On becoming a rubbish pirate

[image source]

Sometimes, writing about the issues that I feel passionate about is a difficult thing to do. It’s hard to articulate my emotions, when they bubble up in a tangly, muddled fashion inside my head.

Our global food system is one such issue. I’ll admit I am only at the periphery of understanding, but the more I read, the faster my mind races and the wider my eyes become. And then I find myself pulling at my hair, opening and closing my mouth like an angry goldfish, or sometimes just half singing, half shouting, “fuuuuuck!!” I mean, the things we do in this world constitute madness, and madness is a difficult thing to put into words.  But this isn’t meant to be about me and my feelings (oh the feeeeeeliiings!!)– it’s bigger than that, more important than that. And so, instead of a lengthy rant, here are some cold, hard facts*:

> The 40 million tonnes of food wasted every year by US households, retailers and food services would be enough to satisfy the hunger of every malnourished person in the world

> The UK, US and Europe have nearly twice as much food as is required by the nutritional needs of their populations. Up to half the entire food supply is wasted between the farm and the fork. If crops wastefully fed to livestock are included, European countries have more than three times more food than they need, while the US has around four times more food than is needed, and up to three-quarters of the nutritional value is lost before it reaches people’s mouths.

> Between 20 to 60% of fruit and veges in the UK, EU, USA, AUS and NZ are rejected even before they reach the shops – mostly because they do not match the supermarkets’ excessively strict cosmetic standards.

> 8.3 million hectares of land is wasted on meat and dairy products that will never get eaten! That is 7 times the amount of Amazon rainforest destroyed in Brazil in one year, largely for cattle grazing and soy production to export for livestock feed.

> 4600 kilocalories per day of food are harvested for every person on the planet; of these, only around 2000 on average are eaten – more than half of it is lost on the way.

> 10% of rich countries’ greenhouse gas emissions come from growing food that is never eaten.

> The irrigation water used globally to grow food that is wasted would be enough for the domestic needs (at 200 liters per person per day) of 9 billion people – the number expected on the planet by 2050.

> If we planted trees on land currently used to grow unnecessary surplus and wasted food, this would offset a theoretical maximum of 100% of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion.

* facts from here

So what can we do about it?? (I can tell you first hand that making the angry gold fish face doesn’t really achieve much). Well, in my flat, we say a polite ‘F.U.’ to the system by going supermarket dumpster diving (or, as I like to think of it, we are ‘rubbish pirates’ – geddit??):

The first night we went dumpster diving, I giggled feverishly and felt like a total badass (because really, that is about as badass as this goody-two shoes, skinny white girl is gonna get 😉 ).

But that was 2 months ago, and since then, it’s become a part of our weekly routine. I don’t feel badass anymore, so much as clued-in – in fact, it seems like the sensible thing to do! (If you haven’t already done so, I highly recommend watching this video!).

I know dumpster diving might not be for everyone (although I’d hazard a good guess that a lot of people who’d assume it’s not for them, would actually find it pretty fun… I mean, it’s basically an edgier version of Christmas. Also, free food!! What’s not to like??).

But there are ways to support other people’s efforts to save food, without necessarily jumping into bins yourself: many cities run ‘food rescue’ groups, which are always in need of support in the form of donations and volunteer work. Here are just a few such organizations from around the world (this list is by no means exhaustive, so if your country/area isn’t mentioned, I encourage Google searching!):


Kaibosh (Wellington)

Fair Food (Auckland)


SecondBite (Melbourne)

OzHarvest (Sydney)


Feeding the 5000 (nationwide)

Food Cycle (nationwide)


Food Rescue (nationwide)

City Harvest (New York)


Second Harvest (Toronto)

And then there are always steps you can take in your own home: only buy what you need; treat use-by-dates with scepticism; make sure to compost organic waste; and if you can, buy a pet pig (my favourite option 😉 )!!

If you’re interested in food politics in general, here are some great, informative websites:

Agencies for Nutrition Action (NZ)

Sustain (UK)

Food Tank (USA)

Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UN (global)

Fair Food International (global)

I hope you’ll join me in fighting (even in the smallest of ways) for a global food revolution!

And now to round off with some pictures:

Fresh produce: pears, persimmons, feijoas, tomatoes, rhubarb, beans, cauliflower, coriander, spring onions, potatoes and kumara – all from the supermarket dumpster!
DUMPSTER DINING: Bean salad with sweet potato wedges + one organic egg (from the dumpster – beans, spring onions, alfalfa, sweet potatoes)
DUMPSTER DINING: German-style potato fritters with hot apple mousse (from the dumpster – potatoes, apples and parsley)
DUMPSTER DINING: Toasted bagel with avocado + salad (from the dumpster – bagels, avocado, romaine lettuce, sweet corn and celery)
DUMPSTER DINING: Pumpkin + sweet potato curry with naan bread (from the dumpster – everything, except for pumpkin and canned coconut)
DUMPSTER DINING: Steamed beans and alfalfa with potato and a side of tzatziki (from the dumpster – everything!)
DUMPSTER DECOR: We found these lovely lilies in the bin! Now they’re sitting pretty in our kitchen : )


  1. I have to say I could not bear reading the stats in the post. It’s beyond awful and why nobody cares about all that waste? Esp when food aid is needed for famine stricken countries? I know this cannot be re-directed there, but it’s cringy thinking all this food is just going to rot.

    • I know, it’s hard to read. But at least there are efforts to help the situation. It’s sad it exists as it is, but I find that dumpster diving and knowing about these organisations makes me feel a lot better!

  2. LOVE all of this. Singing/shouting “fuuuuuck,” is something I know quite well. I used to dumpster dive quite a bit in my undergrad days, but I haven’t gone in a while. It is truly amazing what people throw away. My campus used to be near-ish to an Odwalla factory, and although we would never monetarily support a Coke-owned company with our dollars, we were stoked to drink their juices and eat their bars out of the garbage.

    Thanks for the links to all those organizations!

    • why am I not surprised that you went diving? 😉 hehe. It’s true, Ive pampered myself with things I wouldn’t normally spend money on – like a bag of french croissants!

  3. shocking facts!! the system is so out of balance, and we have to start somewhere! so if it’s the veggie garden or the dumpster diving or the local farmers market, I guess all these little things add up and also raise awareness. Nicely written Tali! And the dishes look yum!

      • Definitely! We are so into composting, worm farm and bokashi and reduced our rubbish a lot! Also, in NZ you can only put specific plastics into the recycling bins. But I heard if you put all sorts of plastics in there, then you actually raise awareness and the recycling companies will have to think about a way to deal with that. So right now, we put nearly all the plastics into the recycling! If more people do that, that can make a difference as well I guess.

  4. arrrr, this be a great post matey (oh fuck it, what a terrible response. i’m sorry). you have a wonderful way with vegetables. I feel ill every time I reject the bruised fruit at the supermarket for the good ‘uns, yet if there was a decent pricing hierarchy, i’d buy the bruised bananas every time. onya for dumpster diving, I’m gonna give it a go!

    also, have you read http://emptyemptor.com/? Consumerism, consumption and behaviour in the context of the wardrobe – i thought of you when i came across it – think you might find some food for thought 🙂

    • ahoy matey! (I was waiting for someone to put on a pirate voice, so thank you – not a terrible response at all). Thank you so much for introducing me to that blog! It’s fantastic : ) X

  5. Oh Natalia, sooo delighted we discovered each other! I’m so angry just from reading these facts that I already know about that I rather post happy thoughts right now haha. But yes, I completely agree that madness is hard to articulate, hence why my job is one of the hardest jobs to do because I read and hear info for a living and then have to redistribute it to the same people causing all the good apples to rott. But you must start somewhere to inspire chance and boy am I ever intrigued by your degree choice! Mental psychology?? Can we be like new best friends? That is exactly what I would study, and tried to somewhat, but work got in the way. Just did English and Lit, with self-taught nutrition. Boring as hell…

    PS- Thanks for the sweet comment! Hope you’re a follower. Don’t let me lose touch. I’ll be back! If not, come get me 😉

    • I love the internet – and especially blogging – for this very reason: Getting to meet like-minded sparkly souls like yourself : ) (and yes, I am definitely a new follower of your blog!) See you around ❤ ❤

  6. This is so awesome, N! I’ve started looking up dumpster dives in Washington. I would never do this in India because you would actually get sick from our garbage. Also, vegetable vendors are not large scale and people still buy their vegetables from western style “farmers markets”. At the end of the day, you can get whatever you want for very cheap so there’s little waste. I hope that never changes. The sick part of this entire thing is not eating garbage but the actual wastage. Thank you for writing this.

    • Thanks for the comment E! Yes, I can imagine that in certain parts of the world, dumpster diving might not be a good idea. But certainly in Washington, you’ll find some good “deals” haha 😉 (Last night, we came back with 8 loaves of brioche, and 9 packets of ‘pull-apart-soup-bread’ from a fancypants supermarket).

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