Curbing Your Appetite

by KEVIN TAYLOR & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & R & lt;/span & emember the scene in Lady and the Tramp with... gosh, I guess it was Lady -- and the Tramp! -- eating spaghetti amid the trash cans behind the restaurant? & r & & r & When Jayce Robertson and his friends visit dumpsters behind various eateries in Spokane in the nighttime, or come downtown during popular events, it is a case of life imitating Disney animation. Except without the accidental lip-lock and schmaltzy soundtrack.

It's not for romance that Jayce will sometimes make dinner from a dumpster -- truly a feast for the senses. There is a whiff of social scolding, a dash of adventure, mixed with a thorough assessment of waste in our society and topped with a dollop of rumbly stomach.

"It's free food. How can you turn that down?" Jayce asks. He is thin and young and personable, often smiling from behind a curly beard.

The Inlander encountered Jayce and several friends at Bloomsday, sifting the trash bins in Riverfront Park for a meal and castaway clothing. They certainly weren't furtive about it and didn't appear desperate. In fact, Jayce said at the time, he's cutting costs to save for a sailboat.

He and his friends have been eating on the cheap for three years, fishing out of garbage cans for food that you or I may have tossed at parades and Hoopfest. Pig Out at the Park is the absolute treasure trove.

Saturday evening, Jayce agreed to cruise the Lilac Parade to talk about the ethic of found food and anticonsumerism.

"Freegan is a good way to put it," he says. The group members he hangs around with have all the earmarks of the Freegan subculture, but don't tag themselves with something so mainstream as an identifying term.

Jayce and his friends share living space, seek meaningful lives, and engage in communal outreach efforts like feeding low-income people through Food Not Bombs. No, they don't use dumpster food for that.

Dumpster diving is personal. Just beyond the runner statues downtown, Jayce pokes through a pizza box he pulled from the trash. Calmly, he inventories the remains as people glare, arms crossed in disgust.

"Did you see those looks?" he asks with a smile. "You get those a lot."

He doesn't intend to provoke.

"It's not like a scare tactic. The fact that people would spend all this money -- or can spend all this money -- $5 for a slice of pizza, take a bite out of it and throw it away is completely wasteful and confusing to me."

It's about overabundance, the cornucopia of trash from a rich corner of a hungry world. It's about recycling.

"It's also to feed us," he says with an amiable shrug.

Jayce talks about the Freegan experience in bigger cities, where the greater density of restaurants and food shops creates urban lore.

"There are certain dumpsters around that are, like, legendary dumpsters. Over in Seattle there is the Naked, you know the fruit drink, dumpster that I've heard about. When I was down in Ashland, Oregon, they had a Godiva Chocolate dumpster."

Enquiring minds want to know: Is this the date dumpster?

"That would be kind of a ridiculous date," Jayce says with a laugh.

Yeah, well, gobbling on garbage is kind of a ridiculous dinner.

Spokane is Spokane in all things, it turns out. Jayce reports a thinner spread of mediocre dumpsters here. Great, another civic self-esteem issue. Are we falling behind Boise? Do we need to get the economic development boyos to attract trash to the city that is bolder, cooler, trendier? And, um... greener?

Hey, how do you tell...

"If it's rotten?" Jayce intercepts. "Well, mold is a good indicator." He laughs some more. Digging through a dumpster can be pretty gross, he admits, and curbside diners gear up with masks, gloves and a stick. But a neophyte would be surprised at how much food is sealed and packaged. As far as Jayce is concerned, free-range trash in an open dumpster does not a lovely comestible make.

"I'm more of a picky eater than some of my friends," he says.

Jayce gets a little canny about not wanting to give up the GPS coordinates for specific dumpsters. He is, in a way, guarding a favorite fishing hole.

"But a lot of this is common sense," he admits.

Pizza places are the best for food. Misorders and stuff under the hot lamps at closing time are tossed and can be retrieved -- still warm and in boxes -- by a savvy hunter.

Something as simple as damaged packaging leads to primo finds of both perfectly good food and consumer goods that have been trashed behind office supply stores or grocery outlets.

Spying an empty box of Krispy Kreme donuts in a downtown garbage can, Jayce brightens: "Krispy Kreme -- that's the best dumpster in Spokane!"

People standing nearby regard Jayce with stunned expressions, as if he had just announced he was going to set their pants on fire.

In most ways, Jayce is a perfectly ordinary Spokane kid. He grew up just north of the city, recently landed a cool job at a bike shop. It's just that he's been dumpster diving since graduating from high school in 2005.

His folks are pretty aware, he says, even tipping him to a TV segment on Freeganism. "My grandparents though, if they read this, they might fall over in a dead faint."

Hmm. Something to chew on.

American Original: The Life and Work of John James Audubon @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

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