Friday, January 30, 2009

trash, bottom-feeding, and "freeganism"

I loved the scene in the movie Sex, Lies & Videotape where Andy McDowell, playing an unhappy and obsessive housewife, sits on a therapy couch with her lap dog staring vacantly out the window lamenting that she can't stop thinking about where all the trash goes. "I mean really, how can we be happy when we don't know where all the trash goes?" or something like that. 

I was almost not going to have babies because I didn't want to pollute or populate any further.

When I was first pregnant with G and all bohemian-earth-crunch-granola girl, I planned on using cloth diapers. I'd received packs of beautiful white organic ones from my optimistic baby registry and was all ready to save the earth one less disposable diaper at a time. That is, until the baby came out. There was that first thick sludgy muconium poo that stuck like taffy between the teeny newborn diaper and his little wrinkled butt that had me waivering. Then there were the split-pea-breast-milk-diarrhea poos that leaked all over, sealing the deal. I was having nothing to do with a cloth diaper that would need to be rinsed and further dealt with. I'd unwittingly joined the billions of us polluting the landfills with disposables and just figured an apology to god with each trip to the dumpster would have to suffice. 

And I still do apologize to god with each Diaper Genie emptying, 2 1/2 years and another added pooping butt later. Damn do babies make a lotta doo doo. And damn is that stuff heavy and hefty. It composes the bulk of our trash output. But then there's also so much more child-oriented junk to throw out that increases my guilt: loads of wipes and napkins and paper towels and half-empty juice and milk boxes, and snack wrappers, and tons of uneaten food. Lord do I feel guilty about the wasted food. Which unfortunately segues into my new achievement in world class bottom feeding. 

Does every other mother feel the compulsion I do to lick banana and avocado off the faces and hands of her children? And simplify clean-up by popping rejected cheese chunks into her mouth? Sometimes even going as far as the floor for spewn turkey scraps? Shamelessly drinking out of sippy cups? Letting her diet degenerate to fallen goldfish, thrown cereal puffs, spilled mac n' cheese and the applesauce remains in the little plastic containers? 

I guess some of this can be seen as my attempt to keep the landfills just a little emptier by doing my part. But bottom feeding is not an ideal solution to the problem. And the taste of our cheerio/goldfish medley hastily thrown in my mouth instead of walking all the way to the trash will be burned in my palette forever. Perhaps ceasing to view trash as a problem is the solution. Becoming one with trash. Embracing trash. Which unfortunately segues into another trash related rant...

Oprah once did a show on "freegans," people who dumpster dive to stock their fridges and decorate their pads. Lisa Ling reported as she followed people around NYC at night picking through trash bags on the curb for produce as well as suburban professionals mulling through department store dumpsters for furniture and fixtures. 

This was supposed to be shocking and unbelievable. Whatever. Dumpster diving was so the 90's for me. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt. I learned with the pros where to find the freshest bagel and bakery dumpsters. And yes, I also got into the bad habit of nabbing fresh cookies out of grocery store bins, which I am not proud of - but it was sort of an extension of "freeganism," don't you think?

Anyway, now that I have kids, my version of freeganism has morphed into a much more benign How-To-Turn-Ordinary-Situations-Into-Free-Kiddie-Entertainment. Although we are fortunate enough to have passes to San Diego's awesome family destinations - Sea World, Legoland, the Zoo and Wild Animal Park - why get in the car when you have a Vons 100 yards from your front door? The double-seater fire engine shopping cart does the trick for us. We roll that thing in and out of Vons where we swipe as many free packs of oyster crackers and bakery samples as my diaper bag will hold. Then with G & N steering their little black wheels and honking their squeaky horns, we turn it out on the open parking lot, eventually ending up at the fountain where we have a wildlife encounter of our own feeding our leftovers to the birds. 

Since it's all about killing time with kids, we get some good mileage out our complex's fitness center. Every kid loves water dispensers, TV, and running amok. So I let G raid the Sparklett's tank and have taught him to use the treadmill. He does his toddler version of circuit training by prancing uphill, coasting backwards and hopping off the end of the treadmill, skipping to his cup of water, taking a swig, glancing up and laughing at The Simpsons on the overhead flatscreen - and then starting the cycle all over again. Meanwhile Noah and I play with the exercise ball while I snicker under my breath at all the people toiling on the machines, remembering my gym rat days and sighing in relief I instead lift babies all day. Priceless toddler exercise and mommy therapy. Cost: $0.

We often stumble upon some invaluable morning "unexpected entertainment," as my friend so succinctly phrased the phenomenon. (Other forms are watching the mailman and the garbage truck) The gardeners have become big fun for us. They let G help with piling and tarping leaves and branches. G relishes the opportunity to go where he's not supposed to: deep into the heart of the bushes. His inner banshee is unleashed. This can kill an entire 45 minutes if I'm lucky. Enriching toddler exploration in the wild and mommy slack time. Cost: $0.

Then there's the Thomas the Train table at our local kiddie hair cut place. Too bad G's hair is far too adorably curly to officially cut, or I'd actually give the place my business. Instead we go there, I chat it up with the saleslady while G & N meddle with Thomas and Friends, and then we sneak out when she's assisting the stylist to shut up a crying kid in the chair. Motor coordination enhancing train play and shameless mommy "freeganism" thrills. Cost $0.


  1. We tried the cloth diapers at first too. That didn't last long. And today's cloth diapers are nothing like what my Mom was using on me in 1962. Cotton squares with diaper pins! Fuzzi Bunz are pretty amazing technology. Alas, they're not nearly as easy as Huggies disposables.

    If you think on human timescales, yeah we're filling up the landfills with dirty Pampers. And landfills are not designed for things to break down and biodegrade, they're designed to *contain* the trash, and keep it away from everything else. Those diapers will still be there, 10, 20, 40, 50, maybe a hundred years or more hence, compressed under tons of trash and earth, but largely unchanged in form and composition.

    If you think on geological timescales however, all the litter we could ever produce will be plowed under by waves of hot magma and will become one and indistinguishable with the earth's crust in the endless flow of plate tectonics.

    Then taking it a bit further, thinking along astronomical timescales, in 5 billion years the sun will bloat up to red giant size, its surface extending out to beyond the orbit of the earth, and everything and everyone and everywhere we knew will be cooked to cinders, blasted to protons, neutrons, and electrons, and ultimately fused into helium atoms, which will float off into space, utterly inert, perhaps someday to fill an alien child's toy balloon in some far off galaxy.

    Pick your timescale carefully and diaper away: No harm done.

  2. When you say, "while I snicker under my breath at all the people toiling on the machines, remembering my gym rat days," are you feeling disgust and disdain? What is this judgment about for you?

  3. We have the Thomas Store across the street that has a train table. It's awesome. Take the kid, bring a book, and we are both happy. Luckily Ross is next door, so we can both win. ;-)

    Living in SD is awesome. Getting our Sea World Passes today.

  4. I cannot believe all the disgusting things I have eaten/licked off my fingers since Ava came around. I feel ya. As far as the whole diaper thing, washing all those disposable ones (which has to be done with very hot water to get them clean) uses water, energy and loads of detergent so it's not exactly an environment-harming free solution. It makes me feel better to think of it that way =)

  5. I meant washing the cloth ones =)

  6. Next time you're in La Jolla, try hitting Bird Rock Coffee Roasters; they have a great little kids section (complete with train table, books, chalkboard, etc) and you can relax with (or without) a cup of coffee and let them play. Such a great find! Just a few stores down from Little Locks!

  7. I saw that Oprah! I can't believe I eat stuff off of their place mats but I do. My breakfast today was cut up pieces of cold pancake they didn't eat that I scarfed while cleaning up. Nice. Your kids are gorgeous by the way. Call Disney and put them to work.