Sunday, August 28, 2011

What my neighbors eat, what my neighbors do not eat

Throwing food waste in your garbage can will now earn you a fine in the city of San Francisco. Composting is legally required. Some people I’ve run into (mostly cab drivers or people who live in other cities) think this is an egregious violation of privacy and free will. And I have heard stories of sanitation workers slashing garbage bags on the sidewalk to find that errant apple core, which does seem a bit extreme.

But I like composting. I mean, c’mon, what makes more sense than turning our food waste into fertilizer to grow more food? (Or, in the case of San Francisco, organic food and delicious wine). I also like looking at my neighbor’s food waste.

Mind you, I’m not sorting through the garbage paparazzi style. The actual garbage bin totally grosses me out. But for some reason the contents of that green composting bin keep me coming back for a peek. When disposing of my own household’s waste, I hold the lid open for as long as I can before the swarm of fruit flies attack. The side of the bin is coated in this black slimy substance that is like nothing else. When it’s empty, there’s always a kind of sticky muck at the bottom with at least one bright orange orange peel glowing up in a sweet, hopeful way. And when it’s full, It’s just kind of amazing that six cramped one-bedroom apartments can generate that much foody goop. It smells strongly, but not in the nasty, threatening way the actual garbage bin smells. Instead it’s just…well, “pungent” I think describes it well. I find it sort of pleasant. Once last week I saw a little something shuffling around in the juicy detritus. Maggots?! Rats?! Either way, pretty exciting.

Last week J. caught me staring into the void. “Close that lid!” he yelled from the back window.

I’ve never seen anything that exciting in the actual food compost, though. It’s always just a slurry of eggshells and old pasta sauce and orange peels and paper takeaway containers, whether it’s coming from apartment 1034A or 1036A. Maybe that’s why I like looking; it affirms the sense that we are all common beings, subsisting in our little, expensive apartments on eggs and pasta and oranges and cheap Thai takeaway.