Din­ner in a dump­ster, and the fad that crafted it

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

POP-UPS are now ubiq­ui­tous in our cities. Whether it’s airy white re­tail spa­ces sell­ing Kanye West’s Pablo merch, unas­sum­ing cor­ner­shops dou­bling as the spot where Frank Ocean chooses to launch his new al­bum or ship­ping con­tain­ers be­ing made into tem­po­rary ac­com­mo­da­tion for home­less peo­ple – in one form or an­other they are now part of the fab­ric of many cities around the world.

Which is why it takes a fairly out­landish one to make you look up from the bowl of Lucky Charms you’re eat­ing in a replica Saved by the Bell diner. But San Fran­cisco res­i­dents have re­cently been in­vited to a pop-up that does just that: a din­ner in a dump­ster.

The idea is sim­ple: Peo­ple gather around a large ta­ble and en­joy a six-course meal of largely sal­vaged in­gre­di­ents. The or­gan­is­ers work with gro­cery stores, restau­rants, farms, juicieries and others to pro­cure food that would oth­er­wise go to waste, then craft a menu from the take. The din­ing room? A retro­fit­ted, can­dlelit dump­ster.

“While we were eat­ing dessert, the city san­i­ta­tion truck came to the build­ing next to us to pick up their trash and re­cy­cling,” says Josh Treuhaft, the founder of Sal­vage Sup­per­club. “There we were, 16 guests eat­ing dessert in a dump­ster on the street, right next to an ac­tive Re­col­ogy truck pick­ing up the waste from the neigh­bours. It was quite sur­real.”

So are Sal­vage Sup­per­club, who have also over the past two years hosted din­ners both in­side and out­side dump­sters in New York, Cal­i­for­nia and Ja­pan, se­ri­ous? Or are they evil ge­niuses trolling the cities’ gong bathlov­ing res­i­dents?

Treuhaft as­sures me it’s the for­mer. The un­der­ly­ing phi­los­o­phy, he says, is gen­uine: “Some­thing we call Eat Ev­ery­thing, which is about in­spir­ing and em­pow­er­ing any­one who cooks and eats to make the most of the ed­i­ble food in their lives. Whether that’s past the sell-by date, aes­thet­i­cally un­ap­peal­ing food that you don’t usu­ally think of eat­ing (like a broc­coli stalk or a cau­li­flower leaf, or a wa­ter­melon rind), stale bread…”

Hav­ing worked for a long time on food waste, but strug­gled to get peo­ple jazzed up about it – “Waste is seen as icky and taboo,” he says – he re­alised the way to do it was to fo­cus in­stead on food. His “a-ha mo­ment” came when he posted a pic­ture of car­rot and gin­ger pulp, the waste from a juice his girl­friend had just made, on In­sta­gram and asked for culi­nary ideas. “I got a bunch of great re­sponses … I started re­al­is­ing that the cre­ative, tasty, ex­pe­ri­en­tial, so­cial side of food was re­ally where the magic was.”

Din­ners, he re­alised, were one way to do that. And he says they’ve worked. “I’ve got­ten un­so­licited emails from peo­ple say­ing that they’ve to­tally changed the way they shop and cook, and that they’ve be­come far less judge­men­tal about the way their pro­duce looks.”

Surely with this, as with all the other Port­landia-es­que city pop-ups that ac­tu­ally have good in­ten­tions, if it works, then the joke’s on us? “The fact that you and I are even talk­ing leads me to be­lieve that there ac­tu­ally is a piece of the dump­ster din­ing room that’s do­ing ex­actly what it was in­tended to do: Start a con­ver­sa­tion.”

A raft of other pop-ups are sim­i­larly well-in­ten­tioned. A “par­a­site cin­ema” in Auck­land, New Zealand, turned a build­ing’s stair­well into a spot for com­mu­nal film screen­ings. It was de­signed by a group of ar­chi­tects in re­sponse to the lack of so­cial in­ter­ac­tion at bus stops and laun­derettes.

A pop-up town square, where a minia­ture clock tower was at­tached to the back of a bike in Crick­le­wood, might sound a bit naff. But it was de­signed to get peo­ple think­ing about how best to go about cre­at­ing use­able pub­lic space and a sense of community in that cor­ner of northwest Lon­don.

In the wake of the 2011 Christchurch earth­quake, a pop-up card­board cathe­dral kept life – or at least one as­pect of it – tick­ing over for some of the city’s res­i­dents. And in Lon­don’s bor­ough of Lewisham, “the UK’s first pop-up vil­lage” was erected ear­lier this year for house­holds on the wait­ing list for coun­cil homes.

Of course, some pop-ups in cities have been as silly as they sound: the up­cy­cled Berlin phonebooth that be­came the world’s tini­est disco; the fully func­tion­ing, un-re­pur­posed loo cu­bi­cles that be­came the set­ting for in­ti­mate din­ners over loo pa­per hold­ers in an Am­s­ter­dam con­cert hall; and the bar in Lon­don where your beer is served by dogs. Not to men­tion the planned Death Row din­ner pop-up that was shelved be­fore it even opened its doors.

But in the post-crash econ­omy, pop-ups – both the daft and the di­dac­tic – will surely con­tinue to be a fea­ture of our ur­ban en­vi­ron­ments, de­spite re­cent talk of eco­nomic un­cer­tainty de­ter­ring pop-up re­tail­ers from tak­ing on longer leases.

With our cities in­creas­ingly in flux – as a re­sult of sweep­ing de­mo­graphic shifts, en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors and continuing eco­nomic in­sta­bil­ity – pop-ups, for all the con­flict­ing ide­olo­gies they em­body, of­ten help un­lock ur­ban spa­ces that would oth­er­wise stand empty for cul­ture, community ... and con­sumerism. Now pass the aged zuc­chini but­ter on yes­ter­day’s toast. – The Guardian

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