Dumpster Diving

It’s no secret that I’ve been trying to save money lately. I’ve stopped purchasing my daily lattes, I’ve been bringing lunch to work, and I’ve replaced short driving trips with long walking trips (good for the environment, my body, and my wallet – everyone wins!). All in all, I’m quite proud of the ways I’ve been able to save a few bucks. Turns out, though, I have been missing a critical step: dumpster diving.

I found out about dumpster diving when I was talking with a friend this afternoon (a friend who will remain nameless, lest she kill me). As important back story, you should know that she is uber-stylish and is always decked out in fancy designer duds. She is a beautiful, successful girl and is far more fashionable than I could ever hope to be. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: So what did you and [other nameless friend] do after drinks on Friday?

Friend: (laughing) We actually went dumpster diving.

Awkward silence.

Friend: You don’t know what that is, do you?

Me: Is it another way of saying “bargain hunting”?

Friend: (shaking her head in disdain at my utter lack of touch with my generation) No.

She went on to explain the act of dumpster diving, which, as it turns out, is exactly what it sounds like. At the end of the day, food shops generally discard their unsold wares. Often, the food items are untouched and kept cleanly in fresh plastic bags, before being placed into the dumpster. Once in the dumpster, they are ripe for the picking, and, best of all, they are free. My friend informed me that the best place to dumpster dive is at bakeries where you can score fresh-baked loaves of pricey gourmet bread like she did last Friday night. She also reassured me that she had lost neither her job nor her home (I asked).


I recalled an article on this habit of dumpster diving that I read last year in the NYT. It was about Yale undergraduates who would scavenge the leftover loaves from a dumpster near a popular bakery in New Haven. But those were undergrads. You only have to so much as think the word “free” and you’ll have hundreds of students lined up (I know – when I was in college, I used to wait for hours during Ben and Jerry’s free cone day. Upon graduating and starting to receive a salary, I finally realized that 2 hours of my time was worth more than the $3 I was saving). Surely, though, once people gain more sophistication and more money, they would abandon this grotesque hobby.

“You don’t dumpster dive, do you?” I asked a friend who was a graduate student at Yale and far more mature than the undergrads described in the article.

“Only at the bakery,” she said. “The bread is really good. And it’s free!”

I shook my head. Two of the most sophisticated women I know had lit up with excitement while discussing the act of digging loaves of bread out of a dumpster. Was I missing something? Had the world simply gone crazy? When had eating garbage become chic?

I’m considering tagging along the next time my friends go. I’m intrigued enough to check it out and find out how one dumpster dives, since apparently, I’ve been missing out. I can’t say I’ve warmed up to the idea just yet, but I’m keeping an open mind. In the meantime, it’s store-bought bread for me.

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10 Replies to “Dumpster Diving”

  1. Tag along and bring a camera.

    I want to see her skinny ass clad in designer jeans while her Manolos hit the sky so she can eat someone else’s garbage.

    I’d pay for that photo.

  2. Well, since food prices have hit the roof and do not seem to be abating, I guess a whole lot of us will be doing the “DD” in no time. Let us know how it turns out.
    BTW, you need a technorati widget so I can favorite your blog.

  3. I would try anything once or twice so go ahead and tell us what happens. Nothing to lose. You would even gain a bread.

  4. I’d love to see some pictures of this!

    We don’t have a lot of top notch restaurants around here, but I have seen people going through the residential dumpsters. I guess during the winter it’s not so bad, but during the summer you’d have to brave the flies. Interesting post.

  5. All I can think of after reading this is: diarrheal diseases. Although I did go dumpster diving in our trash can for a pack of diapers that I accidentally threw away.

  6. Eating garbage became chic when stores started throwing out good product that they couldn’t turn a profit on!

    There are groups like “Food not Bombs” and the Catholic Workers Group who host free feasts in public parks on a regular basis. (internationally!)

    There are a lot of stores that will donate apples with bruises, or one-day expired food that isn’t dangerous or bad to eat, or similar. Bigger companies don’t want to contribute for free what they could have turned a profit on, so into the trash it goes.

    Before a big camping trip, my friend hit up an Entemann’s Outlet, and there were bags full of breads, cakes, muffins, still sealed in their wrapping in a bag with no other trash in it! We ate well for days. None of it was even stale. Just stamped with a date that was past.

    I retrieve items from people’s curbs all the time – tables, chairs, garden equipment that just needed a little love. Using something that still has use just makes sense to me! 🙂

  7. I also have found a custom, tailor made suit in the trash. It had a rip in the satin lining, and fit me like it was made for me.

    I looked up the company – it was a $300 suit!

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