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.