Salon's Katharine Mieszkowski went out foraging with the authors of The Scavengers' Manifesto, a book that explains how to live off the fat of the city: freegan, dumpster-diving wild-herb-harvesting life that lets you enjoy the good things without spending a penny. The econopocalypse means good finds for the pair, but it makes everything a little...grim.
Rufus is motivated in her scavenging less by any environmental ideal than by a deep abhorrence of waste: "I hate it when I see really good stuff in garbage cans. Just chucking stuff away? Junking it? That makes me really mad. It's going to go to a landfill, and some person, poor or not poor, could have had it." In their book, the couple outline a scavenger code of ethics, which includes the admonishments to "obey the law" and "don't eat gross things."
But Rufus and Lawson are acutely aware that scavenging is by definition a fringe activity feeding off the fat of the consumer culture it depends upon. After all, if everyone did it, there would be nothing but scraps left to fight over. But they're confident there's enough to go around for many more people who could be converted to their never-pay-retail mentality. Still, they recognize that the idea of wearing, eating or living with someone else's castoffs is not for everyone, which is OK, too. "We're not saying we're better than regular consumers. We're simply trying to remove the stigma from being scavengers. If you want to be wasteful, be wasteful, and I'll scavenge," says Lawson.
At the end of our afternoon of scavenging, we go just a few blocks past Lawson and Rufus' house to an oak-lined field in Tilden Park, a more than 2,000-acre oasis in the hills. The field is carpeted with so-called Miner's lettuce, a leafy native plant, which is the object of our urban foraging.