One of the perks of being a food editor is that I get to invite myself to interesting dinners.
Glamour is not always on the menu, but eccentricity most certainly is.
Friday night was a prime example.
A colleague heard an interview on NPR with a Tufts University student who has been getting a lot of publicity for his “Gleaner’s Kitchen” project. He’s a dumpster diver, a free-gan, who routinely feeds people garbage and dreams of creating a space, The Gleaner’s Kitchen, where the food is free and the creativity is ripe.
He has a really wonderful way of talking about turning “waste into wealth,” subverting systems that disrupt access to food, and participating in traditions of gleaning and feeding people the predate the supermarket.
My curiosity was piqued, so I got on the gmail and secured a dinner invitation for myself and a few friends.
It’s always a little nerve-wracking going to a stranger’s home for dinner (which I find myself in the routine of doing rather often and highly recommend). The assumption, generally, though is that while conversation might be halting and seasonings or servings might be foreign, a host is not going to serve garbage to his guests.
Garbage, of course, was exactly what everyone knew was Friday’s menu raison d’etre.
This garbage though was name-brand and high-end. It came from Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, establishments which throw away thousands of dollars of groceries every night for various reasons, spoilage not necessarily being the primary one.
The Gleaner’s Kitchen in its current incarnation is a Tufts University affinity house. My friends and I Friday joined ten or so “Crafties” for their regular Friday evening feast. We had lamb ribs, and sauteed vegetables, curried lentils and rice. Kick-Ass cupcakes and pear cider. It was quite a spread, all completely edible. I still haven’t gotten sick.
It also was a menu informed not by what we wanted, but by what was available. This philosophy of cookery has been getting a lot of play for its seasonality recently, but it’s especially interesting to think about it in terms of economics. That version might be even more ancient than the seasonal/local variety.
After my garbage dinner I don’t think I’m going to become a full-time dumpster-diving anarchist free-gan any time soon, but I am intrigued by the idea of taking a closer look at the waste I and my community leave in our wakes. With curiosity and ingenuity, there might just be wealth there.