Skip to comments.Why Middle-Class Americans Are Turning to Dumpster Diving
Posted on 09/20/2011 4:53:01 PM PDT by EBH
Have you ever thought about getting your food out of a trash can?
Dumpster diving has become a hot new trend in America. In fact, dumpster divers even have a trendy new name -- "freegans" -- and as the economy crumbles their numbers are multiplying.
Many freegans consider dumpster diving to be a great way to save money on groceries. Others do it because they want to live more simply. Freegans that are concerned about the environment view dumpster diving as a great way to "recycle" and other politically-minded freegans consider dumpster diving to be a form of political protest.
But whatever you want to call it, the reality is that thousands upon thousands of Americans will break out their boots, rubber gloves and flashlights and will be jumping into dumpsters looking for food once again tonight.
So is this actually legal?
In some areas, dumpster diving is considered to be legal. In other areas, dumpster divers are technically breaking trespassing laws. Although in most areas the police have so many other problems that they aren't really concerned about cracking down on dumpster divers.
One of the biggest issues facing dumpster divers is safety. Crawling around in back alleys and side streets in the middle of the night is not exactly the safest thing to do. But the lure of large amounts of free food is enough to keep some people coming back over and over again.
During the recent economic downturn, the popularity of dumpster diving has exploded. Today, there are dumpster diving meetup groups, dumpster diving Facebook groups, and even entire organizations such as Food Not Bombs that openly encourage their members to go dumpster diving.
If your family was going hungry, would you go dumpster diving?
You might be surprised at who is doing it. Dumpster diving is not just for the homeless and the unemployed anymore. A lot of people that have decent jobs have picked up on the trend.
Just check out the following example from a recent MSNBC article, "When Money Ran Short, This Dad Started Dumpster Diving."
A programmer by day, Todd takes to the streets of North Carolina by night, digging through Dumpsters at drug stores and grocery stores all around his rural neighborhood.
"You would be simply amazed at what businesses throw out," he said. "I've only had to buy two loaves of bread all year. ... Last week I had a trunk full of cereal, cookies, chips and ramen noodles."
Todd slinks in and out of smelly places with low-light flashlights to evade rent-a-cops who will shoo him away. Most nights, his 14-year-old son comes along.
The truth is that dumpster diving is just another sign of the times.
Food prices continue to rise and are putting incredible stress on the budgets of average American families. We just saw another huge rise in food prices during the month of August. Just check out the following data from a recent article posted on The Economic Policy Journal...
The index for finished consumer foods jumped 1.1% (13.2% annualized) in August, the third straight rise. Over 30% of the August advance can be traced to meat prices, which climbed 2.4% (28.8% annualized). Higher prices for processed poultry and eggs for fresh use also were major factors in the increase in the finished foods index.
If you are married and have a couple of children it can cost a lot of money to feed them every single month. It is not hard to understand the allure of dumpster diving for people that are having a hard time making ends meet.
[Dumpster diving isn't the only way to cut down on spending. Check out these 25 Ways to Save Hundreds on Your Monthly Expenses.]
Other Americans are choosing to dumpster dive because they believe that it helps them live a simpler lifestyle. There is a growing movement of people in America that are rejecting all of the "consumerism" that we see all around us.
Today, the average U.S. household has 13 different credit cards. We are constantly being bombarded with ads that tell us that we need more stuff in order to be happy.
Well, a lot of people have decided that is a lot of bunk and they are doing whatever they can to simplify.
Other dumpster divers are absolutely horrified by how much food is wasted in America: It has been estimated that 263,013,699 pounds of food are thrown out in the United States every single day.
Can you imagine?
We are probably the most wasteful nation on the planet. With the number of hungry people in the world, it is absolutely criminal how much food that we waste. In that sense, it is probably a good thing that dumpster divers are saving some of that food from the landfills and are finding positive uses for it.
In my recent special report about poverty in America, I noted that 46.2 million Americans are now living in poverty. For now, the U.S. government is helping feed over 45 million Americans through the food stamp program, but what is going to happen once the social safety net starts to break?
Right now, dumpster diving is cute and fun and an interesting way to save money, but in the future there may be millions of Americans digging around in trash cans if we don't get this economy turned around.
Note from the Editor: This article was originally posted at The Economic Collapse blog.
Years ago foods like this would have been donated to churches and food banks, but with the regulations the way they are...legally it has to be thrown out.
Even our canned foods have an expiration date on them these days. Many of us older folks know that canned food is good long past the expiration date if the can is not bulging, dented, or damaged in some manner. But the government says you can't sell it or donate it.
Now there is that little matter of the average household having 13 credit cards!!!
I have done before
if you’re dumpster diving, you’re not middle class
and you have no class
you’re on the edge of civilized society and falling into the gutter
13? I have 1 and it makes me nervous.
Been there .. Done that!
Also got some Great hot pizzas .. after closing time behind Pizza Hut!
“...youre on the edge of civilized society and falling into the gutter...”
Thanks to Big Government, we TAXPAYERS are being PUSHED rather than just falling of our own accord. :(
Over here... ;)
I am guessing here .. You’ve never been Really, Really hungry and didn’t feel like stealing?
Dumpster divers have green jobs. Here in California this green industry is thriving.
When I was about 10 years old, me and a freind found a brand new package of chocolate covered graham crackers in a dumpster behind a mom & pop store. I’d eaten several of them before I saw the maggots coming out the little holes.
I swore off dumpster diving and I haven’t eaten a whole graham cracker in the 50 years since.
Amazing how many things under the Obama administration have attempted positive spins on them even though they’re horrible. ‘freegans’? It’s a ‘freakin’ shame. Thank you, Barry. I wonder if Michelle is or ever has been a ‘freegan’? Nah.
Two thoughts here....
Either you’ve never been hungry...like really hungry
You have never worked at a grocery in Jan. when they toss out all the frozen turkeys that didn’t sell. Or the expired cans of sweet potatoes
the week old...but still good fruits and veggies...
Which also contribute to higher food costs.........
People do what they have to do to exist, or to maintain their pervious lifestyle.
They told us it was against the law, so we waited until the stuff went in the dumpster and crawled in and "stole" sometimes only slightly bruised fruits and vegetables.
After seeing first-hand the good things businesses throw away, dumpster diving is mighty tempting.
IOW, I don't believe that middle class Americans are turning to dumpster diving.
Just for you to view...
Some of my best buds were the black guys who decided to sneak smokes in the middle of the night....in the empty dumpsters right between the Quonset huts at MCRD San Diego.
I joined 'em a few times, and damned if we never got busted..........had that happened, we'd still probably all be in the brig.
The only bad part was the stereotype thingie...all we had was their stupid menthols - heh.
I’ve done it too...for bottles and cans. I made a decent wage for it and it’s cash that even the irs gestapo cannot take away from you.
My neighbor told me all the time that 24 2-liter pop bottles is equals to $4...and I did confirm it when I went to this illegal alien-run can and bottle depository in L.A.
When I worked as an Event Planner, I worked with several caterers. All food that is not eaten is discarded (the law). The first time I realized that they were throwing away the food, I freaked. After that, I brought containers and they filled them up. Yes! Awesome food free.
In the Gulag garbage eaters were called “dokhodyagas” or goners. Of course, an American dumpster might rival the selection and quality of a Soviet supermarket.
Ain’t too proud to beg, Sweet Darlin’...
I love, love, LOVE my local grocer’s Produce Guy. He gives me HUGE boxes of ‘scraps’ for my hens to eat - for FREE!
I won’t lie to ya - a few weeks back there were enough strawberries (ONE spoiled per container) and enough apples to bake pies. There was enough good lettuce and other veggies for salads all week long, on TOP of what I grow myself...
This country is SWIMMING in food - and it’s a cryin’ shame that a mouthful of it ever goes to waste!
In my next life I’m going to find a way to recreate The Loaves and the Fishes. Don’t doubt me. I’ll do it!
Other dumpster finds? The two planter-pots outside of my back door. ‘Martha Stewart’ brand, priced at $40 EACH - I always have lovely seasonal arrangements in them, or I use them to grow salad greens in artful plantings. Soon, they’ll have Mums planted in them for the Fall, then holiday greenery and lights and such.
The artwork in my Master Bath that takes up an entire wall? One huge ‘print’ by John Singer Sargent of a girl that looks just like me in my youth - gilt framed and everything. Dumpster picked. It’s SO awesome and makes me smile every time I walk into that room. :)
I could go on, but I won’t. Well, maybe later, LOL!
Proud to be a Bottom Feeder. IF you’re not scoping out the curb or the dumpster or are too shy to ASK, you don’t know what you’re missing! :)
Back in the 1970’s my Mom would go to the Nickles Bakery to get the day old bread...claimed it was for the wildlife...
Darn computer! What is this stupid reality show? “Dumpster Diving?” Gross. I thought I had it on FR.
Identities to steal.
True story: Company went broke.
Lost my job and had no prospects.
Wife filed for a divorce which turned nasty.
Bank assets, automobiles (for me) were frozen and wife got temporary ownership of the house .. I got the street.
Had enough money to purchase a tent which I pitched in the woods next to the RR tracks.
With no job prospects, I would walk several miles, every morning at 5am to a ‘labor pool’ to work for around $19.00 a day after taxes!
I was trying to save enough cash to buy this old pinto wagon for transportation AND it would also allow me to carry others to their job sites from the labor pool and earn even more money.
I had told this second hand auto dealer my situation and he agreed that if I were to give him half of the 850.00 price of the pinto, he would allow me to pay the rest off in daily payments from the labor pool work.
(The dealer was next door to the hall)
$19.00 a day didn’t go far and I REALLY needed that car so-o-o .. I survived by ‘dumpster diving’!
Publix, Albertsons, Winn Dixie use to throw out TONS of food, including canned hams and pretty decent vegetables.
(Can’t forget the shrimp platters 8)
Little Cesare’s(sp?) and Pizza Hut were life savers too!
After Six Months of #ELL .. I got the pinto, got a Real job and .. The rest, as they say .. is history!
BTW: The county that I was living and grew up in .. shortly afterward passed a law called “Disturbing the contents of a dumpster” which got you a ride to jail!
The stores also started dumping kerosene on the food in the dumpsters!
A tip even for the ‘un-broke’ .. The week after christmas, hit the dumpsters behind your local drugstores that sell stuff like walkman tv sets, am/fm radios etc. etc. .. Folks who don’t know the correct way to install batteries in these things, return them and the stores mark em off as ‘write-offs’ and pitch them!
(I wound up giving away a ton of mini tv’s and am/fm radios since I only needed one! 8)
You CAN sleep .. ten feet from RR tracks! 8)
Freegans aren’t new. I first read about them around 8 years ago.
I’m all about a good dumpster dive. But not for food. I coupon and other stuff to save money on food. I do, however, have 3 30 degree sleeping bags, hockey flags, 4 insulated lunch coolers, 2 fleece (LLBean type) dog beds and 3 tents. All from ONE dive. Oh, and they were all brand new with tags. The dumpster was in a business district, so it was mostly paper goods...no stinky! We STILL talk about that night. good times. good times. ;-)
I guess I have too, at least technically and NOT for food.
At the end of every Spring semester at my university kids going home for the Summer would invariably reach the panic point where they and their parents realized that all their stuff wouldn’t fit into whatever mode of conveyance they were going home in.
Result: an ENORMOUS amount of stuff that was hauled out into the trash area behind the dorms.
And it was good stuff too. Over several years I managed to obtain multiple bookcases, a brand-new cedar-lined steamer trunk, a drafting table, books, computer games, lamps and the like.
I’ve been working one or two jobs since I was 11. farms, construction, lawn work, restaurants, snow removal... whatever. through college, sometimes three jobs at once. most times I was doing 60-110 hrs/wk (6 days per week). I’ve worked in secure holes and overseas for long periods of time. doing whatever required to get the job done.
during all that time, I’ve never spent much on ‘wants’, mostly focused on ‘need’ spending.
the result of doing this over 30 yrs would be financial security.
I did spend years where my meals were oodles of noodles or peanut butter sandwiches.
but at no point did I look at a slice of pizza in the trash and think “oh yea... dinner!”
I’m pretty sure if I did, I’d go hungry and find another job asap (and yes, there are *always* jobs available, even if they aren’t advertised)
You are correct. The freegan thing isn’t new. What the article is claiming is new...is it is middle America now doing it.
The ‘trendy new name’ was around 15 years ago. I think many businesses are afraid to give away old food for fear of liability. My neighborhood grocery store won’t let me take away their old produce for compost out of this fear.
I have and still dumpster dive.
In the past, I used to harvest electronics, books, and furnishings that were discarded at the end of the academic year. I'd resell everything and make great cash for a few hours of work.
I never had it as bad as freejohn, but when I was a few fresh out of college, on my own, and scraping by, yes I used to pick perfectly good canned and baked goods from behind the Safeway and (my favorite) the local gourmet grocery. A local pizzeria used to give me the unsold pizza slices when I would come in at closing time.
Nowadays, I'm in the top tax bracket and, yes, I still dumpster dive. For what? The piles of discarded vegetables behind the grocery go right into my compost piles. And I still occassionally drive around a couple of choice neighborhoods on trash night and have score some great decorative pieces and antiques. A little restoration work and it's off to the antique dealer. Even better is when I go around my neighboorhood and pick up items (lamps, exercise gear, electronics) people left on the curb for the trashmen, take the items, clean them up, and sell them at the neighboorhood yard sale.
The sad truth is that many in this country are extremely wasteful. No conservative, in my opinion, should look upon wastefulness and laziness and make excuses for it.
My Mom goes to our local bakery for ‘day old’ bread for my chickens; her GrandChickens, LOL!
We ALL live like Queens on the stuff that’s thrown away ONE SHORT DAY past it’s expiration. Focacia Bread, hard rolls, whole wheat breads, pizza dough, Danish, etc.
It’s insanity, I tells ya! Insanity! But a boon for me. And Mom. And the hens, who in turn all of that FREE food into yummy-licious eggs! :)
Life as a Bottom Feeder is Good. :)
EBH, my bad...
Diana, I KNEW we were kindred spirits!
Mia: My Mom works in her Church Kitchen. She’s one of the original ‘Church Basement Ladies’ if you’re familiar with the Midwestern-mocking theatrical play.
Anything that isn’t eaten goes home with them, too.
Those goofy Lutherans! Whatareyagonnado? ;)
I agree about how wasteful this country can be. I have pulled many a useful item out of the trash in my time. Never have dumpster dived food, but anything else is fair game.
God Bless You. You are a SURVIVOR and I admire that in a Freeper. :)
“No conservative, in my opinion, should look upon wastefulness and laziness and make excuses for it.”
The only thing I would worry about it how long the meat had been in the dumpster or how long it sat waiting unrefrigerated before being taken out.
But it was a prime rib and fillet Mignon?
As an Army Ranger during the nam conflict .. I Learned how to survive!
Every survival skill that I had learned served me well while I was going through that experience.
I can GUARANTEE you that Without a home or transportation, living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida at the time that .. You would Not be working a ‘normal’ job or three ‘normal’ jobs at the time!
You would do Anything to get yourself back into the ‘normal’ flow, get transportation first, (which I then slept in) and after that your prospects for Real work would present itself!
Nobody wanted someone who they didn’t think could be relied on to report for work, If they didn’t have reliable transportation.
This is South Florida that I’m talking about and it’s a Rattlesnake for the down and out!
And .. Unless your pride gets in the way .. You Would eat some ‘nicely boxed’ and still warm pizza from a pizza hut dumpster .. when you got hungry enough!
I didn’t say that the pizza were just slices, thrown away on a trash pile.
They were always boxed and warm! 8)
Thank You Diana in Wisconsin
I am a better person for it!
Life can throw even the most prosperous a curve and if you want to survive .. You will do Anything, that isn’t illegal to pull through!
I now know that if I am ever in a similar situation .. It is not the end of the world! 8)
I used to make quite a bit of spending money dumpster diving- I'd find perfectly good items, and take them to one of the local consignment auction houses to sell. Paid cash weekly. Lotsa fun.
I used to make quite a bit of spending money dumpster diving- I'd find perfectly good items, and take them to one of the local consignment auction houses to sell. Paid cash weekly. Lotsa fun.
I was ‘upper’ middle class and I was in a position that I had to do it.
It saved my life!
While out working, I regularly run into a couple who dives for scrap. They tell me that they average around a grand a week doing this- which is really good money around these parts (more than I make!), especially if you aren’t paying taxes on it.
Baraq promised change.
Sadly it wasn’t what most of his voters expected.