How to Eat, Part 2: Dumpster Diving

          First world countries are notorious for wasting food. Americans waste 220 pounds of edible food per person, per year. There is no better way to lessen your impact on the planet than by eating food that would otherwise go to waste.

          Dumpster diving will let you eat like a king for no money at all. In order to effectively do it however, you are going to have to learn your senses-- specifically, your nose and eyes. The entire reason we evolved these senses is to find food- they are perfect for telling you if something is spoiled or not. Go on instinct, and trust it. Once again, we have become so dependent on expiration dates and signs to tell us what to eat, we have forgotten how to do it ourselves. I have never once gotten sick from dumpster food in years of scrounging, though I have gotten sick from normal (store bought) home prepared meals. Your body is well prepared to take on some germs- being a germaphobe will only lead to more illness, not less.

First, a primer on why food gets thrown away at supermarkets and restaurants:

- A customer can take something out of the refrigerator and set it on a shelf. The stores require them to throw it out, even if its only been out for just a few minutes.

- Many stores, especially higher end stores like Trader Joes and Whole Foods, will throw out food days before its expiration date because new stock has come in and they need room.

- Any store that bakes bread will throw out its bread at the end of the day.

- Any opened or broken packages, even if the food inside isnt tampered with, are thrown out. Even stuff like a few broken eggs can cause a whole carton to be thrown out.

- At restaurants, leftover pizzas are usually thrown away still in the box. Sometimes people also pack up food to take home and leave it anyways, and it is promptly thrown out.

          As you can see, there are plenty of reasons to find perfectly good food in a dumpster. Many times at the supermarket, there will be a separate dumpster just for food. Sometimes the food is even wrapped up! If you are being cautious, you can easily cut around where people have taken bites.            
          Bread is the easiest thing to get- it usually comes in great big bags of nothing but day-old bread. Take your pick! There is only one real rule for dumpstering: leave the place like you found it, or better. The reason places put locks on their dumpsters (not that locks stop me...) is that assholes can turn the whole area into a trash pile. Dont be them.

          I recommend using a stick or something to poke around the dumpster- climbing in is usually not a good idea. Im having to stop myself from bragging about all the amazing food ive found, but think of it this way: the more expensive, higher quality food is usually bought less, so more of it ends up in the dumpster, while cheaper stuff usually gets sold out; its simple economics.
So, without much ado, here is the list of places that ive found are best to dumpster dive behind, in order of success rate:

-High end grocery stores
(Trader Joes, Whole Foods, etc)
(bread and sweets!)
-Pizza restaurants
(any of them will have it, but I highly recommended you only go to higher quality places for your own sake)
-Low end grocery stores
-Restaurants of any kind
(again, aim for high end places, where customers are more likely to waste unfinished food)
- Chocolatiers and candy shops!
(youll thank me later)
          If you find a surplus of food, why not stack it where its easier to reach for the next diver? Or better yet, take a bunch with you, and donate it to homeless shelters, or give it to people directly. Make the world better. That's why youre here.

If you normally try to limit animal products in your diet for ethical reasons, this is a great chance to eat non-vegan foods totally guilt free. By eating otherwise wasted food, you are absolutely not contributing profits to the meat industry, and offsetting the carbon footprint of the food you would otherwise would have had to buy.

Dont be afraid to walk into butcher shops and fishmongers asking for any spare parts! Ive scored lots of fish heads for fish head soup there... awesome.

One last thing: Dont limit yourself to food- ive found tons of awesome stuff behind retail stores: Army navy stores and outdoor/sports stores are probably what you want here!

Happy diving!

Next up on the "How to Eat" series: foraging!

1 comment:

  1. I also know of people who just go into the stores with a sharpie and write "DO NOT SELL" on packages of whatever they want. Of course nobody buys it and they throw it out and WHOOP, free groceries of your choice (as long as you're the first to the dumpster)
    Also Clinton passed an act in the '90s indirectly declaring dumpy diving legal. It pretty much labels trash as available for search without a warrant.