Trash Talk: A Look at Dumpster Diving Subculture in Victoria, BC
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Patel, Katherine Walsh
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I have made a 22 minute ethnographic film and academic supplement that takes an ethnographic approach to the subculture of dumpster diving in Victoria, B.C. I first came across the somewhat controversial issue of dumpster diving a year prior to embarking on my thesis when I was invited to join a small household of individuals on one of their food finding excursions. What initially sparked my interest and eventually led to me joining them was the notion that dumpster diving isn’t necessarily about scavenging in alleyways for scraps of rotting food due to economic hardship. The dumpster diving route that I joined them on one night consisted of driving to three separate grocery food stores and gleaning food from the dumpsters, which would otherwise be taken to the landfill. After I returned home from the night with a substantial amount of good looking, good quality food, two realizations stood out to me: the first being the staggering amount of perfectly good food found in grocery store dumpsters that would otherwise be wasted. The second was the sense of camaraderie while participating in the activity of dumpster diving and the various “rituals” it entails such as making meals from dumpster food together. There were even other dumpster divers we ran into at the dumpsters, and what particularly struck me was the friendly enthusiasm shared among one another, and what I later came to recognize as a strong sense of community. This was striking to me, especially considering the fact that we were all digging through what are otherwise dirty dumpsters in dark alleyways! My firsthand experience with dumpster diving sparked some curious informational investigation on my part, and I eventually came into contact with more small pockets of individuals who went dumpster diving on a regular basis. Although the groups did not necessarily know or interact with each other, it was interesting to find that the values they all shared in common tended to center around mitigating the impact of food waste in their environment. Furthermore, it became clear that building and maintaining a sense of community around a dumpster diving lifestyle was definitely a norm among these individuals. When the time came around the following year at Royal Roads, I decided to base my thesis on the phenomenon of dumpster diving as a subculture, both in light of its response to food waste as well as looking at how community plays into the culture of dumpster diving. I decided it would be most suitable for the purpose of my thesis to produce an ethnographic film as my main work. I really wanted to most accurately document the quality and quantity of the food found within the dumpsters, and the social interactions that made up this community of fellow dumpster divers. I followed 11 participants in Victoria, B.C. who dumpster dive regularly at grocery store food dumpsters. After finding participants through word of mouth and other self-identified dumpster divers, I held semi-formal interviews and got audio-visual footage of dumpster diving events and activities.