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"On Dumpster Diving" by Lars Eighner

 "On Dumpster Diving" is a process essay that outlines Lars Eighner's actions that allowed him to survive life on the streets. The author discusses how he uses Dumpsters as a means for survival: The Dumpsters are a source of food, as well as objects such as clothing. Throughout the essay, Eighner describes the many things that can be found when scavenging in a Dumpster. He approaches the reality of homelessness in an honest yet amusing manner.

An integral part of the essay is Eighner's tips on finding safe and edible food within Dumpsters. The author states that "a lot of good food can be found in Dumpsters"(Eighner 200). He goes on to discuss how the food that he acquires ends up in the garbage. Many people with a regular source of food will make more waste then is necessary; Perfectly good food often ends up in the garbage. Although to many the thought of eating from a Dumpster is repulsive, it is a reality that many disadvantaged people in the world face. Eighner describes certain locations where he frequently scavenges that he knows the food will be safe, such as the areas inhabited by well-off students.

The language and humour that Eighner uses makes his situation seem more tolerable. The essay contains a great number of moments that make the reader laugh at the content, such as the author's description of his dog's reaction to ants. Eighner describes how his dog "does the Dance of the Zillion Fire Ants"(Eighner 206) when she finds ants outside of a Dumpster. Although plenty of the essay is amusing to read, Eighner brings in the realities of life on the streets, stating that "Dumpster diving has serious drawbacks as a way of life"(Eighner 203).

This essay also gives an interesting and relevant look into our consumer society. Eighner poses the idea that Dumpster divers like himself fill a particular niche within our consumer society. With our mass consumption of goods, there is more and more waste to be made. Our garbage becomes a survival resource to the homeless of our cities. Eighner also discusses how when he scavenges an item he knows that he will only keep it temporarily. With our society based on the hoarding of material goods, it is refreshing that some people have a different outlook and a different set of values placed in material possessions. 

Eighner uses a great deal of variation within his sentence and paragraph structures. While some sentences are long and complex, others are short and very focused. Many of the paragraphs are quite short in length and the essay moves at a fairly rapid pace. Also, the author's language is very sophisticated and archaic, a common trait among people from the southern United States. Eighner's essay, although dealing with intense and serious subject matter, is engaging and understandable for the reader.

I found this essay an interesting piece to read. I had never viewed Dumpster diving in this light. The common thought among many is that people who do scrounge in Dumpsters are sick and disturbed. This essay is a clear view that many people who live on the streets are just disadvantaged, not crazy or scary. I found the author's comparison between Dumpster divers and can scroungers to be another interesting point in the essay. In my mind, I would have lumped the two together. This goes to show that even among the homeless, there are social divisions and stratifications. I have also always wondered about the ethics of owning an animal when one cannot even afford to look after ones self. I understand that pets provided a type of safety and companionship for people living on the streets, but is it fair to put animals in these situations? I believe that Dumpster diving is an easy action to judge, but people must step back and analyze what they would do if they were in the same situations. Eighner's essay gives society a new way in which to look at homeless people and the actions they must take in order to survive. As humans we must learn to suspend judgment of others and give respect to all those that deserve it, even if they do not have a home and must use garbage for subsistence.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Nov. 17th, 2008 01:12 am (UTC)
first off, i have to say geeze cuz i completely skipped out on commenting on the consumers that he focused on....

I also seem to have skipped on commenting about sentence structures...

I see your side about whether or not it is good ethics for someone who cannot afford to care for themselves to have a pet. In my opinion, although they may not be able to buy proper food for the animal, the person provides a better bond than most of the families (even within my own) that do own pets. When living in a home with kids, the kids have school, homework and sometimes after school activities. Parents have jobs, or have other things to tend to, but often times they still have pets. The animals don't get as much attention, sometimes the only times they get to see their owners is when they get fed and to go out to the bathroom, but most times the animals just mozey on by themselves.

I know that this can make the animal sad because they do need social interactions, like dogs for example, unlike cats, you can't just throw them outside and expect them to find fun things to do, the best the dog would do is run out into traffic and chase after cars. In this sense I think it is just fine for him to have Lizbeth. Even if he could have taken her to an organization that would find the animals a home, the cages aren't large enough for them to enjoy and they sit as prisoners in waiting to be taken to a new place with more space to move around but not necessarily any better than where they're at momentarily. Also when you look at the food that we feed our pets, I don't see how that's much better for them than eating food in dumpsters, only because the only thing they really provide the animal is nutrients and protein, which is just the essentials they need to survive, which is basically the same thing that Eighner and Lizbeth were doing: finding things essential to their survival.

Of course in a home they'd be fed in better frequency and be someplace warm, but I don't think that Lizbeth would have stuck around if he didn't take care of her and make sure she wouldn't eat harmful things.
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