The Revolution Will Not Involve Day-Old Sushi

A pair of professional "scavengers" say that with the economy in the tank, dumpster diving's moment has arrived!

As today's Salon tells us, Anneli Rufus and Kristan Lawson have penned "The Scavengers' Manifesto," a how-to not just on dumpster diving, but also sidewalk scavenging, thrifting, recycling and "repurposing":

Getting something for nothing — or close to it — is their way of life, and it defines what they wear, eat, how they decorate their home, right down to the way Lawson dispenses with the whiskers on his chinny-chin-chin. (He has literally never paid for shaving cream, using free samples that companies give away to U.C. Berkeley students to get them hooked on their brands.) These two are no slumming trust-fund babies. Rather, they save so much money scavenging that Lawson hasn't worked a full-time job in over a decade, and Rufus never has, which just gives the two writers — they've both written other books — time for their perpetual hunting.

Yes, they live in the scavenger's paradise that is Berkeley, but the pair feels strongly that with people tightening their belts and cutting back, as well as living greener, the liefstyle need not be regarded as the purview of old hippies and slumming students any longer. And as much as this, they hope to share the adventure and excitement of the scavenger's life-as-hunt.

In today's dire economic climate, Lawson and Rufus invite us to think of ourselves not as cash-poor consumers with so much less to spend but as resourceful thrift shoppers, yard salers, discount shoppers, free-box foragers, clothing swappers, freecyclers and maybe even Dumpster divers.

Theirs is a particularly easy-going worldview; they don't even condemn consumption as such, knowing that it fuels their lifestyle. In this they're distinct from militant "freegans" (a phenomenon profiled in a recent Marie Claire) a movement of several thousand people who define themselves as radical environmentalists consciously rejecting consumer culture, "corporate greed" and capitalism. Because of the incredible waste in most cities, it's easy to come by as much good food as one wants, and full-time dumpster-divers seem inured to squeamishness.

They're right, of course; American excess is shocking. But if Rufus and Lawson are laboring under the misapprehension that all that's keeping most of us from the wonders of the lifestyle was great riches, they've got another think coming. (And if they think they haven't got "disciples" on every campus in the land, we can all produce a few quinoa feasts as exhibit A.) If they're defining scavenging as thrift, bargain-hunting, second-hand shopping, a little sidewalk foraging (not since the bed bug outbreak, thanks), then they're right, most of us do it already to some degree. And that's the point: the "lifestyle" they advocate seems to be a full-time job, one that demands a tremendous time investment. Then too, what they consider mindfulness could easily become a kind of all-consuming self-absorption, as unhealthy and anti-social as any other food fixation. And speaking of the granddaughter of a man who once picked up an empty chowder sourdough "bread bowl" off the beach and insisted we eat it for dinner, well, all I can say is "adventure" has its limits.

Taking In The Trash [Salon]
She Lives Off What We Throw Away [Marie Claire]