Dumpster diving, sometimes referred to as "freeganism," is a concept and lifestyle many Americans are turning to in the face of both economic hardship and an unequal national system of food and materials distribution.
I met with Vladimir Yuraslob, a resident of Stevens Point and avid dumpster diver, to help me better understand the lifestyle of a diver, and hopefully learn a few tricks of the trade for future use.
Vladimir learned quickly in life that too many usable materials were going to waste in the world around him.
"Growing up as a child I enjoyed collecting old things ... I remember finding something in the trash while walking home from elementary school. I suppose you could say dumpster diving is a natural progression for me," Yuraslob said.
That natural progression drew partially from an example set by Vladimir’s father.
"[He] was an example of frugality for me as well; he wore those cut-off jean shorts until they were damn near rags (he opted to use his money to give his three children opportunities) ... it was evident to me that material objects had a much longer life if you were willing to ignore the social stigma of looking ‘poor,’" Yuraslob said.
According to a 2010 USDA report, 48.8 million Americans are live in food-insecure households. That number grows when you include the homeless population of US citizens, which is about 700,000. Yet, even with staggering numbers of people unsure whether or not they will eat tonight, we are wasting more than ever before. Jonathan Bloom, author of the 2010 book "American Wasteland," says that over half of the food produced in America is thrown away.
"Somewhere between 160 and 295 billion pounds of food is thrown away every single year," Bloom writes. "Which is the equivalent of filling a 90,000 seat football stadium to the brim at least once every single day."
Freeganism as a whole is an attempt to combat waste trends in America and includes much more than just dumpster diving. From squatting (living rent-free in foreclosed or vacant homes) to free markets (where items are set out for free instead of for sale) to eco-friendly forms of transportation, the freegan lifestyle promotes living on what is already here, as opposed to producing more materials and thus producing more waste.
People in the United States have been reclaiming food and discarded objects for centuries. Vladimir identifies with one example in particular.
"Nineteenth century American history shows the ‘Rag man’ or ‘Rag-and-bone man’ who traveled around, often with a covered wagon, collecting all manner of discarded items that he could reinvent and resell," Yuraslob said.
Though reclamation of trash has existed as long as trash itself, it still carries a heavy social stigma.
"Propaganda turns the masses against each other, at the benefit of the rich elite," Vladimir said. "They tell us dumpster diving is bad. Thus, there is such a social stigma attached to reclaiming good and usable foods and other materials. It creates a picture of a low income person, which is an undesirable in consumer-capitalistic society ... has been for many, many years."
Just about anything that can be tossed out can be reclaimed. Vladimir has found food, household items and clothing, building materials, artwork, and a little bit of just about everything else.
"Dumpster diving is a life project whereby I am able to reduce the amount of edible foods and usable material items that would otherwise rot away in a landfill," Vladimir said. "It gives me a great amount of pride to know that I am helping to meet my own needs, and the needs of friends, family and strangers."
Vladimir left me with a quote from E.F. Schumacher’s A Guide for the Perplexed: "The art of living is always to make a good thing out of a bad thing."