According to a new report by the National Resources Defense Council, the United States throws away a staggering 40% of the food it produces every year. There are a number of culprits for this: restaurants and bakeries which throw away what’s left uneaten or isn’t sold, people who buy more groceries than they can use (you know who you are), food distributors who throw out whole pallets when things go bad in transit, and probably the biggest culprit supermarkets.
Supermarkets are one of the biggest cause of waste because:
- Stores feel pressured to keep shelves perfectly stocked at all times.
- They throw out food with merely cosmetic blemishes.
- Expiration dates demand that food gets thrown out regardless of whether it has actually gone bad.
For example, American bakeries keep shelves full all day long for purely aesthetic reasons. At closing time, whole shelves of bread and baked goods go straight to the dumpster.
This is where we come in as dumpster diving enthusiasts, because there is so much waste and so much of it is perfectly edible and “fresh” there is always an abundance of food just waiting to found. Dumpster diving is great for communal meals, because you can get a really big haul of food for free.
Perhaps the hardest thing about dumpster diving is overcoming the stigma that comes with going through the trash. Our culture associates that behavior with poverty and poverty with shame, because of that there is a strong cultural bias against dumpster diving, but that’s all it is.
The first step is choosing a supermarket. Some supermarkets will be inaccessible because they throw their garbage away in locked dumpsters or behind fences, this is easily checked by walking around the supermarket. In general, any medium or large supermarket will throw out enough food to make it worth your while. You’ll also learn, through trial and error which supermarkets yield the best results when diving. Bakeries are also always a good bet, they throw out their bread every day, so you can usually get fresh bread any time.
Dumpster diving can often be a time consuming late night excursion, especially since you’ll have to take everything back home and wash it. It’s a good idea to get a couple large bags, some plastic gloves if you don’t enjoy getting your hands sticky, and a flashlight or a camping headlight so you can look into the bags without too much trouble.
Finding A Supermarket
Make sure you prepare accordingly you can plan your route by using “Google Maps” and finding the supermarkets or bakeries you’d like to try. Make sure to plan everything about your trip including how you’ll get there and back and how you will carry what you find, should be on the top of your list in terms of preparation.
Getting the Food
When dumpster diving, make sure to always use your judgement, this is especially true when you are looking for food. If a fruit or vegetable looks rotten, don’t take it. If you find a bag of apples or oranges and one is bad, but the rest are good, you can separate it out at home. Canned goods and prepared food are almost always fine to take just check for signs of expiration like with all food. Don’t worry too much about expiration dates or best before dates. A lot of foods are still ok days after their best before or expiration dates, rely on your judgment and common sense about food. The number one rule is if you have doubts about taking something, then don’t take it. You can always find more things that you won’t have any doubts about. I’ve never gotten sick from dumpster diving, and there’s no reason you should either.
Clean, Store, Then Eat!
Wash what you found thoroughly, and then store it like you would regular food. You’ll be amazed at the bounty of fresh food that you can get. You’ll be able to make delicious meals without spending a cent. Dumpster diving is not a solution to the major problem of food waste, but it does help.