This Project can be Upcycled where Facilities are Available: An Adventure Through Toronto's Food/Waste Scape
Coyne, Michelle M.
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At the intersection of food, regulations, and subjective experiences is a new way of understanding the intersection of wasted food—a new category of edibility. This project investigates the reasons for, and impacts of, politically-motivated dumpster diving and food reclamation activism in Toronto, Canada. The research incorporates ethnographic participant-observation and interviews with politically-motivated dumpster divers in Toronto, as well as that city’s chapter of Food Not Bombs. The project primarily asks how so much quality food/waste is thrown away and becomes, at times, available to be recovered, reworked, and eaten. My research constitutes a living critique of the hybrid experience of food and waste where the divisions between the two categories are not found in locations (the grocery store or dumpster), but rather in the circulations of actions and meanings that dumpster divers themselves re-invest in discarded edible food products. My research objectives are: (1) to document the experience of dumpster divers in Toronto as connected to a broader movement of food/waste activism around the world; (2) to connect this activism to discussions of food safety and food regulations as structuring factors ensuring that edible food is frequently thrown away; (3) to contextualize contemporary food/waste activism within a history of gleaning, and in relation to enclosure acts that have left Canada with no legal protections for gleaners nor recognition of the mutually beneficial social relation between gleaners and farmers; (4) to explore dumpster divers’ work as part of the circulation of urban culture within media networks. Ultimately, I isolate alternative gift economies as central to dumpster divers’ critique of industrial food distribution within the commodity systems of global capitalism. This gifting relation proves to be, in part, a nostalgic view of an idealized past. Nonetheless, the gifting relation becomes an ideal linked to broader anarchist communities that allows divers to create communal subject identities that exist outside of market relations, made global through communication networks of independent and self-published media. By connecting globally, the small-scale, local actions of Food Not Bombs chapters around the world allow surprisingly few individuals to spread a politic with the potential to impact beyond their limited political circles. This project is theoretically situated at the junction of studies of material culture, food and food waste, and new social movements; I connect political experience in local communities to the circulation of food and waste through urban environments and media networks. For the dumpster diver, edibility is delinked from purchase price and is instead imbedded in systems of power and active resistance.