I’ve always been a nosey person, while working at a department store I happen to like finding people’s shopping lists. It is a different sort of gratification that can be gotten from looking at the recorded contents of someone’s garbage can.
The list we were given to analyze is from a narrow frame in time, an arbitrarily selected week. I know that my list was not a typical assortment of garbage for my household so it stands to reason that any of my fellow student’s garbage could be anomalous to their standard garbage. Looking at old garbage (“real archaeology” if you will), it’s easy to forget the human agency behind the garbage. A certain layer of refuse could reflect an accurate portrayal of a household’s garbage- alternately it could represent having houseguests over for several days. It is also helpful to remember that what we remember we have disposed of, what we tell people we have disposed of, and what we have really disposed of are often in conflict with one another. Garbology is evidence why simply having a written record of an event is not enough to believe that is the truth. Reasons why historical archaeology is necessary.
So, addressing my sample more specifically. All the recorded refuse seems to be food-related, although it can’t be said that some of these items had alternate uses elsewhere in the house. There was not a lot of actual food-waste, most of the garbage was actually packaging. I feel a bit concerned for the eating habits of my garbage donor; only in the initial opening bit of their week did they deposit any fresh produce remains, the rest of the food containers were dominated by processed and prepackaged foods. Anonymous garbage-donor, don’t you know those are really high in sodium?!
I do feel much better now about the number of instant coffees and string cheeses on my garbage record.