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Setting the table with a rejected feast

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Dive! Living off America’s waste
Jeremy Seifert, producer

Last week, as I lay bleeding on the pavement of downtown Winnipeg’s Main Street, surrounded by my bike and a large pile of food, including two garbage bags of peas now scattered across the sidewalk, I began to consider the cost of dumpster diving. For those unfamiliar with the term, “dumpster diving” is an act of deliberate resistance against a broken food system and overindulgent culture that produces more than it can consume on a daily basis. Or, more simply known as “picking through trash for food.”

It’s also the subject of Dive, a film produced by independent filmmaker Jeremy Seifert. Seifert documents his journey of uncovering vast stockpiles of food in the dumpsters of empire. Seifert and others salvage food from large bins behind grocery stores across his Los Angeles neighbourhood. We follow Seifert’s tireless efforts of digging up, sorting, and storing wasted food that is often still in excellent condition.

While providing food for family and friends, Seifert quickly discovers his group alone cannot keep up with the amount of food going to waste. Seifert pushes his audience to think about the greater systemic issue at the root of this problem: the broken food system and our decreasing value on food. How could this wasted food be used for people in need? Through his journey, Seifert discovers the preciousness of food, the current state of wastefulness in his neighbourhood (replicated across the nation), and the need to use this problem to address another – economic poverty.

Although I lost a few peas on the street during last week’s dive, our fridge remains full of food. The film also makes clear that one can overindulge from the dumpsters just as one can in a thrift store; one can contribute to the excess that permeates our society even by being “thrifty.”

However, at House Blend Ministries, the intentional community where I live, we are blessed with an environment that makes it easier to share our food – and our lives – with neighbours and friends, including those in need. In fact, it has become a mutual exchange of dumpster sharing between veterans and newcomers like myself. It is not uncommon for a guest to come bearing gifts from the dumpster in an exchange that is mutually valued.

Dive is an excellent film for youth groups and the entire church. Although there is no overt Christian message, it should not take long to draw some important themes for the church. As we, the church, break bread using the discarded remains of dumpster food, we are humbled by the reminder of not only the preciousness of food but also the preciousness of Christ who gives himself to us, and of the many people who make up the body of Christ here on earth. As well, we are reminded by the gift of creation of our call to a kind of stewardship and care for this earth that goes above and beyond the current state of our culture; an ability to see a discarded piece of trash as something of value and goodness.

This film ought to inspire the church, especially as a community that is locally and globally connected, to create a space at “the table” for people from all walks of life. At this table, we will taste and see how our relationship with our food and each other says something about our relationship with our God.

Brad Langendoen is a student at Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, and a resident member of House Blend Ministries, an intentional community and alternative expression of church through hospitality to the marginalized in Winnipeg’s downtown West End and West Broadway neighbourhoods.

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