These days I can’t pass a garbage pile without sticking my head and most of my torso into the can. Usually I find something irresistible.
At the end of my shared driveway, for instance, is a recycling bin that’s a constant source of useful flotsam like empty ice cream cartons that can be turned into flats to start seeds, glass pickle jars that make ant-proof food storage containers, egg cartons to hold and give away our own chickens’ eggs, juice jugs that can be transformed into sap buckets and attached to one of the sugar maples in our yard. Whenever I pass the recycle bin on foot, headed to the park for a jog, its siren song compels me to flip open the top and insert myself at the waist.
I’ve always had some hobo-inspired tendencies, like swiping morsels from departed restaurant patrons’ plates. For a newspaper story I wrote years ago, I spent three days living exclusively on food I dumpster-dove. But until recently, I saw myself as basically profligate: after dinners with college friends, when they’d start dissecting the bill, I’d throw down more than my share and wander across the street to window shop. These days, you’d be more likely to find me out back behind the kitchen, looking for scraps to feed my chickens.
After a small dinner party at my mom’s apartment in D.C., I pulled from her kitchen trash an avian feast: a baked potato, beet peelings, salad greens and cantaloupe rinds, plus a container of spoiled sour cream.
“Really? You’re going to take that all the way home?” Even my mom, the notorious family pack rat, was surprised. “Do not forget it in my fridge.”
I put a garbage can in the lunchroom at work specifically for food scraps for aforementioned chickens. At the end of the day, if no one’s in the lunch room, I sift through the main garbage for apple cores and bread crusts that didn’t make it into the food scraps bin. It doesn’t exactly enhance my professional image to be rooting around in my co-workers’ soggy half sandwiches, I admit. I haven’t figured out what “leaning in” means but I don’t think it’s supposed to be this literal.
Husband Joe has developed garbage-vision in step with mine. He calls it “a different level of consciousness.” He’s been re-using squares of tinfoil, saran wrap, the bags from cereal boxes, even the oil left over after making home fries, which he served in a saucer at breakfast recently. “Seems a shame to waste it,” he said, as we dutifully swirl forkfuls in the viscous orange liquid.
A Buenos Aires newspaper reported that every month Jorge Bergoglio, better known now as Pope Francis, returned 30 rubber bands from the daily newspapers that were delivered to his house to the kiosk whence they came. The pioneering farmer, Mark, who became the subject of the memoir The Dirty Life, kept a ball of used dental floss, in case someday he had to sew up a hole in his pants. Angry environmental activist Derrick Jensen spent nine years dumpster diving foodstuffs like watermelons and expired ice cream that he fed to himself, his cats, dogs and chickens.
A constant awareness of what’s being tossed can be wearing. Side effects include depression, disgust, despair, empathy with the Unabomber. Part of me wishes I could go back to tuning out the pile of “obsolete” electronics (obsolescence is relative. I’ve seen flat-screen TVs in there) that I drive past on my way to work. How the single village of Florida, NY can excrete an endless stream of televisions, printers, scanners, and fax machines is a question that plagues me.
Still our ranks continue to grow. The morning after her dinner party, my mom was slicing up the remainder of the cantaloupe for breakfast. “The chickens love cantaloupe rinds?” she said, opening the fridge to put sections of rind into the bag of scraps that I was going to take home. “You feed them this and you get eggs,” she said. “I’m getting it.”