Originally published April 3, 2016
I've been homeless and unemployed for a long time. So I started
scavenging out of necessity. But I would keep doing it even if I had
were employed and dignified, to save money and prevent waste. It's smart
and cool, like all forms of frugality.
I write this because it's
not something that occurs to even the thriftiest of tightwads, and
because even they reject the idea out of hand with some rationalization.
"It's unhygienic," they say, but I've never gotten sick, even when all
the food I ate was from trash cans. I'm on food stamps now. I can't
spend that on anything other than food, so it doesn't cost me anything
to scavenge less.
It wouldn't even have occurred to me if I
weren't obsessed with not letting things go to waste. It started when I
was hanging out alone in a dormitory's lounge, and some group walked in
with a bunch of food, and then threw it away, with most of it untouched.
"Americans. So wasteful," I thought. No one else was around, so I
decided to unwaste it. I was newly homeless and not yet in the habit of
scrounging, so I was hesitant for a bit. But it was great.
several months, I fed myself by sneaking into that same building or the
nearby one at 5am, and going to the lounge on every floor and picking
out the good food. There was always enough that I could be picky about
what refuse I consumed. There was good variety. Occasionally there was
even alcohol. I stopped using those buildings after a few too many
encounters with the cops. But that only happened when I was lazy and
actually loitered in the building instead of looting the trash cans and
splitting. It was hard not to, since the lounges were nice places with
outlets, bathrooms, and free very fast wifi. Everything I needed!
that I started using outdoor trash cans. This was a lot less fun. They
were much farther apart, the amount of good stuff I could find was a lot
less guaranteed, rain could fall and ruin stuff, and it was cold at
night. Plus there was a much higher chance of being seen. Some part of
me retained this irrational desire to appear dignified, so I only did
this at night in the wee hours of the morning. I did it so much that I
learned when janitors would be snooping around (annoyingly, essentially
all the time), when students would be around, what days of the week were
the best, and an efficient route that I could instantly modify
depending on how much I wanted, how much I'd found already, which
entrance to the campus I used, and so on, which ended somewhere that had
an outlet and wifi. UCLA is nice enough to provide free wifi everywhere
When you're a veg*n1 and homeless and thus
have no place to cook or store food, food stamps alone isn't enough to
feed you. Scavenging was nice because it allowed me thus to not dip into
my real money in order to eat enough, without eating nothing but raw
ramen, raw oatmeal, and bananas. I could splurge on canned soup and cans
of cold refried beans.
My original idea for this post also
included some guidelines for what discarded foods are good and what are
bad, with the obligatory "your health is your responsibility, not mine,
use your judgement" and tips for how to avoid being spotted, and other
things I learned over years of scavenging, but whatever. I'm not going
to convince anyone to try it, so that would be pointless.
My dietary restrictions are to not economically incentivize suffering.
So I can't purchase eggs, dairy, or meat from things that can feel pain.
I still buy clam products, because I'm pretty sure clams can't feel
anything. For game-theoretic reasons, I can't accept gifts of these
things either. But there's no reason for me not to eat meat that's been
discarded and was going to be discarded regardless of my decision to eat
it. I don't trust "cage free" bullshit about how some animals are in
less horrible conditions than others. It's all probably pretty horrible.
Anyway it's annoying that there's no short word for this, since in my
view it should be the most common dietary restriction. "Vegetarianism"
is stupid, since it tends to produce more suffering by way of replacing
meat (small numbers of animals in Hell-conditions) with eggs (large
numbers of intelligent animals in Hell-conditions).