Dumpsters, Not Supermarkets: The Alternative Food-Access Life

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Chloé Rossetti


Living in New Haven, a town without a full-service grocery store (since Shaw's closed its doors in March 2010), can mean a daunting and dire food access situation. But for some, it can also be a blessing. We are made to cultivate a food landscape that is varied and interesting, and stitched together in unusual ways. I look to my own house and community for inspiration. Homemade jams from my housemate's mother are spread atop a day-old bagel, with a cup of milk from the farmers' market. Local honey goes into a dressing with balsamic vinegar and salt from an organic food store, along with olive oil salvaged from a dumpster. Needless to say, grocery shopping for the week is a rugged, drawn-out, but ultimately satisfying adventure.

Dinner parties, when catered out of a dumpster with a lot of helping hands, are of little financial and logistical consequence.

At around 12:01 a.m. on a newly-minted Monday, we pull into the empty parking lot of some large-scale grocery store or other and run across the parking lot toward a dumpster. Employees have left for the evening, and a bounty of fresh detritus awaits us. Squeezing ourselves through the chute, we are knee-deep in a field of societal food access dysfunction. Sunday morning has seen the removal of a week's worth of questionable waste; Sunday night has brought us the freshest produce, merely hours past its expiration date. Shed of its context, the food is good, plentiful, and very ready to eat. Humble scavengers, we thank the Food Deities as we bring home a bounty of still-edible Ezekiel bread, broccoli, strawberries, cheese, oranges, bean dip, tortilla chips, whoopie pies, cookies, and chocolate cake.

During the week, we make many tamer but necessary trips around the neighborhood. We stop regularly at our local cafés and coffee shops, picking up bags of day-old bread that have been donated to the sidewalk. Someone goes to our corner store for milk and eggs, or to a nearby organic food store for bulk items if need be, such as seeds, grains, and beans. If one of our Yale Sustainable Food Project employees is lucky, he or she brings home a small bounty of Yale Farm-grown organic and sustainable veggies.

Saturday morning arrives. My housemate saddles up our bike-cart to his bicycle and the two of us hurtle down Chapel Street to pick up our Stone Gardens Farm CSA from the Wooster Square farmers' market. Then, on Sunday afternoon, my neighbor drives to Edgewood Market to help one of the farmers dismantle his stand in return for leftover produce, which is shared among some local student houses.

Living a life of alternative food access abundance, we have discovered, is a great antidote to stinginess of every kind. Sharing among neighbors is common; we over-represent at every potluck; we can feed any guest at any time of the day. Group cooking experiences in the neighborhood (usually homemade pizzas) will yield enough for at least two dinners.

The cost of dinner is lowered, too: at least half of the food in our house comes at no cost to us, and often we are so inundated that we willfully pass our labored fruits along to our like-minded neighbors. Our 12-week CSA, at $600, brings the cost of groceries in our six-person household to eight dollars per person per week, and usually there is some produce left at the end of the week to freeze for when CSA season is over.

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Chloé Rossetti is a senior at Yale University, majoring in art. She is the current photography intern for the Yale Sustainable Food Project. Her time is split among making things in her studio, thinking in her kitchen, and attending YSFP events.

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