Food from one of the author's many dumpster diving expeditions.

The Human Face of Sustainability is a creative non-fiction essay contest with a May, 13, 2013 deadline and a 4000-word limit.

We welcome personal essays or stories about extraordinary individuals or communities, and stories about innovative solutions to sustainability. We seek essays on topics that range from global to local, from “big” (e.g., Resilience after natural disaster;) New technology solutions vs. common sense; Energy harvesting) to “small” (e.g., Personal decisions about consumption; Reuse, recycle, up-cycle, bicycle?; Green, clean—what does it mean?; What can we learn from past generations?). Whatever the subject, we want to hear about it in an essay that blends facts and research with narrative—employing scenes, descriptions, etc.

I may consider entering an essay, because my husband and I are more than half-way through our third consecutive year of eating from dumpsters, and pretty much everything we use and wear has also come from dumpsters. We have a motorcycle as our only vehicle. Because sustainability is the capacity to endure, I believe our small personal experiences fit the criteria in the description.

However, when I looked at this list of sustainability article topics, I nearly gave up. (The list is not on the essay site. It is on Wikipedia.) For example, what is Adiabatic Lapse Rate? What does that have to do with getting kicked out of a grocery store for carrying our empty backpacks (we’re on a motorcycle) into a store?

I had better luck searching Google Scholar, where I found a lecture titled, Simple Ways to Green Your Organization: Presented at the Conference on Community Based Aging Services November 5, 2009, as well as other school-related projects where students share their dumpster diving experiences. However, I have yet to find an article describing the nitty-gritty of real-life, daily dependence on this activity.

What we cannot find in the dumpsters, we find in the thrift stores, most notably our local Goodwill in Lone Oak (Paducah) KY, that is the best-managed, most fun store I have ever been in. Seriously.

My question for readers at Firedoglake is, what does sustainability mean to you? How does that word look in your day-to-day living? Maybe you visit the thrift store more often than you used to. Do you decline a plastic bag at a grocery, or do you get creative with leftovers, or does it mean taking to the streets to protest oil pipelines sure to lead to ecological destruction? Were you to write such an essay, what topic would you choose?

One thing I have observed is that there is a lot more reality and pain in the world than we ever would imagine by looking at the surface, and the evidence in in the trash. We flush the toilet and walk away, as if it never happened.

Now to the news. The Mayor of Houston admits to having furnished a few college apartments through dumpster diving, and the Houston city council says they are going to look at amending the original ordinance that cited a homeless man for digging food out of a dumpster. This man (a homeless veteran, by the way) was only trying to feed himself, so lets hope that the “quality of life committee,” where the issue will go can set an example.

Although this image is what some media unfortunately continue to promote, this is not what I have observed in my many years of experience with this activity.

“Dumpster diving is an inevitable result of a our horrifically mismanaged economy,” said long-time Dumpster diver Randy Crary from We Asked Dumpster Divers About a Plan To Sell Expired Food.

US paradox: Wasting food while going hungry. In the US, we waste nearly as much food as we consume, every day. Does this surprise you at all?

The dumpster was invented in 1935. So, during much of the Great Depression era, there were no dumpsters (Letty verifies this. She is 88). Today, at any given large shopping mall in the US, huge compacting waste containers are commonplace. The largest landfill in America today is in unincorporated Los Angeles County, and it is called Puente Hills Landfill. (aka Inland Empire area.)The landfill gas created by the landfill is funneled to the Puente Hills Gas-to-Energy Facility, which generates 50 megawatts of electricity. (wiki)

Perspective: Penn and Teller Bullshit – Recycling Part 1 Sorting is a huge part of recycling, most people do not realize this.

If you are looking to read a story from Letty, I can tell you that we are planning to do a post on colloquialisms. Example: “If his brains was axle grease, he wouldn’t have sense enough to grease the dynamo on a lightning bug’s ass,” or, as my dad used to say, “When I say ‘Frog,’ you’d better say ‘How High do I Jump.’” And he kept a straight face.

If you are looking for satire today, I recommend that you not have a full bladder when you watch A Day in the Life of a Criminal Defense Attorney, lest you wet yourself. (Satire especially fun if you are familiar with the 2-5-I SODDI defense: I had 2 beers, five hours ago, and I was just minding my own business when some other dude did it.)

The only other contest I have entered is an essay about addiction based on a bridge metaphor, and it is called The Bridge of Sighs. If that topic interests you at all, you may want to read it. It’s short.