’t ever want to become addicted to watching TV, it is pretty nice every once and awhile to just sit and relax at home.. especially when it’s freezing outside. (Oh, it SNOWED New Year’s Day.. enough to give the cars a slight dusting. I was excited)


On the dumpstering side… we quickly hit up a “store” on the way home last night.. and ended up having some good finds. There are some things in life that you don’t really need, but would be fun to have, especially if they are free. One is long-range walkie talkies. We got one set brand new in the package, and then one more handset… so I’m sure we’ll come up with reasons to use these! Also, an electronic pepper grinder. Fancy Shmancy. Then, in an obvious voice from the universe that I need to start getting back into shape… a brand new ab-roller thing. It was in the sale paper this week for $20. Don’t know why it was in the dumpster since it was still in the plastic. And the other goodies… a nice knife block with one knife (Daniel is going to look for the others tonight), a transformer toy, 6-7 packages of dog treats, and the ever popular mystery cans. Maybe we’ll post some pics of us using the new toys.


And that’s the report from the Burt household.

December 17, 2007

Ha, we’re on the front page!

Filed under: dumpster diving — theburts @ 9:55 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

How funny is that? The article was good, I thought. Colby did a very fair job of covering as much as he could about our reasoning behind dumpster diving and our convictions of waste and excess in this society with the space that he had. It was a tough decision whether or not to let them do a story about us…for several reasons. But first, check it out and let us know what you think.


Food for free? Just hit the trash

Dumpster-diving conservationists dine on discarded but edible excess

Most likely, when you need food, you go to the grocery store.

Daniel Burt and Josh Corlew do the same thing. They just head around back.


Every week, Burt and Corlew, both employed in Nashville, head to their favorite Dumpsters, pulling out everything from broccoli to limes, mushrooms to bell peppers, all under cover of the night. They’re on the sometimes-messy edge of freeganism, a culture of reuse that extends beyond empty bottles and old newspapers.

“I really don’t go to the grocery store,” said Corlew, an AmeriCorps employee, who estimated he spends $10 per week on food.

Taken literally, “freegan” is a combination of “free” and “vegan,” meaning strict adherents don’t eat or use any sort of animal products. But the national movement is more broadly about using the old before buying the new, thereby saving space at landfills and materials that would go into new products.

“It’s about finding out where there’s excess,” said Tasha McCauley, who along with fiance Jacob Gordon co-founded Nashville Green Drinks, a networking group that meets monthly to discuss green initiatives.

Gordon says he used to dive into Dumpsters more often but now is content to simply keep an eye out for items like his desk and chair set he plucked from the trash.

The Lockeland Springs couple also use online groups such as FreeCycle — think Craigslist, with everything free — and a Google community group for east Nashville residents.

McCauley recently posted a want ad for a whiteboard on the Google group and had it by that afternoon.

“It brings back that old feeling of reliance on your neighbors,” said McCauley, 26.

Burt and Corlew also pick up items such as children’s shirts and socks to donate. Large hauls, like a find of 113 cans of peanuts, usually end up in homeless shelters.

“We feel like it’s the poor that always pay for our gross excess of consumerism in the country,” said Burt, a west Nashville optometrist. “It’s just another way to recycle.”

No problem with the law

It’s also apparently legal under the Metro charter, according to Metro police department officials. Although a charter provision outlaws interfering with trash containers, it applies only to Metro equipment within the urban services district, spokeswoman Kristin Mumford said.

“You see guys digging through trash all over downtown for aluminum cans,” said Metro attorney Tom Cross, who said private business owners might see Dumpster diving as trespassing.

No one bothered Burt and Corlew on Tuesday night as they made the rounds of their favorite sites around south Nashville, filling a car trunk with food. The find of the night was a box full of floral arrangements.

“Yes!” Burt yelled, arms raised. “My wife will love me!”


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