The following in an excerpt from my book Where the Wind Blows: Traveling around the World on $5 a day
We on snapped yellow rubber gloves, dove into over-sized, expendable jackets and hopped out of the car. In bold Dutch lettering a sign above the dumpsters said something unintelligible, I ignored it and drew open the heavy steel door. A hollow creak reverberated through the trashcan as a stench reached out and plucked the hairs from our noses.
I jumped back, propelled by this stench force field. The metal door crashed, filling the night air with the sound of steel on steel. I froze, Walla didn’t.
“Stop being a baby, just hold your nose and dive in” She said as she reopened the door and leaned into the can. “See look here” she said, her Dutch accent bouncing off the steel walls and escaping out of the open door.
She pulled out a large trash bag, and unwrapped it “The food isn’t dirty, the food is clean,” she flashed the goods to me, small portions of shrink-wrapped bacon, veggie burgers, half thawed frozen meals and iced bags of diced vegetables.
“You’re going to eat the bacon?” I asked, remembering the times in so many undeveloped counties where my friends made the terrible decision to down not-so-fresh street meat. Times like that made me glad I was a vegetarian.
“No, don’t be silly, we don’t eat meat from the trash, if we want meat we will buy it. But these are good” She pulled out the diced vegetables, and veggie burgers and handed them too me. Handful after handful and soon my arms were loaded. “Go shove that in the car”.
I dumped them into a cardboard box in the back and headed back.
“The smell comes from old stuff that leaked out and rotted on the trashcan floor” she continued as she pulled out another bag, this one too full of the same stuff. She threw it back.
“Ah, we don’t want them?”
We have enough, let’s leave them for someone else
Yea, of course, you don’t think we are the only ones who come here? If we take everything what will the others eat.
Yea, there are a lot of squatters in the city, and if the squatters don’t take it then someone else will.”
I nodded, I had met her back in Cambodia, and there she had told me about squatting, about moving into abandoned homes and living there, according to her it was easy. She had once told me that all you had to do, was find a peaceful way into an empty home, wait a bit, and then invite the police over. The police would then smile, be nice, maybe share some tea and cookies and file a report notifying the owner, if one existed, that the house was now being occupied. Ok I made up the tea and cookies part but that is the way she made it sound.
We finished up with that trashcan and moved to the next. It was my turn, I dove in, my body folding in on the door frame, the metal biting into my abs. Inside, the world was different, dark, humid and smelly like one might imagine, the limited light reflected off the creases of the black plastic bags, setting them on fire, glowing like the holy grail. I opened one, and rainbows poured out. No frozen food, or individually wrapped processed nonsense, but whole, clean, unblemished, vegetables. Whole heads of cauliflower and lettuce, fresh potatoes, piles of tomatoes and grapes still connected with vines. A middle aged pair pineapples herded a flock of oranges in the corner. I opened another bag, and the bounty continued, rolls of bread, white and wheat, baked with cheeses, and filled with chocolates. “Can I take it all,” I called out.
“Do you need it all?”
“I can eat it all.”
“Then take most of it, don’t worry, they throw away this same stuff every day. If they are afraid the fruit or veggies will go bad, they toss them, worse than that, they toss all the bread every day, it all goes to waste. I think everyone else is tired of eating it, the last time we came, we didn’t even look into this trashcan.”
I heaved the bags out, loaded them in the back and together we headed home.
The vegetables were clean, she assured me “They just toss them into the bag together, they know someone is going to eat them, and they aren’t assholes, so they make sure not to put anything nasty into the bag, you just have to wash them a little.
I nodded as I bathed the tomatoes in dish soap. I was sure I could remove the germs, but removing this much soap would be a problem. I washed them, scrubbed them, cleaned them and put them aside to dry. I dropped the grapes and potatoes into boiling water and moved on to the cauliflower.
The lettuce was easy to clean. After all cleaning, for me, for you, for everyone, isn’t about cleaning, it’s about tricking our minds into believing its clean, which nothing ever is. I chucked off a layer of the lettuce and showered it under boiling water. “Clean” my subconscious agreed and I set it aside. The cauliflower was more difficult, how do you clean something with so many little pores, likes hands bound together, and potentially dirty fingers poking everywhere. I washed it, scolded it, and then with the precision of a surgeon or mad scientist, sliced off the outermost layer, the very tips of the little dirty fingers.
I boiled the potatoes and cauliflower down into almost nothing, threw in a few spices and claimed it was Allo- Gobi. “It’s so delicious” Walla said as she threw me a teeth exposing smile.