A Dumpster-Based Salon as Innovation



March 26, 2013; Source: Boston.com

The real beauty of old ideas is that they never really die. They just weave themselves through history in odd ways like a bright thread in tweed. In this case, a student at Tufts University, Maximus Thaler, is using Kickstarter to raise $1,500 to capitalize a 24-hour café that will serve free food and other useful stuff like poetry, crafts, workshops, and lectures. The food will come from dumpster diving. The business plan involves asking those who show up to support the place. With 21 days remaining, he has raised more than half of the $1,500 goal so far.

The Gleaners’ Kitchen is described as a “public space where all forms of value can be exchanged freely,” and its website goes on to describe this vision in more detail:

“We imagine a cafe, decorated with dumpstered flowers and cheap art, where people hungry for a different world can come and exchange ideas. There will always be coffee and tea and warm lentil soup. Meals will be served every day at 6:00 pm, with special events on the weekends. We imagine concerts, poetry readings, academic lectures and craftivist workshops, all facilitated by the preposterous amounts of free food our society has somehow forgotten. Art will be everywhere. It will be shared as freely as the food.”

NPQ thinks that this is an interesting model, though not a new one, in that the revenue-producing assets are foraged. It reminds us of some of the arts-based meeting spaces popularized in some urban areas in the 1930s and ‘40s. And it certainly is of its time, as more and more innovative food-based projects are sprouting up. We are interested in your thoughts. –Ruth McCambridge

  • @ARMNoel

    I hope they don’t “dumpster dive” in the true sense. Someone could get very sick, and unless MA has very liberal Good Samaritan laws they will get sued and shut down. Better to go to restaurants and grocery stores that throw out wholesome food every day BEFORE it hits the dumpster.

  • Karl Vergarin

    The photo in this article is not the type of “dumpster” that Mr. Thaler et al get their food from. They are very picky about the sanitary condition of the food and it’s my impression that if they get tomatoes they are in boxes or crates – not the kind of receptacles depicted in this article. In an interview on WGBH Mr. Thaler said he had never seen a rodent in any of the dumpsters he has looked in. Most of the food they get is packaged in one way or another (such as sealed containers of yogurt that are one day past their “expiration” date) and they are very canny about their timing so that the food has not been in the dumpster for more than a few hours. That said, the point is well taken that this is outside the normal structure of food safety regulation and is dependent on the “divers” ability to identify potential health hazards.

    The main issue here is the disgraceful waste of food (not to mention all other resources) in our culture. I am particularly interested in the waste of seafood: We have pretty well destroyed the oceans ability to supply us with fish in any way that could ever be sustainable. This is due partly to the fact that about 60% of all the fish caught and delivered to retail outlets is thrown out and never eaten (because shoppers expect food to look perfect and be cheap) – and partly to the fact that in spite of overwhelming evidence of future or present catastrophic declines in fish stocks, available for several decades, the fishing industry has childishly refused, for the most part, to reign itself in for it’s own benefit and has engaged in industrial fishing techniques that literally strip mine and destroy precious ocean floor ecologies that are unlikely ever to recover. Japan and some Scandinavian countries have engaged in practices so profoundly destructive of ocean health that in any sane world would be grounds for war.