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Senior’s initiative brings food from dumpster to dinner table

Published: Friday, March 29, 2013

Updated: Friday, March 29, 2013 00:03

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Nick Pfosi / The Tufts Daily

When Maximus Thaler finds a carton of eggs or a loaf of bread while dumpster diving, he doesn’t toss it back — he brings it home to cook with.

Thaler, a senior, is in the process of launching The Gleaners’ Kitchen, an initiative that will offer community members free meals prepared from food that is obtained from “dumpster diving” at local grocery stores.

Thaler said he is waiting for donations before he can officially begin serving and open up the establishment, which he hopes will be housed in an apartment in Somerville.

He initially came up with the idea for the project last semester, and he created a website for the initiative this January. He also recently started a Kickstarter account to raise donations for renting the apartment space and paying for utilities where The Gleaners’ Kitchen would be housed.

“I’m not opening a restaurant ... I’m inviting people into my home and I’m sharing space with them,” Thaler said.

Thaler has been dumpster diving for the past four years at Tufts. In addition, he spent the previous two summers with a theater group cooking for large numbers. He said that cooking large meals for the group taught him how best to use the food he had available.

The idea for The Gleaners’ Kitchen was a direct result from these two experiences, Thaler said.

“It was just putting a lot of pieces together,” he said.

In an interview with Boston Magazine, Thaler said that the food he uses is not unsanitary or rotten, but may be in the dumpster because it is slightly damaged or nearly expired. A package of eggs, for instance, might be thrown away because one or two eggs are damaged while the rest are fine.

Thaler said that it is legal to find and serve food from dumpsters according to the 1988 Supreme Court case California v. Greenwood, which ruled that the fourth amendment does not protect the privacy of one’s garbage and thus established the right to search and take items from the trash. Thaler also points to the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, which protects food donors from liability except in cases of gross negligence.

Thaler said that he plans to freely donate food obtained from the public domain, so he believes his plan is legal.

Much of the food that he has found has been of high quality, according to Thaler. Some of the disposed food includes filet mignon, scallops, salmon, broccoli, organic tomatoes and papayas.

“I eat better out of a dumpster than I will ever, ever be able to afford and most Tufts students will ever be able to afford,” he said.

According to the National Resources Defense Council, one industry expert estimated that 40 percent of food in the United States never gets consumed and approximately $2,300 dollars worth of food is thrown out by grocery stores every night.

Thaler explained that providing food is not his only aim but that he also wants The Gleaners’ Kitchen to be a place where the fundamental idea of value is challenged.

“My goal is to create a radical space, a space where people’s relationship with value can change,” he said. “Right now, value in this country is interpreted on this universal metric of money, and I think it’s a one-dimensional metric that a lot gets missed.”

Thaler said that he believes that the concept of value lies outside of money, and hopes his idea will encourage such thinking.

The kitchen space and utilities for The Gleaners’ Kitchen would be paid for and provided entirely through donations, but Thaler said that monetary donations are not the only kind of aid he is looking for.

“The donations that I’m soliciting — if money comes from it — that’s great,” he said. “I’m not looking for money, I’m looking for help.” 

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