The decay spreads over the State, and the sweet smell is a great sorrow on the land. Men who can graft the trees and make the seed fertile and big can find no way to let the hungry people eat their produce.  Men who have created new fruits in the world cannot create a system whereby the fruits may be eaten. And the failure hangs over the state like a great sorrow.

The works of the roots of the vines, of the trees, must be destroyed to keep up the price, and this is the saddest, bitterest thing of all.  Carloads of oranges dumped on the ground.  The people came for miles to take the fruit, but this could not be.  How would they buy oranges at twenty cents a dozen if they could drive out and pick them up?  And men with hoses squirt kerosene on the oranges, and they are angry at the crime, angry at the people who have come to take the fruit…

Burn coffee for fuel in the ships. Burn corn to keep warm, it makes a hot fire. Dump potatoes in the rivers and place guards along the banks to keep the hungry people from fishing them out. Slaughter the pigs and bury them, and let the putrescence drip down into the earth.

There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize. There is a failure here that topples all our success. The fertile earth, the straight tree rows, the sturdy trunks, and the ripe fruit. And children dying of pellagra must die because a profit cannot be taken from an orange…

And in the eyes of the people there is the failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath…”

– John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (1939)

Everywhere you go, it’s the same story. Homeless recyclers in San Francisco who eke out a living by redeeming aluminum cans claim they’re being stopped and cited for rooting through the garbage. Food Not Bombs claims that more and more stores that once furnished the ingredients for free, collaboratively prepared, vegan meals are installing trash compactors. An itinerant Hungarian diver I spoke to recently told me, “No matter where you go, it’s getting harder.” Capitalism is reclaiming its waste.

On the surface, it seems absurd that anyone would bother to guard their garbage. But, in various guises, it’s happening. I’ve seen it particularly acutely in New York. First, employees at the Trader Joe’s on 14th Street started harassing divers outside the store and threatening trespassing tickets. The hot food bar on the Lower East Side no longer let the freegans come in and take what they were about to pitch. And then the D’Agostino’s on 38th and 35th started rushing their garbage out to the curb just a few seconds before the sanitation truck arrived.

Still, I always thought the tales about stores pouring bleach on their food were apocryphal. That was, until this Saturday. I opened up a dumpster legendary for an unfathomable smorgasbord of pre-packaged foods only to discover that every yogurt, every pack of meat, every loaf of bread, every plastic container of fair-trade vegan organic quinoa salad, had been methodically and meticulously slashed open. And, in the deep wounds that marred every item of the otherwise unblemished food, there was the unmistakable smell of bleach.

I should say at this point that I’m ambivalent about whether I should be a dumpster-diver. Although my current income is low (hovering around $0/month), I still have the sense that—as someone with means—I should be “voting with my dollar” for some positive alternatives. Food doesn’t grow in dumpsters, and for local, vegan, organic food to become affordable and available, people like me need to support it. The fact that I sometimes listen to my iPod on the walks home from my dives makes me inconsistent; the fact that I occasionally buy food from the same stores I’m diving just makes me a hypocrite.

When I’m diving, though, I meet people who really seem to need the food. For some, dumpster diving gives them a sense of autonomy and self-reliance they could never get from food stamps. Others, I’m fairly sure, would just go hungry were it not for the stores’ surplus. On Saturday, I gazed at the yogurt graveyard alongside an elderly couple: they were, not incidentally, the ones willing to brave the health risks and eat the bleached food.

My last post was a long tirade against supermarkets, so why not pile on a little more criticism. Stores usually claim that the reason they don’t donate food is that it’s too time consuming and expensive (they’d probably proffer the same excuse for why what they do donate is sometimes inedible crap). But individually slashing hundreds of yogurts takes longer than putting them in a box for the food bank. Stores aren’t trying to save time or money; they’re trying to ensure that food remains a commodity that we can only have access to if we buy it.

Pouring bleach on the garbage is another striking admission of guilt. I’ve been told to my face by supermarket managers that they donate “everything that’s still safe for people to eat” to charity. The corollary is that anything in their dumpsters must be spoiled, rotten, and dangerous. But if this were true, there’d be no need to pour bleach on it: why add poison to poison? The reason dumpsters have to be locked is not to protect us: it’s to protect the proverbial bottom line, by convincing us to buy what we could once get for free.

As for the rest, well, if not cake, let them eat bleach.

2 thoughts on “Bleach

  1. You are thinking of food as food. The store owners and their hired managers, think of it not as food, but as property, as their business investment on which they expect to make as much profit as possible.

    I suppose it must have begun thousands of year ago, when someone decided that he (and it was must certainly a he, for a female would have wanted to ensure that her children and her relatives and her neighbors had enough to eat) decided that a certain fruit tree was HIS tree. Nobody else’s. His alone. He built a shelter near that tree and guarded it, chasing away anyone else who came near. He chased away the animals, the birds, the insects, and the people. It was HIS tree. When people asked him how that tree became HIS, he said that the Creator of the tree, a male, of course, had given him the right to have dominion over the tree, because he was superior to the tree.

    Soon other men, for fear that the best fruit trees in the area might be grabbed up by someone else, began designating certain trees as THEIR trees, THEIR property. Then the land around the trees also became property. Then animals became property. Then women, and then, of course, other men–men who hadn’t liked the idea of owning land and trees, and hadn’t grabbed any, but who then were unable to eat unless they paid for their food by guarding the land and food of their owners (the owners of both the trees and the men who were forced to guard them), the patriarchs.

    So where you see food, and do not like to see it wasted, the capitalist patriarchy sees only property–THEIR property. Where you see hungry people, they see potential, or useless, human property, which they euphemize as “human resources,” but they mean property.

    And so it is that countries in Africa that exported food from slave plantations with foreign owners, experienced famines where millions starved. So it is that Israel only allows limited amounts of certain foods into Gaza. So it is that the US/Saudi-backed “rebels” in Syria are beseiging the Yarmouk refugeee camp so that people cannot get out and food cannot get in.

    That’s what “besieged” means, completely surrounded. Dozens of people have starved to death in Yarmouk. Recently, the UNWRA got permission from the Syrian government to try to bring humanitarian aid to Yarmouk. The gov’t provided a bulldozer and a security escort. But the convoy decided to turn back when rebel gunfire and mortars began to explode nearby.

    The UNWRA spokesperson issued a statement in which he said that it was unfortunate that the Syrian government had only allowed their convoy to attempt to approach the southern entrance to Yarmouk, because it would have been easier to approach the northern entrance, which, he claimed, the Syrian government controls. I don’t know if he was misinformed and just saying what he was told to say, or was deliberately lying, but the Syrian government does not control any entrance to Yarmouk–if they did, people would be able to get out and food would be able to be brought in. If the Syrian government had been able to wrest control of one entrance to Yarmouk from the “rebels,” Yarmouk would no longer be “besieged,” that is, it would no longer be completely surrounded by the rebels besieging it. Most likely the UN was protecting its owners, like the US and Saudi Arabia, by trying to put the blame for their atrocities on Assad.

    In 2000, I’m told, there were only eight countries left in the world which did not have Rothschild-owned central banks. The Rothschilds knew that if they controlled a nation’s money, they controlled that nation. Now there are only four such countries left, which I think are North Korea, Iran, Cuba, and Syria. From owning trees, to owning land, to owning plantations, to owning multinational corporations, to owning entire nations–the concept of property is almost ubiquitous. Now, most likely at the Israel’s behest, as the Rothschilds, along with Meyer Lansky, were fierce Zionists, Iraq, one of the oldest civilizations on earth and a prosperous, secular country before the US invasion, is rubble, and Libya, which only a few years ago had the highest standard of living in Africa, is also rubble. But there seems to be some resistance in Syria, which is holding up the planned subsequent invasion of Iran (and then, of course, North Korea and Cuba).

    So it is a race. Can the capitalist-imperialists conquer the entire world before human life on earth is obliterated by such profitable investments as Fukushima? Which countries will have access to healthy organic radioactive food and which will not? Who will be able to profit from disaster capitalism before it kills them along with the rest of us?

    Trash compactors, bleach–who will increase their profit margin by a fraction of a percentage by causing needless suffering to others? How can they compete if others do it and they don’t? Isn’t it all about competition?

    Sometimes I suspect that with the exception of a few mentally ill throwbacks, human life on earth ended long ago. Back when that first asshole put a fucking fence around HIS tree.

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