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Saturday, 6 February 2021

Food Waste Fight! Part 3 - Let's Go Dumpster Diving!

At the end of Part 2 of my blog series Food Waste Fight! I provided a few suggestions for how to combat food waste at the community and political level. The first two parts provided important context about this issue, but I bet many of you just wanted to know how to get started dumpster diving!

At a high level it is important to understand a few things. First, businesses don't like dumpster divers. While I have encountered stores that help dumpster divers this is extremely rare. The more diving activity, the more likely stores will become discouraged and start locking their dumpster. This is why dumpster divers don't share their spots, the more divers the greater the risk of locking. Make sure to go at least an hour after closing.

And don't leave a trace!

I've introduced lots of people to dumpster diving!

Getting Started

Probably the most useful item you'll want to bring is a headlamp. Next is waterproof clothing or clothing you don't mind getting dirty, because it is likely you will have to jump inside a bin! Most people bring gloves but I don't always use them. I keep hand sanitizer and some tissues with me though just in case. After that is containers - milk crates, cardboard boxes and reusable bags. If you're on foot consider bringing a dirty backpack. I always make sure to have some plastic bags for ickier stuff. Some locations have cardboard boxes on-site which means you don't have to bring boxes. Some people I know bring pokers with them, or some kind of tool they can use to sift through piles of small produce that may be a bit smushy or very fine, such as chopped salad greens.

I was introduced to dumpster diving by friends while traveling. Back home when I got started I went by myself, which was definitely scary. But I can assure you dumpster diving is a lot safer than you think, and I'll explain later. However, I would definitely recommend bringing a friend. It definitely adds peace of mind.

Time to start diving! So, where to start? In my own experience 98% of my dumpster diving has been for food. Small grocery stores and drug stores normally have accessible dumpsters. These are my prime targets. Drug stores often also throw out over-the-counter medication. All the big grocery chains have compactors which are inaccessible, but a few chains compost their produce and so keep accessible green bins in the back. These are my secondary targets. Bakeries are viable options. I used to have a go-to Canadian bakery chain, but these days I try to minimize my wheat and sugar consumption. I have never had success dumpster diving alcohol but know of people who have, but only in Europe.

The variability of dumpster diving from store to store is unbelievable. Even for one chain, one store will never have anything while another store down the road will be a gold mine every week! I still don't understand how this variability happens, but I think it depends a lot on each store's (mis)management and policies.

When I was just starting out and super curious I would check out restaurants, coffee shops and gas stations. Sometimes they can pay off, but they're generally not worth it. For non-edibles I have also had little luck. One type of store I've heard can be great for this are second-hand stores.

A written warning to dumpster divers. Thanks, I'll risk getting sick!

Some back of stores will have signs warning you that cameras are surveilling the site 24 hours. This can certainly strike fear into newer divers. Experienced divers know that these sites are almost never actually surveilled. It costs a lot of money and resources for stores to actively do this and it's not worth their time. This case could be different outside of my own experience though! I mainly dive in the suburbs which are usually safe and quiet communities.

There was only one occasion where a staff member came out the back door because he spotted me on camera. After appearing he silently made eye contact. I promptly left the scene. There was one occasion I was approached by a policeman while I was in front of a bin. This was in a very quiet little town outside of Toronto, where I grew up. I calmly and intelligently explained to him what I was doing and he looked quite disarmed! I can tell he was expecting a more delinquent or troubled person. He simply asked me to leave.

I would recommend preparing something to say in an intelligent manner, in case you ever get approached. At the very least it will give you peace of mind to be ready for any interaction. Give them food waste statistics such as, "40% of our food is wasted! These stores are doing a greater injustice wasting this food, simply for profits. I'm saving this food to distribute to those who are hungry, not just for myself! Here, check out what I found, would you like some?" Inviting people to be part of the process shows an open, cooperative attitude and helps others feel part of your plan which can be disarming. If an interaction ever gets uncomfortable, you can simply calmly leave.

If ever approached, act calm. Explain what you're doing intelligently, but make sure to stop and leave the scene calmly.

I believe society has become so aware of the food waste issue that people in authority are willing to passively let dumpster diving happen. In all my years doing it myself, and connecting with others about it, I've not heard of anyone actually getting caught and persecuted! So if you had any concerns for your safety, please feel at ease. But, again, keep in mind that I write from a narrow perspective mostly of driving around in safe and quiet Canadian suburbs. Things are almost certainly different in crowded city centres.

Just some of our big finds!


Social media has allowed the dumpster diving community to come together. There are FB Groups for every region, from the national down to municipal level. Some divers connect and go diving together, others show off, sell or give away their finds. Just search "Dumpster diving" with your city name in FB.

One key pillar of the dumpster diving community is to not publicize locations! For new and keen divers it may seem harsh but trust me, but there is a reason this is a fringe activity and needs to stay fringe for it to be viable.

Publicizing locations may lead to too many dumpster divers and too much competition for limited resources. It may also lead to irresponsible dumpster diving, such as leaving messes or going at hours inconvenient to store personnel. More importantly publicizing locations will hurt the businesses' reputations. They will see it as an attack and will respond by locking their dumpsters.

The last thing any business wants is for pictures of their dumpsters full of food to go public. It is better to approach these businesses and engage with them, perhaps negotiate agreements to accept food donations in exchange for distributing them to families in need. I know of several people who have done this.

Alas, it takes time and effort to go exploring for new spots. I am among the most hardcore dumpster divers I have met, and I have a pretty flexible schedule. In spite of this, it is tiring even for me to go out more than once a week, and in a big city like Toronto, I know there are a lot of potential spots out there that have gone unexplored. If I just told everyone my spots they will also just go to them and not put in the same work I did to discover new spots, which is unfair to me.

Sharing food and spreading the dumpster gospel - Kensington, Toronto, 2018
Giving away food at a fun grassroots community event

My end goal of all this is to raise awareness that will lead to policy change that will make it mandatory for grocery stores to divert their food waste to charities and food banks. This is the best solution for society even if it means dumpster diving no longer becomes viable for me. In the meantime, I get to benefit from the food waste, and I want others to give it a try on their own so that they may also benefit. 

Perhaps the most important advice I can give you is just to have fun out there! Go explore with open curiosity and no expectations. You may start out empty-handed, but eventually you'll strike gold!

There are online resources where you can find more information on dumpster diving in general, and also specific locations:

Have fun out there!

Saturday, 30 January 2021

Food Waste Fight! Part 2 - Profits Over People

In Part 1 of this blog I shared my dumpster diving journey and what the food waste landscape looks like today. Part 2 will share the insights I've gained into why this issue has become so big. I think understanding the why is key to taking appropriate action to combat food waste.

Sitting on thousands of dollars worth of frozen pizzas, meals, fish and ice cream

Power Over People

At the psychological root of the cause is the human trait that we are unable to have power over others. I wrote about it in this blog.

People in power created the economic system of capitalism which is the systemic root of the cause. Capitalism rewards people who run companies making a tangible contribution to society. Theoretically these companies reinvest profits to increase production and hire more people. So in theory capitalism benefits all of society by first bringing benefit to successful innovators and entrepreneurs, then allowing that capital to filter back down to the people. Modern capitalism has not worked out this way, in theory it's circular but in practice it functions like a pyramid, with money flowing upwards. Yuval Harari magnificently covers this concept in his international bestseller Sapiens.

I believe the main reason capitalism hasn't worked out is due to people's inability to have power over others. People who run these organizations become corrupt from the power they attain, then their sole focus becomes profit. Everything else becomes expendable, just a byproduct of profit. The larger the organization the more power gets to their heads, the more corrupt it becomes.

Capitalism turns enterprising individuals into power hungry technocrats

These byproducts of profit are at the heart of almost all global issues of the past several centuries - income inequality, sweatshops, factory farms, pollution, deforestation, climate change, war... These are all human values ignored because they interfere with profit, the only tangible value in capitalism.

And yes, you can add to that list food waste!

The Economics of Food

Allow me to put you in the shoes of manager of a large grocery store. You earned this role by demonstrating an enthusiasm for profit in alignment with the capitalist system. You implement a just-in-time economic model to ensure shelves are always fully stocked and customers always find what they need, otherwise they will bring their money elsewhere. Your store is able to sell high volumes at breakneck efficiency.

However, there are many unpredictable aspects of running the business that result in an excess of products with nowhere to go because the shelves are fully stocked and there's no room in the back. You feel bad for throwing out the food, however, to do anything else with it, such as donate it, would require extra time and effort to pay staff and that would reduce profit. And there are no financial penalties for simply throwing the food in the garbage. In the name of profit you decide to throw the food out. If not you would also risk the wrath of your shareholders. 

Since there is no financial penalty against disposing food, it simply becomes a matter of out of sight out of mind. Your staff don't feel good doing it but you also forbid them to take it home because then their families would shop less at your store, thereby reducing profits.

If a financial penalty existed it may incentivize you to try donating the food. But donating food requires staff hours, administration, moving and transportation, and building a relationship with a non-profit. In the end it may still be cheaper for you to dispose of the food and "eat" the disposal fees. As for there not being any financial penalties or regulations for diverting food waste, it can only assume that your corporate head office, hand-in-hand with the industry's lobbying power, has successfully discouraged governments from taking a look at the issue.

In order for you as a manager to do your job you have to conform to the capitalist value system of profits and numbers. You are forced into denial, suppressing your human values and morals, oppressing your staff so that they also conform.

Prepackaged salad mini-meals for weeks!

A bathtub of yogourt

Dip, anyone?

What about expiry dates?

They are purely an economic construction, almost meaningless from an edibility perspective. Expiry dates allow products to fly off the shelves faster and keeps demand for new products artificially high. In other words, expiry dates keep the industrial machine churning, keeps consumers consuming, keeps producers producing, thereby maximizing profit. Convincing consumers that expiry dates are real forces them to throw things out and buy them again sooner.

How do I know this? In the four years I've been dumpster diving regularly I have never gotten sick. I have eaten all sorts of things most people would question, such as yogourt, up to several months past expiry dates. I've even frozen them for indefinite periods. I've eaten all kinds of meat, including chicken and fish, past its expiry date without issue.

I've learned to trust my senses. My eyes, nose and tongue have more intuition than the expiry date. Occasionally I do find stale milk and mouldy produce but these are actually the exception, the vast majority of my finds are pristine! They're thrown out simply due to lack of in-store shelf space, imperfections such as scratches, or they've only barely crossed the threshold from perfection, deeming them unsellable.

While most food is thrown out because it's past its expiry date, sometimes it's seasonal overstock or outlying events. For example, during the month of January I found 100 Christmas themed Lindt chocolate bars and 20 packages loaded with candy canes. Another time I got wind that a store ran out of electricity for just 6 hours. They cordoned off their entire freezer section and, over the coming days, emptied it into their dumpster!

Sometimes businesses sabotage their waste to discourage dumpster divers! I've heard stories of businesses, mostly overseas in Europe, dumping bleach on their produce so that anyone eating it will get sick. Thankfully I've not seen that here. In my own experience I've seen food packages get slashed open so the contents spill out. I've even seen non-edibles such as canvases and cushions get slashed.

Those Lindt products are actually 5-packs of Lindt chocolates!

Sometimes you just gotta get your hands dirty!

Time For Action

As you can see the global food waste issue is a systemic issue, whether you see it as linear from farm to fork, or hierarchically from governments and corporations down to store level. It is an issue greater than the food system alone. It is encompassed by the capitalist paradigm that allows unfettered degradation and abuse of our environmental and social networks that sustain us, by valuing profit above all other human values.

The best way to fight back is to reduce your dependence on this system. This is extremely difficult since it is basically the only system and we are so utterly dependent on it - enslaved by it. Vote with your dollars - shop as local as you can instead of at corporate chains.

Start dumpster diving! All it takes is a headlamp and a curious attitude! Engage with your local grocery store managers, appeal to their human side. I know people who have done this and have successfully entered agreements for them to start donating food.

Finally, grow your own food! There has been a resurgence in organic farming in response to all the global turmoil that puts our food security at risk when we rely on such a large but fragile system.

These little steps will snowball to those around you, and that snowball will merge with other snowballs eventually forming an avalanche of change. It all starts with you - if I can do it you can do it too! In the next blog I will give you practical tips to start dumpster diving!
I created this presentation board about dumpster diving and food waste!

Introducing people to dumpster diving, spreading awareness about food waste!

Growing your own food is the most accessible way to combat food waste

Thursday, 21 January 2021

Food Waste Fight! Part 1 - In the Trenches

I was first introduced to dumpster diving almost 8 years ago and have been diving with regularity for almost 4 years. In this time I have learned a lot about the food waste issue. The analogy of being in the trenches really feels appropriate because I'm on the front lines of the action, fighting food waste at the source - the dumpster - unlike the politicians who, like the military generals have no idea what actually goes on on the battlefield.

This is just a small sample of more than 100 pictures I've taken!

Me as a young up-and-coming diver!

One human's trash is another human's treasure

My Story

I was actually introduced to dumpster diving while traveling in Europe. When I started doing it in Canada I began exploring on my own, and had a little fear and anxiety about getting seen or caught, as well as doubts as to whether I'd find anything at all. Many dumpsters were locked and inaccessible but, sure enough, some did indeed have food waste that was just fine.

At first I was extremely shocked and disgusted by how much food was in the bins and would do my best to recover everything I could get my hands on and fit into my vehicle. Then I realized due to the abundance and variety I had access to, I was no longer a beggar but a chooser. I also realized it took a lot of time and effort to recover, process and eat or redistribute everything before it spoiled. I was also transforming my health and diet around this time. So I became much pickier, leaving behind sugary foods and anything else that didn't serve my body.

However, I was able to find just about everything I needed to maintain a balanced diet! Besides certain specific items such as oils and spices, I barely needed to buy anything. Years ago, I was able to go a stretch of 6 months without paying for food. At the time of this writing I have spent $20 in 2 months on food.

Perhaps the most ironic outcome of all this is that I'm eating better than I have at any point in my life. At least half the food I dive is organic, and the money I save diving has allowed me to also choose organic for what I needed to buy. I have not gotten sick once and learned that expiry dates are only for economic purposes, having zero correlation to edibility. Our senses can distinguish sour milk better than any expiry date. Finally, dumpster diving has helped me conquer my food cravings! I no longer crave something enough to buy it. At some point the dumpster will provide chips and hummus or cookies and ice cream, but until then I'm happy to wait.

My face when I see food waste

The dumpster provides, patience rewards the eager snacker

Besides roommates and family, throughout the years I have introduced quite a lot of people to dumpster diving and seen them follow the same evolution - initial shock and disgust, eagerness to take everything, realization that most food waste is actually very edible, and slowly evolving from beggars into choosers.

I've split my last several years between the west coast of Canada and Toronto, my hometown. On the west coast, where there are a lot more alternative people as well as homeless, dumpster diving is more common and, ironically, much more difficult. The regularity of the activity discourages businesses from keeping bins unlocked because, eventually, some divers will attract negative attention, come at inconvenient hours or not leave a trace. The west coast is also more progressive than most of Canada and so I see a lot of food initiatives that redirect food waste, which may also reduce the viability of dumpsters.

The story is completely different in Toronto. The province of Ontario has a large urban population and a very business oriented culture, with Toronto serving as the nation's financial hub. Toronto is also a massive sprawling suburbia with a tiny alternative crowd concentrated close to downtown. Thus there are much fewer dumpster divers in the suburbs. Dumpster spots are quite spread out and takes time and effort to discover. But to my benefit the spots I managed to find are untouched and pristine and can be full of lots of good stuff.

It took me a little bit of time to convince my dad that dumpster diving was completely safe. The obstacle with him was not so much the edibility of the food but a difference in ideologies. My dad immigrated to Canada and worked hard to earn a comfortable material rich life, and dumpster diving appears petty and desperate to him. He was ashamed of me for engaging in it. But eventually I won over his frugal side and he and the family happily accepts most treasures I bring to them.

I created this presentation board and gave food away at various public places

Giving away dumpster dived food to volunteers at Shambhala Music Festival!

Food Waste Fight!

When I started dumpster diving 8 years ago food waste was not yet an issue. It started becoming well known around 4 years ago with the news that France made it mandatory for grocery stores to divert their food waste. This was coupled with findings that society wastes 40% of its food from farm to fork! Since then there have been many studies that have even pegged the value as high as 60% in especially affluent regions.

There was mounting pressure on governments to do something about it. There were calls within Canada to adopt the same policy as France. Alas, like all global issues, they tend to lose steam after some time, then get usurped by the next trendy global issue, allowing politicians and guilty parties to dodge the controversy. Sadly, people in power have known this for decades and simply play the waiting game - when people don't take enough action they eventually get fatigued and lose momentum and the movement fizzles out.

Back in 2016 a CBC segment exposed food waste at Walmart. Walmart gave a weak reply deflecting the issue, then they installed locks on their green bins. I know this because I was dumpster diving regularly at a nearby Walmart when, one evening, their bins had new locks installed on them.

There is no love in the capitalist food system

Food waste art to illustrate the imagination of the issue

Fast forward to today, a lot of amazing food waste initiatives have popped up globally. I've seen them and used their services in Victoria and Vancouver, BC. Back in Toronto, I got linked to FB groups for dumpster diving and sharing food, and have connected to lots of people in the trenches like me, and found new avenues to distribute food waste.

Feed It Forward is an incredible non-profit that has a huge network of grocery stores and businesses across the GTA donating food waste to them. They have a pay-what-you-can grocery store as well as other initiatives such as a community Christmas dinner. Second Harvest performs a similar service. Flash Food app allows grocery stores to advertise food going to waste at drastically reduced prices. A similar app called FoodHero operates in Quebec and has plans to expand into Ontario.

There are also things happening on a grassroots level. Toronto Little Food Pantries is like the free libraries you see on people's front lawns facing the sidewalk, except it's for food. There are also community fridges, which are publicly accessible fridges where you take what you need and drop off what you don't! has a global database of these. I have even connected with groups of individuals that started asking local grocery stores and restaurants to donate to them so that they could distribute to families in need.

Outside of Canada I have gotten wind of lots of initiatives in Europe. IG user anurbanharvester has made a name for himself exposing the food waste issue through dumpster diving, and has even engaged with politicians in his home country of Denmark. He enlightened me on the fact that even Europe's most progressive countries still have just as bad food waste issues as the US and Canada. anurbanharvester actually found me through my own posts on my account my2barefeet

A very fun night on the town!
One of my biggest finds! Organic grass fed meats worth >$1000

Why? Just why?

Over the years, pondering this issue as well as integrating my understanding of how society has evolved, I have largely figured out why there is so much food waste in the world. I think it's very important to understand this so that we can take appropriate action to combat the root cause of the issue. I will go in-depth into this in Part 2 of this blog!

I'll leave you with a small sample of green bin pictures for your viewing displeasure:

5 boxes full of bananas recovered from one dumpster

Saturday, 9 January 2021

The Rule of 150 - Power Biologically Corrupts

Many years ago I read in Malcolm Gladwell's bestseller The Tipping Point about the Rule of 150. This idea has fundamentally altered the way I look at people. This idea is accepted though not widely known, and has been covered on major online publications such as Medium and BBC.

The Rule of 150 broadly suggests that humans can only handle 150 relationships at one time. There is scientific and historical evidence to validate this theory, thanks to anthropologist Robin Dunbar. Dunbar developed this theory through studying the brains of various mammals including humans. He determined the size of the neo cortex of mammals (such as birds, rats and monkeys) correlates to the size of the tribes in which they live. For humans that's 150.

Historically, hunter-gatherer tribes rarely exceeded 150 members. A fairly recent example is the Hutterites, a subsect of Amish - when their tribes reached 150 members, they would split up into two groups of 75 and go their separate ways. One very modern example is the company Gore Tex. They restructured their company based on this Rule of 150 and have thrived under it while abolishing hierarchy. This rule has been recognized in business psychology outside of just Gore Tex.

How did hunter-gatherer and Hutterite tribes intuitively understand this rule of 150? Since everybody knows eachother, it is very difficult to misbehave and get away with it. Whenever this happened, everyone would find out, then the guilty party would be exposed and ostracized. Gossip was the primary mechanism to maintain order, so there was no need for police. However, once a group size exceeded 150 there would be subtle changes that disrupted harmony, such as seedy behaviour going unpunished, or subgroups subverting the tribe.

When everyone knows eachother cooperation and harmony come more naturally. People want to help out their neighbours, and in small enough social groups everyone is practically your neighbour. The intimacy of social groups of less than 150 allowed them to exist with an egalitarian structure where broadly there is no hierarchy. There may be some informal power given to the chief of the tribe, but that power is earned through respect and wisdom. Since the chief knows everyone, he truly wants to do what's best for them, and since everyone knows the chief, it's very difficult for the chief to abuse their power.

Power Biologically Corrupts

Upon thinking more deeply about the Rule of 150 I have arrived at an important theory that I have not yet read anywhere else: humans are not meant to have power over others.

Humans are not biologically evolved for this capability. Our brains are not wired to have power over others. Power biologically corrupts.

Humans are not meant to have power over others - art by Mark Bryan

Modern humans have essentially the same brains as ~200,000 years ago, and arguably as far back as 2 million years ago with the emergence of homo erectus. Even going by the first number, humans adopted the culture or lifestyle of hunter-gatherer for almost 190,000 years, or 95% of its existence.

Thus, our modern brains are still hard-wired for the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. One in which humans lived in closed societies of 150 people or less, everyone knew eachother, and so everyone wanted to do what was in the best interest of the group, because that was also in their own best interest. Our modern brains are still hard-wired for egalitarian societies in which humans broadly do not have power others.

Our modern brains are not hard-wired for hierarchical societies in which humans have power over others. And yet this is how society evolved. With the advent of agriculture humans began experimenting with a new way of life settling in to one place. At first villages were less than 150 so the egalitarian way could be maintained.

But as I explained in this blog agriculture as an early experiment was a runaway train of food surplus, population growth and expansion that, once started, was very difficult to stop. This experiment which began as small villages where everyone knew eachother, unified over the next 12,000 years to become a single global society of more than 7 billion people, governed by extremely complex organizations wielding great power. Yet these organizations are still run by individuals who are bestowed unprecedented amounts of power.

Power biologically corrupts. This is why we see that no such large organization exists without some sort of corruption or abuse of its power by the people who run them. The larger the organization the more disconnected from society the people run them become. Sitting in ivory towers in front of screens, the people they serve become more numbers, more faceless.

Stalin quoted, "A single death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic." There is another quote I forget says that when a government reaches a certain threshold size it begins to look after its own interests. These quotes are examples of why no large organization can be trusted for the very task they are created for, organizing or serving society.

People running the largest organizations lose sight of the people - art by mear one

Capitalism and socialism are two systems of organization that, in theory, divide resources and opportunity equally among all people. However, these systems require organizations to carry out its mandate. Within capitalism, corporations carry out its mandate. Corporations, however, have gotten so large that the people who run them have lost touch with the people they are supposed to serve, and become biologically corrupted by their immense power. They run the corporation in a way that erodes the free market principles that underpin capitalism, and no longer treat people as humans, but as numbers.

Within communism, the government carries out its mandate. Communist governments such as Russia and China's, however, have gotten so large that the people who run them have lost touch with the people they are supposed to serve, and become biologically corrupted by their power. They run the government in a way that oppresses the people and centralizes more power and control.

Zoom in a bit and we can see this happening in small businesses and local communities. I have heard countless anecdotes from friends, of their managers abusing their powers or of community leaders and idols using their power to manipulate people, often for sex.

Zoom in to the individual level and we can see this happening in relationships between people, whether it be biological, emotional or professional. The MeToo movement has really exposed many people in power abusing their power for sex, and clarifies this idea that power biologically corrupts.

No matter what scale you look at you see people having power over others abusing that power. At the smallest levels, relationships such as teacher-student, manager-employee or parent-child, power is less corruptible and less visible when it occurs. But at the largest levels, governments and transnational corporations, the correlation of power to corruption is almost guaranteed, and much more difficult to hide no matter how hard these organizations try to.


This biological trait, this inability for humans to have power over others, wasn't much of a problem for at least 95% of our existence as a species. It's only in the most recent 5% of our history experimenting with a hierarchical society that this biological trait no longer aligns with our environment. This trait is now seen as a flaw. And seeing it as a flaw has helped me reframe my view of individual humans within my species.

Through the pandemic billionaires just got richer and richer

I no longer feel hatred and confusion towards billionaires or fascists. I don't want to say I feel empathetic towards them. But I certainly understand why they do the terrible things they do. They, like anyone else starting out, were just trying to contribute something to the world. They had no idea how successful and powerful they would become, and how that power would corrupt them and turn them into the people they are today.

I certainly don't envy their situation. I wonder, myself, if I were to attain billionaire status would I also become corrupted? I hate to admit it but I probably would. I'm no more virtuous than them. I'm only human, thus my brain is just as fallible to the corruptibility of power as any other human.

It must be ironically dehumanizing to work at a scale and level that dehumanizes everyone around them, that turns humans into numbers. Maybe it's just my bias, but some of these billionaires look less human and more robotic every time I see their faces in the media.

These billionaires don't work, nor appear, at a human level

Even though I have come to understand people who have power and abuse it, this also doesn't resign me to feeling helpless and powerless. In fact, it empowers me to build real connections with those around me. And the more real connections we build face-to-face with people the more resilience we build as communities to provide its members the support they need so that they can reduce their dependence on large organizations.

Decentralization Is Key

The organizations that run our society have become too large. The people that run these organizations have become biologically corrupted by their power and are abusing their power to consolidate even more power, and oppress the very people their organizations were created to serve.

The only answer is to decentralize power. And it's starting to happen at least to big tech, as I wrote in this blog.

Every individual has a role to play to decentralize power by taking steps to reduce dependence on large organizations. Buy local. Transform your community to one that is more geographically focused - apps like Nextdoor facilitate getting to know and helping out your neighbours.

Empower yourself to make positive change. Avoid getting bogged down hate for rich and powerful people. After all they're only human, and humans are not meant to have power over others, because power biologically corrupts.

With great power comes great responsibility - not to abuse it

2021 Resolution - Get Off Facebook before 2022

My resolution for 2021 is to transition completely off of Facebook by the end of the year.

I don't normally do New Year's Resolutions because I am someone who puts personal growth as a top priority and puts it in practice on a daily basis. However, I mean to make a spectacle of this one, because the success of this resolution depends on the people around me.

Why am I doing this, you ask? I think you already know many of the reasons but have chosen denial to maintain your dependence on this platform. As have I - until this year anyway. I cannot face my denial any longer.

The first obvious reason to me is big tech has gotten too big. This has led big tech to abuse their power and market share to erode free market principles of fair competition in order to cement their position at the top. In addition, it has led to the erosion of net neutrality, which is free and democratic access to information for all.

In order for the game to end, we only need to stand up - art by Mear One

The Case Against Big Tech

In November and December 2020 lawsuits were filed by various high-level organizations against the largest technology corporations - Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon and Google.

Microsoft was sued by a joint effort by Canadian provinces for fixing prices of their products, knowing their customers had no alternatives. Microsoft is quietly settling for up to $517 million, and any Canadian who has purchased a Microsoft product since 1998 date can actually apply to get some money back.

Google was sued by both USA state governments as well as the European Union for unfairly cornering the market for general internet search, plus advertising services. They did this in many ways, but primarily by paying browser providers to make Google their default search engine. They even pay Apple in the order of billions of dollars a year to make Google the default search on their Safari browser!

Amazon was also sued by the EU a few months ago for using data from vendors on its platform in order to make and price Amazon-branded products that would outcompete those vendors.

An excellent NPR podcast: The Case Against Facebook

Finally that brings me to Facebook. FB was sued for antitrust by the Federal Trade Commission in collaboration with most USA states. Specifically, they acquired competitors to maintain market share in the social media space, through purchasing both Instagram ($1 billion) and WhatsApp ($19 billion!). The FTC hopes to force FB to divest both of these acquisitions.

Antitrust is a concept that has been around since the dawn and boom of corporations, specifically during the oil boom of the mid-1800's. Rockefeller began buying up oil producing competitors around him. Once he achieved a certain market share he began fixing prices in order to put his remaining competitors out of business so he could buy them out too. This sparked perhaps the first major antitrust lawsuit in history. But a lot has changed since then and, not only that, change is happening at exponential speed in the tech space - it's hard for regulating bodies to keep up. That's why it took so long for these lawsuits to come to fruition.

The lawsuit against FB may not make much of a difference to the everyday user, but one aspect of FB which has a massive impact is its abuse of power to monitor and censor content and messaging. Its censoring of information undermines a free and democratic internet for the people, and freedom to communicate without surveillance. All of this is hardly a secret - these issues are covered in the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma.

If you use social networks you should watch The Social Dilemma

FB has dominated almost every arena of our virtual world. From its humble roots to connect friends and family, it has expanded its sphere of influence to become our event organizer, maps and even marketplace. We have come to depend heavily on it for our livelihood. So why does such a powerful tool that we now almost can't live without also spy on us and censor us?

Because it has no competition. Because it bought them out and, once it achieved market dominance, lost the incentive to innovate and serve their customers, FB users, before their own needs. If there was stronger competition in the social media space FB would be forced to innovate and treat its users more fairly, lest they find a viable alternative.

Why does a tool initially created to serve us now do more to serve itself while maintaining a mirage of serving us first? And most importantly why do we do nothing about this and let it happen? These are very difficult questions which lead to dark truths to face and most of us, myself included, have continued to turn a blind eye to our own hypocrisy for using such a double-edged tool. It's very difficult to fight for a fair world without facing some sort of hypocrisy. People fighting for the transition away from fossil fuels get accused of driving a car.

This may be a fair argument in some places but not all. Most people who know me know I do more than most people to lead with action for environmental change - after all, I have not taken an indoor shower in a year and a half! And have dumpster dived all my food for the past two months! - yet I don't know what I'd do in Canada without my car. It's my one privilege I choose to have.

And I'm sure people may accuse me of continuing to use Instagram and WhatsApp after leaving FB. Hopefully the FTC is successful in forcing FB to divest those companies. I started using WhatsApp specifically as an alternative to FB in the first place, and felt great disappointment about its acquisition. So it feels very unfair and difficult for me that I now have to find yet another new alternative and expect my friends to all come along with me.

The wheels of oppression make us so dependent on the system that we feel we have no alternatives, and uses hypocrisy to make us feel guilty for even considering finding alternatives to the system.

My profile on MeWe, the main alternative to FB

The Alternatives

Well there are alternatives out there. I hope that I can convince as many friends and family to switch over to these alternatives before I cut myself free from the tentacles of FB.

MeWe is probably FB's biggest competitor. It values privacy above all else - your messaging is private and your data is not mined and sold to advertisers. MeWe's free version looks and has many of the same features as FB such as profiles, news feeds, groups, pages and events. It also comes with an app for messaging and browsing. You can upgrade to a few paid versions for greater functionality, such as having access to emojis or Slack-like workgroups. Since MeWe doesn't monetize your data, offering paid versions is the social network's only form of revenue. But even if you were to use it only for staying in contact with friends like me (here's my profile) you can easily stick with the free version.

Telegram is probably the most popular messenger app alternative. However, if you're looking for ultimate privacy, Signal is the best messenger app for this - it is used by activists to organize rallies. Even Elon Musk is recommending these apps! Both apps register your phone number, however, allow you to keep in touch with people all over the world. Please ask for my phone number if you would like to stay in touch through these apps!

For general search DuckDuckGo is a great alternative to Google, which prioritizes your privacy. Other more ecologically focused searches include Ecosia and OceanHero. As for marketplaces, I would urge shoppers to go local and support small businesses. Economies are meant to be circular, and operate this way by staying local and small, instead of like a pyramid where profits funnel to the top.

Through the pandemic billionaire's just got richer and richer

While for this blog I focused on the wrongdoings of big tech, it is important to note how their technology affects mental health. It is proven that social media increases depression and and loneliness. The best way to combat this? Get off it! Real connection that leads to long lasting happiness is direct and face-to-face. I myself have gone on several social media detoxes and they have all been so liberating. And those detoxes have prepared me for my big moment - to step away from FB once and for all.

As consumers we cannot wait for governments and regulators to put the reins on big tech - we must vote with our own dollars and opt for alternatives such as the ones listed above. I'm taking one major step by getting off FB, and am taking all of 2021 to help transition as many of my friends as possible to so I don't have to sacrifice my online community. Though I am still sure to lose contact with many friends, I am ready for this sacrifice and am steadfast in my resolve.

So friends, please come with me! Add me on MeWe or connect with me on Telegram or Signal with our phone numbers. Just message me through FB while we both still have it :)