Eating trash in Davis

Meg searches for what’s for dinner.

Meg searches for what’s for dinner.

“Ugh.” I groan and hop into the Dumpster. A surgical mask isn’t enough to defend against its foul food-stewed insides during the summer heat. I cut open some bags with a box cutter. Sweat collects under my plastic gloves. Banana peel, Starbucks cup, napkin, wrapper, half-eaten yogurt that my shoes enjoy a taste of—it’s just trash today.

“Let’s take the bread.”

It’s not an easy life fighting on the so-called food liberation front, so I’ll probably have to explain why a college kid would spend a semester scavenging for food instead of paying for cafeteria eats. Here are highlights from my past year at UC Davis:

A fateful Sunday: My roommates and I were going through a loaf of bread every other day. One of us suggested to Dumpster dive for day olds, and on the first day at the Safeway off of Sycamore Lane, we took home several artisan bread loaves: Asiago cheese, raisin-nut, olive.

A taste of free food.

A Tuesday in March: On the normal route home, we noticed boxes stacked outside a Dumpster. A couple bags of dried apricots, lettuce, carrots, bagels, apples—the packaging had a soapy slime on it, and I figure that this rendered the food unfit for sale. Later, I’m rewarded with a snack of apricot-apple salad with a side of carrot juice.

We slowly accept our new titles: Dumpster diver, trash digger, freegan, food liberator (which I prefer). It’s become a familiar activity, and soon I’ve rooted around in enough Davis food-source back lots to know which spots are worth hitting: The Posh Bagel, Ciocolat, Safeway, Save Mart Supermarket and Village Bakery, to name a few.

Some eateries donate graciously and separate the good from the spoiled. Others make you work. Some days, the Dumpsters are generous; others, they’re sparse.

The best Wednesday in June: Jackpot. Behind the Safeway off Sycamore again are boxes that should be refrigerated but aren’t—and the store can’t sell them because its cooling system has kicked out. Three pillars of produce tower some 8-feet high. The digging begins. We fill a five-seater car twice with artichoke hearts, mushrooms, eggplants and much more. We phone-tree everyone we know and get creative with space in our own fridge. Two local homeless shelters, Grace in Action and Davis Community Meals, are grateful to receive fresh produce flats, courtesy of Safeway.

We struck it rich by chance, and on occasions like these, our meals are bountiful. This Wednesday, baked baguettes seasoned with freshly made pesto and stuffed with cooked eggplant, spinach and tomato cover the table.

Don’t our parents give us money for food? Sympathy’s not necessary; we dive out of obligation to do our part in rectifying the waste made by our food sources.

And we’ve tasted free food and can’t get enough.