Another trashy teen fad?

Isn’t it part of a teenager’s job description to be stupid, I mean daring, or, er, rebellious? Far be it for me to criticize teenagers who flout mortality, experiment beyond the brink of realistic thinking and generally push boundaries to their breaking points. That’s what I did as a teen in the sacrilegious ’70s, and for the most part I treasure that carefree — some might say thought-free — period of my life.

That’s not to say I’d endorse similar behavior in a teen of my own, but, since I made it through alive (including a wonderful weekend at Woodstock), I feel privileged to have survived full-fledged participation in a sui generis period in American cultural history.

Nonetheless, I recently read about a new trend among otherwise well-intentioned teens who are pushing even breakable boundaries beyond mere destruction to the point where they are nuking cultural norms. It’s called “dumpster diving,” and The Washington Post’s Metro section described it as a growing trend. If it’s catching on among Washington’s youth, one can only imagine it’s already ancient history among kids in “hipper” cities such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston.

Dumpster diving, as described by the Post, is the search for salvageable foodstuffs that have been tossed into the trash, mainly by natural-food vendors, because they’re too old to sell or even to donate to charities that feed the poor. The Post reports on one 17-year-old who was “caught (by a store employee) dumpster diving, though he is neither homeless nor destitute. He considers himself a ‘freegan’ _ a melding of the words ‘free’ and ‘vegan’ _ meaning he tries not to contribute to what he sees as the exploitation of land, resources and animals wrought by commercial production.”

Bravo on the latter points made by this kid and his comrades in food salvaging. I do not “preach” about it, but I am a vegetarian, choosing not to kill cows, chickens and other birds or mammals to feed or clothe myself.

Neither do I endorse the factory-farming industry, which I find to be unacceptably cruel to the animals it brings into this world just to destroy. I believe one day all humans who consume factory-farmed animals will find their own health negatively affected if not destroyed by such consumption. My saying is, “Animals bite back,” by which I mean cholesterol in red meat and poultry promotes heart disease. The antibiotics and hormones used to spur quick animal growth are ultimately toxic in a variety of ways to humans _ consider the epidemic of heart disease, which is the No. 1 killer in America. The sooner people find out and change their ways, the longer, healthier lives they will live.

However, dumpster diving is not the answer. First of all, as I mentioned, the natural-food stores sort out leftovers that are too old to sell but are still edible. They donate most of these items to charities. So these kids are picking up bacteria-ridden foodstuffs and guaranteeing themselves a wonderful bout of some pathogenically caused illness no matter how much they mistakenly believe they can “cook” out the poisons of whatever they eat. Secondly, they are trespassing and violating the law when they dumpster dive.

Lastly, they could arguably subject natural-food stores to lawsuits (believe it or not) if they contract a disease while trespassing. So they’re harming the humane sector of the food industry. This is something I’m sure they’d agree is counterproductive, if they thought the matter through to its logical end.

David Martosko, director of research for the Center for Consumer Freedom, wrote a letter to the editor saying, “The underlying attitude of the ‘freegan’ culture _ that participants are somehow morally superior because they refuse to be a part of the food chain _ is delusional. … Pretending to find a loophole in the natural order of things may just indicate that you’ve been smoking something you found in a dumpster.”

While I agree with his line of thinking, I wouldn’t be quite so hard on these dreamers. They are, after all, teenagers. But they’re teenagers who should not be trespassing or violating the law in any way.

(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)