Saturday, May 16, 2015

Living in the Waste Stream

Living doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg:
Marie lives a New York middle-class life spending less than $5,000 a year. Kalish, who travels more, needs $10,000. They work, eat, have a home, but there’s no rent bill or grocery shopping. No regular salary, even. Money isn’t their currency.

Marie is a petite, black-haired French woman who looks just like the conventional fortysomething Brooklynite. But she has no job, no visa, and lives in a three-story house for free. Living in the US also comes with an additional bit of daring: she’s an illegal immigrant. For privacy reasons, she asked to be identified with her first name only.

Eight years ago Marie arrived in the US, where she decided to remain. She has been staying for five years with her friend Greg, a real estate agent. They met in upstate New York in 2010 at a permaculture internship in which Marie spent a month learning how to farm sustainably. She needed a place to stay, he had a vacant room, so she became his home keeper, cleaning, gardening and bringing dumpster-dived food in lieu of rent.

In May 2007, Marie landed at JFK airport with a Lonely Planet in her backpack. It was her first time in the US; emerging from the subway at 125th Street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem made her think of Starsky and Hutch, the 1970s television show. She paid rent in cash in Harlem, working as a waiter for three years, before moving to Greg’s.

Going with the flow, Marie has now decided to go back to France. In June she will book a plane ticket and ask to be deported.

“I’m aware that being French, and not Latino for example, makes things easier,” she said. Since she will leave prior to deportation, the main consequence of her overstay will be a ban from re-entering the US for 10 years.

“It’s a one-way trip anyway,” she shrugged. “I’ll pay what it costs.”

The price of the ticket may be more than she has spent in the past several months combined: a few hundred dollars. She receives rent from a house she owns in France, but that’s money she never uses. She lives on cash from baby- and dog-sitting. The $1,000 she recently was paid for painting a house “can go a long way”. Her clothes are finds and she travels by bike, even from Crown Heights to Manhattan.
How to live a middle-class life in New York City on less than $5,000 a year (Guardian)
Imagine going grocery shopping, walking out of the store with five grocery bags, and letting one spill all over the parking lot as you leave. It sounds shocking, and yet that’s what many of us do without even realizing it. North American households waste 15-20% of all the food they buy, which is even worse than the waste produced by restaurants.

An excellent new documentary called “Just Eat It” delves into the largely unknown, yet ubiquitous, world of wasted food. A couple from Vancouver, British Columbia, embarks on a six-month challenge – to survive exclusively on discarded food, which could be anything expired or already wasted.

Jenny Rustemeyer and Grant Baldwin started out with low hopes, imagining that they’d be scrambling for food scraps, but they soon realized, with mixed delight and horror, that there is far more perfectly good food out there than they could ever possibly eat. In six months, they brought home more than $20,000 worth of discarded food and only spend $200.

The food came from places such as Dumpsters, culled bins at grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and food styling photo shoots. Boxes of chocolate bars, dozens of eggs, granola, yogurt, bags of frozen chicken and bacon, salad mixes, and cartons of juice are just a few examples of the perfectly edible items that ended up in their kitchen, often for unknown reasons. Once Grant found an entire Dumpster filled with containers of hummus that still had three weeks left on the best before date. He’ll never know why they were thrown out.

“Just Eat It” challenges our cultural obsession with abundance, of always having more than we need because we can have it. We live in a wealthy society that doesn’t have to eat leftovers, so we don’t; we pitch them instead. In fact, rich countries such as Canada and the United States have anywhere from 150 to 200% of the food that we actually need, according to food waste activist Tristram Stuart.
'Just Eat It' is a must-see documentary about food waste in North America (Treehugger)


  1. Solar freaking roadway hits it off in Holland...

    1. I saw that. I still don't know why they are casting these things into concrete on the ground. Seems like an inefficient use of the technology. I wish in some of these articles they would give a rationale for doing this instead of putting panels on a roof, especially since there is a possibility of materials shortages in the future for these sorts of technologies.

  2. Well, a few people can live for peanuts as long as everyone else continues to live in a wasteful fashion. That a few people can make dumpster-diving work is not really a recipe for freeing the majority from the predations of capitalism.

    Jenny and Grant will not welcome the arrival of thousands of new dumpster-divers, I suspect. There's only so much toss-out to go around.

    And Marie was merely choosing to be part of the underground, "gray" economy by trading service for room and board -- what's different, it seems to me, is that most people in the underground economy probably aren't there by choice.

    But someone had to have that room and board to trade for Marie's housekeeping service.

    Sorry for naysaying, but I'm a Boomer, and have been in a 77-million-person-long line my whole life. Everywhere I've gone and everything I've tried to do has been an overcrowded experience. (Retirement will be a crowded experience too, I suspect, if I get there and am allowed to.)

    So I read articles like this and always wonder how to fit my fellow 77 millions into the dumpster, because they will for sure be there with me or ahead of me. They always have been.

  3. I think it's more a commentary on how wasteful and profligate our society is rather than a realistic mode of living for most people. But it's always good to be on the lookout to "hack" the system - that is, to look beyond how they want you to live (work, consume, go into debt, drive a car, etc.)

  4. Never been able to figure out why people are dedicated to their jobs at least not in the capitalist political economy that we all find ourselves in. I was never gung ho about any of it. In high school there was on local grocery chain that actually started people out at 8 dollars and hour, keep in mind that this was back in the 80s, so everyone wanted to work there. I finally got a job as a part time job as a stocker or something like that and on the first day after a bunch of paperwork they gave me a short lecture on loyalty and “being part of the HEB Team.” Yeah right. I could barely keep myself from laughing out loud. I asked for a bathroom break and never came back. I later joined the Army, don’t ask everyone does dumb stuff, and felt exactly the same there. Basically we were being paid very little to do complicated work in austere environments for the benefit of god knows who certainly not to safeguard the American public. I’m much older and have a professional degree and license but I still feel the same way. I’ll work because I need the money and because failure to do so would make me a target for all sorts of undesirable attention but like it? Not a chance. Take it seriously not very much.

    Having said all that, I’m basically a conservative, a conservative leftist but conservative none the less, so I take hard work seriously and believe that it is important to support yourself and society. Thing is it matters what you do and to whom you lend your support. Hard work for your own mere personal benefit or for the enrichment of a small corporate or society elite seems worse than inactivity because it supports your class enemies at your own expense. So as it turns out even though in theory I support all those old maxims like “no work no food” in reality I’m all for people who just opt out and don’t do much of anything. In fact I also take very seriously those, myself included, who question the idea of growth and are reconsidering what they actually need to be healthy and happy. Certainly not a career in any profession.

    As far as your comment about competition and the well-heeled class of go-getters who seem to have taken over every position at the top of the social pyramid. I see that in practice everywhere I look in almost every profession. When I left graduate school I assumed that I would work in the non-profit sphere doing “good things for other people.” That whole assumption was na├»ve in so many ways but what I found out was that in the best non-profit jobs everyone seemed to come from elite universities with resumes similar to the one you posted. Most of these jobs are ostensibly left leaning but I also quickly learned that these posh leftists looked down on people like me, with my mediocre credentials and schooling, and despite their trendy leftist rhetoric they actually found the class based left distasteful especially when embodied in a real live working class person. I never got even close to one of these jobs but I also learned that these non-profits are pretty much just rackets like everything else in capitalism. I love my life and enjoy most of what I do but work and career are just hurdles that I must negotiate along the path to the thousand little joys that pepper my life; good food, bad Korean dramas, foraging, hiking about aimlessly and watching the ugly U.S. Empire slowly collapse into the dust of history. I hope things get better for you but I’d start looking at the alternative economy coops and smaller worker run businesses they are out there and yeah the pay sucks but things are more humane.

  5. Dumpster diving like foraging and hunter two activities in which I engage is, as suggested by the author, a hack on the system and a way to remind ourselves of what is and is not really necessary to survive. Plus these activities are often fun when not done our of dire necessity. But alas they are not likely to become serious alternatives to modern capitalism and yes I do sometimes resent other hunters, fisherpeople and foragers who are on my turf. Nature just doesn't produce quite enough to satisfy a modern appetite at least not at our current population.


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