Dumpster Diving Dad

After seeing the Dive video I became convinced that this was the next course of action for us in our home.  Making the change to a flexitarian diet can be difficult when you are struggling with grocery money as we are.  Produce is some of the most expensive food to buy given how much we would want to eat of it.  (my kids decimate fruit in record speed)

If you read up on the web, there are staggering statistics of the amount of edible food that gets trashed and hauled off to our landfills.  It is estimated that 40-50% of our food ends up in the landfill.  You might wonder, how come perfectly good food is being tossed?

Many and varied reasons.
Packaged food gets dented, banged up, hole in it, etc.  Into the trash it goes.  Perhaps it has reached it's sell by date.  Sometimes a new shipment comes in and what is still on the shelf goes in the trash.

With produce, if you have a bag and there is one bad one in the bag, into the trash for the whole bag.  If something is blemished, oddly shaped, discolored - it's gone.  We are a picky and finicky crowd here in our abundance and we want perfect produce. (or as close to it as possible)

So after lots of reading and watching tons of You Tube videos I talked to hubby about diving for food.  His initial reaction was, "Alright!  I'm in!  I'll do it!"

David actually got off work at a decent hour tonight so I asked if he would hit up a store on the way home.  He wasn't as thrilled about it when it came right down to the actual act.  But he agreed to give it a shot.  He was talking to me on the phone when he arrived at an Aldi's and said he would call me back when he was done.

Well, he called back really quickly so I thought it must have been a bust.  Maybe an employee had come out of the store or maybe there wasn't anything in the dumpster. (I had tried going to a store this past Monday, and the bin had been emptied that day)  But to my surprise he started telling me excitedly about all the great stuff he got and how he didn't even really begin to make a dent in the amount of food in the dumpster.  He just took the stuff "on top" rather than digging through the mounds of food.

"I'm going to another store!  I'll call you later." he said and hung up.

He admitted to me after getting home and helping me sort through the haul that if there hadn't been anything in that first dumpster, he would have never gone again.  Good thing it was full! :)

Anyway, it is unbelievable the amount of food we got, and even more sad, how much more that is destined for the landfill.

Anyway, here are some pics of our first haul.   Mmmmmm, bread!

Look at those yummy mushrooms!

Egg anyone?  (I know, I know - hubby is easing his way into flexitarianism!)

Either too much food or too small table...

Num, num, num!

Here is the inventory:

6 loaves 100% whole wheat bread (our fav!)
1 loaf oat bran bread
1 bag of flour, 5lb (hole in bag - thus, tossed)
2 steaks (these are for the dog)
2 heads lettuce (we took off the slighly browned outer leaves and they are fine)
2 heads cauliflower
2 bags apples, 3 lb.'s each
10 loose apples
2 lemons
7 mangoes
3 bags onions
2 bags potatoes
3 cartons Bella mushrooms
1 pkg. sweet peppers (red one was past its prime, but orange and green are fine)
3 crowns of broccoli (we think they were tossed b/c the wrapping was torn)
3 bags oranges (each had one bad orange in the bag)
2 bags tangelos (same issue as the oranges)
1 cantaloupe (not pretty - we'll see if it's good when we cut it open)
1 jello snack
4 kids drinks
1 dozen eggs (3 cracked - dog will get these)
2 pink grapefruit (also not pretty - David cut one open - beautiful and delicious!)

I wouldn't even know how to put a price tag on all that!  Anyone got any guesses what the dollar value is on what we just pulled out of the trash?

Just this week I set up a MeetUp group called DSM Dumpster Divers to get others in the area who are interested in diving for food to coordinate our efforts.  Since you never know what you are going to find, we can set up a regular meetup where we can each dive our local stores, then come together and share within the group.  This way we can best assure a varied diet for all our divers.  The excess can then be taken to the Iowa Food Bank which is a member of Feeding America.  They serve as a storehouse to distribute to the various organizations around the state that get food to the needy.

Well, for any of you that aren't sitting there cringing and going "Ick!" here are a few tips for delving into the world of dumpster diving.

  1. Smaller stores are more likely to have easily accessed dumpsters.  The larger stores often lock them up with gates or have huge trash compactors to destroy the food.
  2. Check your local laws.  Some states have made it illegal to dumpster dive.  Most states it is still legal as long as it isn't locked up.
  3. Don't make a mess!  Keep it clean so the store doesn't have a reason to lock it up.
  4. Do some drive by's when you are out and see what stores have easily accessed dumpsters.
  5. It doesn't hurt to ask.  Some people have reported that asking managers for food destined for the trash nets them all they could want without having to dive at all.  Often they will ask for the food to give to their farm animals. (so there is no concern on the stores part of liability issues, but truly, what isn't fit for human consumption, can be fed to the chickens, goats, or pigs)
  6. Last but not least, if you are lucky enough to live near a Trader Joe's, these are a highly coveted dive spot yielding a wide variety of great food.

Okay, I'm done for now.  I'm gonna go get me an orange or two!


  1. Nice haul! I'm considering trying this, but I'm terrified of being "busted".

    I watched that Dive video and was sooo dissapointed to see that Trader Joes was such a major waster of edible food. :(

  2. extremely interesting! thanks for sharing this info. i am off to trader joe's first chance i get! it's my absolutely favorite store and now maybe i can actually "afford" it, haha. i do think you are brave, though, "recycling" the fruit and veggies. aren't you worried about it being unsafe after its stint in the "joint"? especially the broccoli with its torn packaging? i'll say one thing for poverty, it makes you creative! it is so true that picky eating is a result of affluence. kids who don't eat what parents serve them--it's all just about having too much, too many choices. when people are REALLY hungry, they eat whatever they are given or can find. (my infantry sergeant friend and his troops, serving in iraq, have had to eat DOG when there wasnt enough food on Thanksgiving!) we are truly so spoiled. and i can't believe how wasteful! all that food when families everywhere in our own neighborhoods are in need. should we fear God's judgement on this one for bad stewardship? makes you think.

  3. i am so proud you!!! what an awesome way to dumpster dive and involve the community. i love this post and i love that you have so much food now. imagine, this is just the beginning... brightest blessings,

  4. Amy, This is great !!! Freetarian for sure. I love that your hubby is now hooked. So I have heard friends say they fill their sink with diluted castile soap and wash off everything really well. What do you do? Inspiring.


  5. Michelle - I recommend going diving early on a Sunday. A lot of stores aren't open til later and you don't have to worry about skulking about in the dark. :)

    Synida - you just have to use your good judgement picking out the produce. If it is upside down in a messy bag, we aren't bothering with it. If it's in a big bag with nothing but clean produce - fair game!

    Riana - you are so right, this is just the beginning! hubby is talking about hitting up the toys r us dumpster to Christmas shop for the girls - ha, ha!

    Angela - Yeah, we are just washing everything in mild soap, which we really should do anyway - think how many hands have touched your food in the store! Ewww! ;)

  6. wow! what a haul!! Got to be 50 bucks or more 75?..takes me back to my hippie commune days..(39yrs and counting) I did all the cooking..one night we got a whole box of onions and a whole box of eggplant and one very large lamp(which we needed badly!) I made the largest platter of onion rings and eggplant ever.. fed 13 people! Oh the mem's!

  7. dumpster gods do smile on thee. Like your hubby, I probably would not have gone diving again if my first trip had been a bust. As it were, I found $1000 of cheese and 3 bottles of wine on my first trip!

    Thanks for the story, and remember to share the love. If you have a food not bombs group in your area they might distribute the food for you.


  8. Alex - yes, the food not bombs group serves dinner in downtown Des Moines on Sundays. That is a good suggestion since the food pantries are regulated on what they can take. Thanks for posting the link so others can check their local areas too. :)