Alum Shares Food Salvaged From Dumpster

Saved food represents social bonding for Spring Greeney '09 and friends

At some time between 10 p.m. and midnight on a predeterminded day of the week, Spring Greeney ’09 and her three housemates board their bikes and make the trek to a series of closed local grocery stores. They park their bikes behind the store, and open the side dumpster door.

Greeney said that most of the food worth salvaging is put into the dumpster last, so they only open a few bags on top before moving on to the next store. A good 45-minute trip will yield a duffle bag of pastries that the four of them can hardly finish in a week.

The lifestyle, referred to by its practitioners as “dumpstering”—not to be confused with “dumpster-diving”—involves scavenging grocery store dumpsters after hours for food that is still packaged and edible, Greeney explains. She and her housemates, who jokingly call themselves the “Hippo Commune,” mostly collect pies, tarts, cakes, and bread from trash bags they find at the top of dumpsters.

“I’ve never been in a dumpster,” she said. “I’m a little bit scared and nervous about it.”

Greeney made her first foray into the world of dumpstering only after moving in with her housemates in August, who she said make at least one trip to local dumpsters a week.

Since then she has only joined them on three occasions, but routinely eats the food they bring back to the apartment.

But Greeney took issue when a recent story in The Boston Globe called her a “freegan,” a term that has been used to describe an anti-consumerist lifestyle that includes tactics like “dumpster diving” and squatting.

“‘Freegan,’ to me, denotes a very radical, vocally critical individual who, similar to some members of the environmental movement, tends to be self-righteous in a way that turns a lot of people off,” she said. “I’ve always been fighting not to come across as a crazy radical. I do shower and shave and wear deodorant and eat meat.”

Greeney recognizes that the happenstance of her name, that she grew up in liberal Amherst, Mass., and that she concentrated in Environmental Science and Public Policy while at the College all make it difficult for her to claim that she is not a “radical environmentalist.” Greeney said that her brand of environmentalism is focused on people’s quality of life.

“I’m not interested in saving the whales, but I’m interested in people,” she said, “and would probably not dumpster if I stopped living with my current housemates.”

Currently, Greeney works at a state environmental office that focuses on the technological aspects of the environmental movement, but says that she aspires to effect change through cultural and educational reform.

—Staff writer Xi Yu can be reached at xyu@college.harvard.edu.

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