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On Dumpster Diving Essay

Quite by accident, I found the essay On Dumpster Diving by Lars Eighner on the pages of Seagull magazine. The first lines of it captured my interest considerably, for as I had never read about dumpster diving or scavenging before. On Dumpster Diving is a piece of large Eighner’s work called Travels with Lizbeth (1993), which was based on his own experience of homelessness. The author engages me by telling the origin and meaning of the term Dumpster Diver, presenting his survival guide with specified rules and regulations. Dumpster is a trademark of garbage loading onto trucks system. Dumpster diving involves persons voluntarily climbing into rubbish bins (dumpsters) to find valuables or simply useful items, including food and used clothing. Eighner writes that the life of a beggar traveling without any money opened his eyes to the fact that all those containers with waste are real “supermarkets” for the poor, and they are not only a source of survival, but also a depositary of high-quality and diverse food. Anyhow, there is a risk in eating such findings.

According to Eighner’s experience, taking food out of dumpsters should involve three simple principles: “using the senses and common sense to evaluate the condition of the found materials, knowing the Dumpsters of a given area and checking them regularly, and seeking always to answer the question, “Why was this discarded?” Narrator advises to avoid such foods as game, poultry, pork, and egg-based meals. Soft drinks testing should be based on their fizzing vigorously. Being a scavenger, one has to notice the least signs of visible contaminates. Notwithstanding the scavenger has no indemnity of self- intoxication. Later on Lars tells about “a predictable series of stages a person goes through in learning to scavenge,” in which disgust at the beginning gives way to indiscriminate acquiring of the things.

The story also includes information about the “can-divers” and their way of diving featured as unethical and impudent. The plot of it is neither compound nor rich in events and characters. However, it is thought provoking. The author gives us detailed guidance how to survive being a dumpster diver. Reading the essay, I asked myself right along whether it was the only aim of Eighner to teach us those rules. As the story progressed, I picked up the writer’s conception gradually. His essay exemplifies the wasteful nature of American society and implies that it is the result of materialistic values but also ignorance and lack of understanding. People unreasonably throw out even food that is appropriate for using: “Students throw out many good things including food…the item was thrown out through carelessness, ignorance, or wastefulness.”(Eighner)

The scavenger can acquire “boom boxes, candles, bedding, toilet paper, medicine, books, a typewriter, a virgin male love doll, change sometimes amounting to many dollars” in the dumpsters. I suppose the purpose of the article is also to show how immoral is to throw out good food and things, knowing that thousands are starving and suffering from poverty. However, exactly that garbage helps him to survive at difficult times. Eighner’s reasoning for why people are materialistic derives from the concept that they are lost and unsure of what they want. In a way, his short essay On Dumpster Diving, suggests to his readers that to achieve the state of satisfaction, they need to know what they want.

He states, “Almost everything I have now has already been cast at least once, proving that what I own is valueless to someone.” The author himself collects only things that are of benefit to him and leaves the rest for the benefit of others. The article shows that the writer being homeless still keeps his intelligent, clever, and sentimental way of thinking. He emphasises the transience of material being and says, “Once I was the sort of person who invests material objects with sentimental value. Now I no longer have those things, but I have the sentiments yet.”(Eighner)

I think, describing all the rules of dumpster diving Lars Eighner represents us the necessity of keeping the etiquette even in adversity. The breakers of that common law are the “can-divers.” They, as contrasted with the true scavengers, look only for the money there and mix the contents of the dumpster making it more difficult to find the truly good things, the author explains. The worst in can scroungers’ actions is their audacity to go through individual containers in front of peoples homes, something a true diver would never do. Doing that the can diver finds different prescriptions, diaries and things the owner throws out. It is clear that privacy disclosing would embarrass us. Eighner exclaims against private invasion, thus demonstrating his culture and humanism.

The last paragraph where Lars compares himself to ultra-wealthy is the most interesting point of the essay, to my mind. The rich people can acquire anything they like and the money does not stand in the way of doing that. The dumpster diver gets the things from dumpsters free too. Author’s analysis is that the truly rich or the truly poor are those who do not want or need. In his comparison, Lars means that he and the super-rich do not need the items the rest of us do. He can just go out and find them. The narrator tries to show the positives of his profession, but does not overlook the negatives as well, following it with the words: “Dumpster diving has serious drawbacks as a way of life.”

The main idea of Lars Eighner in his essay is to assure us that any hopeless situation has its way out. The life goes on even if you meet difficulties… He calls us for keeping our cultural and ethical talents even when being in the lowest state of life. We may not forget that having materialistic values over moral ones destroys and vitiates us from inside.

In the unique voice – dry, disciplined, poignant, comic- Eighner celebrates the triumph of the artistic spirit in the face of enormous adversity, thus, inspiring me for true respect.


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