Free Food: An Adventure in Dumpster Diving


Dumpster-dived food. For most, freegan cuisine sounds disgusting and unsanitary, food that should be left for the mice, or to rot in landfills. Even being someone who has dumpster-dived with friends–really just casually late at night opening large trash bags chalk full of solely day old bagels in front of Bagel Bobs–I was a bit skeptical of freeganism. What do they eat? Bagels and fallen fruit?

I wanted to find out. While looking for a cheap or free food event to attend, I happened to stumble across Grub, a bi-weekly freegan dinner party hosted by the anarchist collective, In Our Hearts, open to the public. Being a student in Manhattan, mainstream food events are not cheap: $125 cheese and wine pairings, $60 locavore three course dinners, $200 celebrity chef lectures.

And, Grub was free. I was sold. I was interested in meeting people who consider themselves freegans. Freegans, for those unaware, hold an anti-consumerist attitude towards food. They’re frequent dumpster divers, salvaging food for political reasons not strictly need. Freegnas fascinate me; I was eager to meet people living in this flashy, consumerist, capitalist driven metropolis of New York City and see how and why they try to spend no money.

But, I was not going to tell my friend, Ajay, whom I recruited to trek out to Brooklyn for the dinner, that the food we were going to be eating would be dumpster-dived. Familiar with Ajay’s logic-driven doubtful ramblings, I knew he would freak out. He is a business major after all. Instead, as we got on the L, I causally mentioned that we were attending a free dinner hosted by an anarchist collective. This news did not go over so well; for the rest of the subway ride, I listened to Ajay’s cyclical dubious remarks surfacing every couple minutes.

We emerged from the underground to find ourselves on Flushing Ave in Bed Stuy. A bit nervous myself of what we were going to find, (were we about to walk in as complete stranger’s home asking for free food?), I swallowed my doubts and continued to follow the vague diretions I had found online to the house. We walked in the freezing cold (the forecast was snow) down Flushing Ave until we found ourselves next to a large speeding freeway in the middle of an otherwise quiet neighborhood.

Preoccupied with finding the house and the freezing weather, it took us awhile to notice we were the only ones not dressed in black head to toe. Ajay was the only man on the street not sporting two long face-framing curls and a widely brimmed hat. I was not wearing an overcoat that went to my ankles with a matching dress, or pushing an old fashioned baby carriage. We were the only non-Hasidics in sight.

Neither Ajay nor I have any experience with Jewish culture. I grew up atheist, and Ajay grew up Jain, a religious of India. “Jains are the Jews of India,” Ajay commented, as we marveled at this culture. For me, the concept of religion is so foreign, I am in total awe of those whose lifestyles revolve around their faith.

We finally arrived at Grub’s door, embarrassed at first to knock on the brightly colored graffitied warehouse, unsure what lay beyond the decorated metal door. Finally, I timidly knocked.

Nothing.

Realizing there was a doorbell, I hesitantly rang it. Seconds later, the door swung open. A friendly young guy with a guitar strapped to his back stood at the door.

“Is this Grub?” I asked.

“Oh, that got moved to somewhere else! Here come in, I’ll look it up for you.” Ajay and I followed the guy up the glow-in the dark neon painted stairs to a room resembling most accurately, a circus on acid. Decapitated mannequins, a giant glittery snowman, fluffy spiders hanging from the ceiling, and grungy prayer flags, decorated the place, and myriad brightly colorful, glittery, bizarre and strange objects transformed the large room into something else. I don’t think any of original walls, ceiling, or floor was visible. Just going to this space was an experience in itself.

The guy looked up the new location on facebook informing us that we were not very close to the new location for Grub. “Once we get the permit cleared up for downstairs, hopefully we can host Grub again,” he said. Thanking him, we left, and decided that taking the M56 to the other location would not be timely.

Feeling like our adventure had not added up to much except a tour of a zany punk house, we started walking back to the subway in search of something to fill our bellies. Being the 5th night of Hanukkah, we didn’t find any restaurants open. But earlier, we walked by Hatzlacha Supermarket with the intention of checking it out, hoping maybe to find some tasty Jewish snacks. Disappointingly, the supermarket was pretty average, nothing more exciting than your local Safeway. However, looking at the deli counter, we spotted gargantuan potato knishes for $1.75 each. Neither of us had other had a knish before, so we decided to split one.

The man speaking Hebrew behind the counter, popped one in the microwave, and then wrapped it in tinfoil. The first bite was all light and fluffy puff pastry; warm, buttery, melting in my mouth, topped with the slight crunch of sesame seeds. The second bite I reached the scotching, microwave blasted potato filling. Disregarding the temperature, I took another bite, this pasty was too damn tasty. Ajay agreed, and we happily passed it back and forth while walking back to the subway Bummed we missed Grub, the creamy starchy potato filling was a good comfort.

With the last of the knish in our bellies, we hopped on the L, back to Manhattan. Even though we failed to eat any dumpster-dived food, we got to explore more of this city that we have made our home, observing two distinctly unfamiliar cultures, hasidic Judaism and anarchist punks. Not to mention, tasting our first potato knish.

Full on culture, our stomachs were still empty. Riding home, we decided to get Vietnamese sandwiches. And right there’s the beauty of living in New York–exploring a punk house in a Hasidic neighborhood, tasting our first potato knish, and feating on Vietnamese sandwiches all within a couple of miles and a couple of hours.

Originally posted on Monday, February 7th, 2011

One Response to “Free Food: An Adventure in Dumpster Diving”

  1. Barbara

    March 24th, 2011

    This is my favorite article of yours! What a great experience… Lets make some knish together when you come home.

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