The future lies in the dumpsters

Yeah, I was an activist back in the day. Marched in the 1990 Earth Day Parade. That’s right, 1990, the big one. There was a TV special and everything. With Bette Midler!

We put our kids in cloth diapers. We used baking soda, vinegar and salt to unclog our drains. I was secretary of our local recycling committee before recycling was cool. Basically, what I’m saying is, “You’re welcome, Planet Earth.”

When we’re young, we think we’re going to change the world. Unlike those who decide they are going to change the world by making ridiculous amounts of money and accumulating unbelievable power – you know, the usual route – some young people challenge the system. In my case, this manifested itself in religiously rinsing out soup tins, not to mention my unfortunate bandana phase.

If nothing else, rebellion today is decidedly more stylish than it was back in the 1990s. I noticed this in Montreal a couple of Sundays ago when we went to the Tam-Tams on the mountain. If you’ve never been to the Tam-Tams, it’s a huge communal, would-be Woodstock be-in suntanning session centred around a pick-up drum circle that plays all through the afternoon, and people dance under the influence of the beat… and other substances. When we went in the early nineties, you could always count on there being one wiry old woman with long grey hair ecstatically whirling about, and I was pleased to note that she’s still there. Not the same old woman, of course. Because she’s probably dead.

Yes, I was feeling a little mortal. And who can blame me? We were at the Tam-Tams with our eldest daughter Emily who is nearly the same age I was when we first started going there. In terms of being part of non-conformist culture, she fits right it. She’s got the piercings and the tattoo and one side of her head is shaved. She’s travelled to Thailand to teach Burmese refugees. She wore the red square and joined the student protests.

Oh, and she’s a dumpster diver.

Yes, my daughter regularly forages in trash at commercial markets to retrieve food that the stores have thrown out because it’s expired or somehow imperfect or sometimes just because. At home, these dodgy food items would become soup, but for retailers, it’s trash. And trash, it turns out, is private property, which makes dumpster diving, as delightful as it sounds, illegal.

Recently, Emily was caught in flagrante disposo by a security guard who ordered her to put down the Portobello mushrooms and back away from the dumpster.

Emily argued with the guard that wasting perfectly good food was ridiculous, that preventing people from retrieving said food was ridiculous and, for good measure, that he himself was ridiculous. Hey, she was there to make supper, not friends.

As her father, I tell her that it is the law and the guard was doing his job and just call us if you need groceries. Yet, even though I expect to someday get that phone call that begins, “Dad, I’m in jail…” I can’t help but admire her for being so passionate about her principles and wanting to change the world. And not just talking, but doing. With the Tam-Tams sending me back in time-time, I realize her activism is more engaged and far messier than mine ever was – cloth diapers notwithstanding. That kind of gives me hope for the future.

When the poor security guard warned her that he would have to phone the police if she didn’t surrender the Portobellos, Emily demanded to know who she should talk to about changing the ridiculous policy. The guard said that it was a city law and that others had tried before her and failed. “Then I’ll just have to become mayor,” she said.

I don’t doubt she could. But she’ll have to work on her diplomatic skills. And maybe grow her hair back.


A version of this post originally appeared on CBC Radio “Breakaway.” You can fight the power and listen to the original here.


About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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39 Responses to The future lies in the dumpsters

  1. I love the tam tams!
    I haven’t tried dumpster diving, but I admire the environmental effort!!

  2. christawojo says:

    I admire Emily. Maybe if I had the courage of my convictions I would not need to die inside a little everyday and then try to drown my self-loathing in Pinot Noir.

  3. Paul says:

    As a dyed in the wool English Canadian (by random choice of the universe, not by me) I was blissfully ignorant of the Tam-Tams until about 5 years ago when a female friend of mine (and ex-Montrealer) dragged me off to the experience. It is amazing. As soon as I saw your picture with the eagle statue, I was, like, OMG, The Tam-Tams!

    Dumpster Diving – whew, that’s kind if a crap shoot. I certainly appreciate your daughter’s desire to “waste not want not” and I honestly think that disposed material should be considered public property, not private. That being said, I used to haul food in temperature controlled trailers for a living and that becomes quite a learning experience wrt bacteria growth and contamination, etc. It’s a probability game where you never know the beginning or developing status. So we used to control temp and exposure to contaminants and all the stuff that goes with it – sterilizing, handling, cooked/uncooked – just some factors that control safety and bacteria growth. Baceria growth rate is a function of many conditions, one of which is temperature. The rate is never zero. So, refrigerating slows growth and then warming increases growth. If it’s cooled again, the product retains the same pre-cooled concentration of bacteria. So when you dumpster dive you don’t know the preparation or cooking or storage history of the food you’re harvesting. Because our society is rightfully anal about maintenance of food safety, the likelyhood is that the dumpster food is fine. But without any controls,it’s a crap shoot – it could be in there because the food is going bad or has strayed in some way outside the range of safety. Likely it is just left over, but no gaurantees. That being said, in this society when you have no money, you have no food and no anything. I’ve had to scavenge for food during hard times in the past, and would definitely dumpster dive rather than go hungry – and damn the probabilities.

  4. I’m glad to hear that you’ve got hope for the future as regards your offspring. That gives ME hope, too.

  5. ksbeth says:

    the tam tam doesn’t fall far from the tree )

  6. I remember Earth Day in 1990. Maybe I’ll write about it someday. And your Emily is admirable…I can detect your fatherly pride from here.

  7. Letizia says:

    Nearly arrested for stealing portobello mushrooms; she sounds like my kind of girl!

  8. Ned's Blog says:

    I can think of worse Canadian mayors *cough cough* with far fewer scruples and even less conviction than that of your daughter. And by that I don’t mean the felony kind. She’s got initiative, gumption and apparently a good portobello mushroom recipe. She’s got my vote.

  9. List of X says:

    I hope Emily does become mayor, but I’m afraid that election platform of legalizing dumpster diving might not generate voter excitement. She’s going to need tam-tams.

  10. I marched in Washington D.C. during the Bush administration to support a woman’s right to have an abortion. I wouldn’t say my motivations were 100% altruistic. I knew there’d be a ton of girls there and I liked my odds. I wrote a chant for the march:

    I wish Bush could ovulate.

    It got me nowhere with the ladies, most of whom looked at me like I was the enemy.

    The problem is that once you’re making ridiculous amounts of money and accumulated unbelievable power, you don’t want ANYTHING to change.

    There’s a great program here in NYC called City Harvest. At the end of the day, instead of throwing it out, participating restaurants give their unsold meals to the homeless. You see City Harvest truck criss-crossing Manhattan after hours. It’s a brilliant idea and the homeless are getting some pretty great, expensive dishes.

  11. breezyk says:

    Good for Emily! I am pretty much the opposite of an activist given that I work on Bay Street, but I admire those who can stand up for their convictions rather than sell their soul to the man like I have. Also, I went to Tam Tams for the first time a few weeks ago! It reminded me of Trinity Bellwoods park here in Toronto, but less “hipster” and more “hippie”.

  12. Mick Theebs says:

    I think there’s a reason why only young people feel they can combat the status quo in this way. There’s a certain naivete to the mentality that the system can be challenged and changed with a few festivals, petitions, and demonstrations.
    The roots of the status quo run incomprehensibly deep, right into the very foundation of our society. That’s why it’s often the case that revolutions and uprisings are violent, because that’s the only way to chop out the deadwood.
    As you said yourself, the easiest way to change the world is to accumulate money and power. The catch is once people get money and power, they forget why they wanted to change the world.

    Nice article.

  13. If there’s one thing I can’t abide, it’s drum circles! Well, drum circles and mimes. Wait, drum circles, mimes, and phone solicitors.

    There are THREE things I can’t abide. Drum circles is one of them.

  14. peachyteachy says:

    This is one of my fave Ross posts and, for what it’s worth, I love your kid. Warn her that I will hug her if I ever meet her. No patchouli.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Ha! She’s mostly a scent-free girl, thank goodness. And my middle girl and youngest only wear light scents. If nothing else, I feel I’ve succeeded in this regard.

      Thanks, Peach.

  15. Chris Brown (not the felon) says:

    As Ned so pointedly pointed out (with a pointy stick, if I had to guess) Mayoraldom ain’t what it used to be. Back in the day it was something you aspired to. Now, thanks to his immenseness, it is something you trip over on your way to rehab.

    She is on a far better track guided, no doubt, by great parents.

  16. benzeknees says:

    I think I am way more radical than any of my kids. They do the recycling thing but they’re not passionate about it. They don’t think about wind power or solar power – I do. Maybe this is a product of me being around in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s & 90’s? I think I would be hard pressed to find any one of my daughters burning their bras or marching for women’s equality. They just expect it! Does that mean we did a good job in making a difference in the world for our children? Or does it mean we didn’t teach them better to fight for what they want?

  17. feel yummy when looking at the food photos 😛

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