Ethical Eating

Trash Talk With Dumpster Diver the Musical Creator Kris Kemp

You've most likely heard these stats: An estimated 33 million tons of food end up in US dumpsters each year, breaking down to an insane 40 percent of food in American fridges, restaurants, farms and grocery stores ending up discarded and uneaten. But for some of us, digesting numbers like...
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You've most likely heard these stats: An estimated 33 million tons of food end up in US dumpsters each year, breaking down to an insane 40 percent of food in American fridges, restaurants, farms and grocery stores ending up discarded and uneaten.

But for some of us, digesting numbers like these rest somewhere in favorability as eating our leftovers or polishing off a slightly bruised but perfectly edible piece of fruit. So perhaps we'll attempt to woo you away from the stats and ease into the topic of food waste with an irreverently inspiring musical on dumpster diving?

In Dumpster Diver the Musical, longtime Floridian and current NYC resident, Kris Kemp is taking on the politics of American food consumption with a musical that - after a decade of on and off development - is set to open this summer.

With sing-a-longs like "I feel aliver (now that I'm a dumpster diver)," the musical is a cross-country post-apocalyptic adventure story of two friends plotting to take on the corporate evils of companies like Monsanto.

The friends (Trevor, a conventional software engineer student and Faith, a nomadic, radical activist) graduate college and head their separate ways. When they re-meet four years later, and Faith tells Trevor that the company he is working for is evil, Trevor has a decision to make. Will he continue working at his job, being well-paid and leading a comfortable life, or will he join Faith to help shut the company down, risk his life, and experience adventure and uncertainty?

Kemp, a longtime dumpster diver who once cheerfully told a Fox 29 reporter that "every dumpster is an opportunity" while scoring several unopened boxes of chocolates says he drew inspiration for the characters in Dumpster Diver the Musical from people he had met while living in West Palm Beach.

"I was living in a warehouse, inhabited by a collective of artists. It was called the 'Unarmed Underground Art Centre,' known as the UUAC. It was named that as a kind-of thumb-your-nose-at the Armory Art Center, a more conventional art gallery space nearby....The UUAC was like the Bermuda Triangle of West Palm Beach.

"People would just show up there, out of nowhere. One day, this guy showed up in a Winnebago, from Alaska, with a wolf. But these kids of all ages, or 'kidults 'as I call 'em, would have the most interesting stories. A few of them were dumpster divers and train hoppers. All of them were travelers and poets and writers and musicians.

"Most were penniless and just roamed the US, living adventures, accumulating experiences instead of things."

Kemp says the musical was something that just kind of took on a life of its own. And while ten years may seem like an awfully long time to be working on a project, it was an on and (mostly) off again endeavor until this year.

"It became this big thing that grew and grew. I ended up with a small suitcase full of songs, a few notebooks. Once I had all the material, I began pairing it down and establishing a plot and a basic 3-act structure--beginning, middle, end."

Many of the characters and scenes of the musical are based on true events.

"The characters in the musical, are inspired 75% by real people that I met, who interested me because of their unique way of seeing the world, as they moved through the world without apology, without having to explain themselves, even if they're misunderstand by people who live a more conventional lifestyle."

About a decade ago, it was Kemp's friend Kristine Iverson who invited him over to invited him over to the "Villa de Vulva", known as "the villa", a collective, anarchist living space in downtown Lake Worth.

"I arrived and see cardboard boxes on the living room floor. One is full of fruit and food. Another is full of disposable cameras, new, unopened, probably a hundred of them. I asked where they got such spoils and they explained that they got them from behind Walgreens, from the dumpster. They got the fruit from a produce market dumpster.

They introduced me to dumpster diving. It was almost unbelievable how much food we'd get from a dumpster score. I introduced my friend Scott to it, and we'd go in his truck and load the entire truck bed full of food, call our friends and share it with them, distro it is what we called it, and even organize dinner parties. It's only waste if you waste it."

Besides the musical, the organized dumpstered dinner parties and distribution of edible discarded foods, Kemp also began running the website

Kemp now makes a living as an extra and an actor in New York City. Pay attention and you can see him in the background of shows like "Person of Interest" and "Blue Bloods."

He says dumpster diving is tougher now that he rents a tiny room in the Upper East Side of Manhattan because there is limited room to store the food but he still will not pass up a good find when he spots it.

"Recently, I found a garbage bag full of crackers, fruit roll ups, and juices on First Avenue between 88th and 85th Street."

Dumpster Diver the Musical is set to open in New York this summer. Visit for dates and showtimes or to donate to the production.

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