Deep dig serves up half-eaten meal

Senior Patrick Dowd is proving that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.   This is certainly the case for Dowd, whose diet consists of the partially eaten meals and untouched food items he discovers in trashcans and dumpsters across campus, as well as the one meal he and his housemates at Slade prepare each day. Dowd said he is neither uncivil nor homeless, as social stigmas might suggest, but rather is a student who has a profound appreciation of food.  A member of the Honors College with a double major in English and philosophy, he plans to pursue a career in farming. Dowd’s curiosity and affinity for food prompted him to begin perusing compost bins on campus to ensure they were properly sorted. “I was afraid that the janitors would throw away big bags of compost because they saw plastic forks in them,” he said. “So I just made an effort to sort the trash because it was easy for me to do and I was kind of interested.” Dowd quickly realized that an abundance of food gets thrown away, and sees no problem using it to supplement his diet.   “When it comes to eating out of the trashcan, I’m just doing what I see is best,” he said. “If I’m hungry, I can sort of deprive myself – or I can go and get that chicken finger.” Dowd cited the overwhelming availability of wasted food and an unwillingness to purchase the subpar food offered on campus as the motivations for his lifestyle. “There’s nothing wrong with having vices with food or liking unhealthy food, but there is a problem with spending money supporting things that you don’t approve of,” he said. Besides the partially consumed meals that Dowd enjoys on a regular basis, he recalled numerous occasions when he has come across perfectly edible yet untouched items. He reeled off several examples of various discoveries from across campus, appraising the collective value of a number of them in excess of $100.   In addition to the frequently discarded perishable items — tomatoes and heads of lettuce are common in New World Tortilla’s waste — Dowd said he has found plenty of nonperishable items, such as masses of cornbread from Waterman Café.  Just in the week prior to his interview with the Cynic, he had scored nearly two-dozen bananas from the Cyber Café and a whole loaf of bread from Brennan’s. Over time, Dowd has grown proficient at scoring food from trashcans, and has grown quite picky about what he chooses to eat. “I’m so selective now, because I don’t have to eat a cold piece of pizza when I can walk to the Marché and eat warm chicken fingers and curly fries,” he said. Dowd sees no shame in his actions and hopes that students will think about his motivations after seeing him pick through trash, and in turn will consider their own actions. He said that people think his habit of trash digging is disgusting. “I don’t see it as any more disgusting than people throwing away that much food in the first place,” he said. Junior Sam Grabel said that while he wouldn’t resort to such actions, he does not think less of those that do. “If a person wants to eat it, then I see no problem with it,” he said. “Personally I wouldn’t do that, but then again I’m the person who threw it in the trash in the first place.” Dowd has received mixed reactions by food service employees on campus. While he is on a first-name basis with many of the janitors, he said those higher up have not been as receptive to him wading through trash bins. Dowd knows he’s not welcome at the Waterman Café and Brennan’s, but noted that hasn’t stopped him from trying.   He said he and Barb Plunkett from Brennan’s have a love-hate relationship. “Barb from Brennan’s — she and I are like archenemies,” he said. “She sees me going in there, and she escorts me out, but I always talk to her and we’re friendly.” Plunkett echoed this sentiment. “I love Patrick,” she said. “He always offers to take me out to dinner, and I’ll ask him, ‘at a restaurant?’ because I’m not eating out of a dumpster.” She said he often tries to slip under her radar, but isn’t always successful. “Sometimes he’ll get to the door and we’ll make eye contact, and he’ll throw his arms up in the air and turn around,” she said. Others have even gone so far as to call the police on him, he said. Luckily though, his actions are acceptable in the eyes of the law since no personal ownership applies to waste. Dowd contends that the tendency of students to carelessly waste is a systemic issue for which cultural norms are largely to blame. “If [students are] on the meal plan and they buy [food], they don’t have the mindfulness to save their food for later,” he said. “They just think that there’s more and there will always be more.” Across the state, however, access to food isn’t a liberty taken for granted by all. A report released in 2010 by the United States Department of Agriculture, which was based on census data, placed Vermont at the top of the list of states for increase in the rate of hunger. The report indicated that 14 percent of Vermont households are “food insecure,” meaning that those households aren’t able to obtain an adequate amount of food at all times due to financial restraints, and also that one in five children experience hunger or food hardship. Despite the wasted food on campus, Campus Kitchens, a student-run organization, rescues unused food from dining halls that would otherwise be disposed of, and prepares and serves one meal per week at the shelter. Dowd said more should still be done to educate students about food and its importance. “I’d really like them to become conscientious consumers,” he said. Dowd’s resourcefulness also extends beyond feeding himself. By seeking assistance from all available avenues, he said his student loans will only total about $15,000 — a fraction of the cost to attend UVM as an out-of-state student. “I just looked for money anywhere I could,” he said. “I’ve always been in this mindset, to figure out a way to make it happen. If you’re aware of where it is and how to access it, you can make it. You just have to be aware.” Awareness is something that Dowd takes very seriously. He doesn’t consider himself to be an activist, but rather seeks to lead a satisfying life. “I just want to live my life according to my ideals, and this is what I see as the best way to do that,” he said.