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There are certain stigmas associated with one’s occupation – often times undeservingly so. In “On Dumpster Diving”, Lars Eighner explores a niche that many consider shameful or even taboo. However, Eighner’s vocation goes beyond the elicited acrimony. Deep within societal norms, ingrained into our very bones, exists a tenacious aversion and a deep mistrust of scavengers. From this resentment spurs the reader’s conjectures about Eighner, especially about his intellectual capabilities. Ultimately, the reader’s unfair generalization of dumpster divers wrongfully undermines the unspoken pact of credibility between reader and writer. From the incited disgust towards dumpster divers, Lars Eighner acknowledges the need to establish his credibility. Thus, in his testimony of dumpster diving, Eighner heavily utilizes the rhetorical appeal of ethos in an effort to establish himself as a credible source and refute the reputation of him and his peers.
In glaring grey font, the conspicuous title “On Dumpster Diving” begins the essay with an appeal Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle – the precursor to On the Origin of Species. But the allusion goes further than just the homologous titles, rather Eighner structured his essay to mimic Darwin’s methodology of hypothetical-speculation. Like Darwin, Eighner based many of his conclusions on observations rather than conventional induction based experiments. Through the indirect interrogation of locational analysis and careful timing, Eighner surmises his personal experiences into a single set of guidelines governing dumpster diving. Ultimately, this emulation of inquiry employs the rhetorical strategy of ethos – namely the appeal to authority, in this case, Darwin – which in turn earns the author much needed credibility.
Like Darwin, Eighner introduces the reader to the area he frequents as exemplary locational analysis. He addresses this within the first two sentences: directly stating “I’m not here by chance”, but rather because the region is “inhabited by many affluent college students” who are prodigally generous in what they throw away (89). Evidently, his methodical tactic of scavenging in that location has been lucrative where the “typical discard is a half a jar of peanut butter” (89). And to further prove the returns on his investment, Eighner meticulously tabulates his findings boasting of intermittently still-hot pizzas, yogurts and cheeses, canned goods and staples, alcoholic beverages, and even non-tangible items such as drugs or pornography. Thus, the assumption the audience makes is that the author’s excursions have been exceedingly profitable relative to other dumpster divers, and Eighner partially attributes his success to his locational analysis. Like Darwin taking credit for navigating the H.M.S. Beagle to Galápagos Archipelago, Eighner similarly takes credit for strategically selecting the location of his pursuit.
Beyond Eighner’s geographical certainty of his profit region, much of his success derives from paying careful attention to the integral academic calendar. With an allusion to the strategic timing of Darwin’s journey, the author similarly profits from deducing that student will “throw away food around the breaks” if there exists uncertainty in perishability (89). Thus arises Eighner’s cornucopiate of yogurts, cheeses, and sour cream, along with the ubiquitous jars of peanut butter. Beyond his cocktail various dairy products, “at the end of semesters and when [students] give up college at midterms”, Eighner’s collects on his biannual bonus of canned foods and staples (89). From Eigner’s deposition in his essay, rather than just attributing his dumpster diving successes to solely favorable timing, he couples his investigation of the science with Darwin’s observations with the Galapagos finches. Though what Darwin observed may seem irrelevant to the seasonal purge of cabinets and refrigerators, much of his observations of Galapagos finches were dependent upon seasonal changes. Darwin planned for his expedition to arrive at the Galapagos in drought-like conditions, specifically, during the waning portion of the dry-season. Thus, when he began his documentation of the mating behavior of Galapagos finches, due to the heavy constraint in resources, only a select group of the fittest could afford to forgo foraging to mate. He arrived at the ideal time to observe natural selection. Because of their similarities in successful timing, Eighner equates his dumpster diving with Darwin’s observations in the Galapagos – accrediting himself by an appeal to authority.
However, Eighner’s rhetorical strategy of ethos goes beyond the mere emulation of Darwin’s scientific thought, but his scientific nomenclature as well. By deliberately calling himself a ‘scavenger’, he alludes to the stone age, predominantly the late Paleolithic and early Neolithic eras, when Homo erectus and Neanderthals evolved into Homo sapiens. To further flaunts his incessant need for precision in his diction, Eighner goes as far as cite the dictionary and grammar rules. Evident from his two-sentenced introduction to dumpster diving, he cites the “Merriam-Webster research service” for his expository on the origin of the word dumpster – “a proprietary word belonging to the Dempsey Dumpster company” (87). Cogitating the search result, he declares that he “dutifully capitalized the word” like proper nouns should be – correcting Merriam-Webster’s lack of accuracy – and complacently flaunts his grammatical correctness (87). Continuing on his crusade of vocabular justice, he points out several inaccuracies of diction: “‘Dumpster Diving’ seems […] a little too cute […] and inaccurate”, and the word ‘foraging’ is reserved “for gathering nuts and berries” (87). And by being so deliberate in his terminology, Eighner places himself in a position of academic superiority, diverging from the rest of the world that fails to capitalize dumpster, that evades the “frankness of the word ‘scavenging’,” convincing the audience of his academic credibility (87).
Beyond the cocktail of scavenging adventures and addressing vocabular inaccuracies, Eighner surprises the reader with a little bit of chemistry. As Eighner so eloquently put, candy, “especially hard candy, is usually safe” (89). Underlying this piece of advice is the covert reference to osmotic potential, that bacteria and pathogens alike cannot survive in “very sugary substances” (89). Addressing the possibility of food poisoning, Eighner even offers perspective on the neurotoxin Botulism, a fatal and asymptomatic toxin that occur as a byproduct of modern canning methods. Simple prevention care methods include heat, which “can break down the botulin” into harmless denatured versions of the toxin (88). From the agglomerate of these bits and pieces of scientific wisdom, Eighner convinces us of his intellectual prowess and thus his credibility.
Throughout his essay, Eighner has proven himself to be more than the intellectually incapable, detestable dumpster diver people suppose him to be, but instead savvy and rigorously methodical. Though some might regardlessly consider his honorable niche shameful or taboo, his approach to dumpster diving was highly commensurable with Darwin’s scientific hypothetical-interrogation. Alternatively, his guidelines could serve as a measure of the stigmas he has overcome. Ultimately, Eighner’s unconventional perspective to life probes the question not of differences but of how impetuously and unjustly we rely on convention and conjectural speculation.
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