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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Dumpster Diving To Fight Hunger, Waste

How much food do you throw out? As a country, we waste 96 billion pounds a year and according to filmmaker Jeremy Seifert, you’d need a train long enough to go from Los Angeles to New York City and back again to hold it all.

Seifert learned about food waste when he started scavenging in dumpsters behind grocery stores and found what he thought was perfectly edible food– everything from fresh, organic blueberries, to imported German cheese. He started eating the food and feeding his family with it– even his pregnant wife.

Food Safety

Seifert told Here & Now‘s Robin Young that he never had any fears about feeding his children and pregnant wife with the dumpster food. He learned to trust his nose, and only take meat that was cold, and thus, recently refrigerated.

DIVE! The Documentary

Seifert made a documentary about his dumpster diving, called “DIVE: Living Off America’s Food Waste,” and in it he calls on others to join his movement “to end food waste.”

Seifert petitioned grocery stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Vons to donate more food waste to shelters or pantries. Some individual stores were donating, but  entire chains had not committed- a step that Seifert is still advocating.

Should Others Dumpster Dive?

Seifert says that dumpster diving gave him a new perspective on food waste, but he is not necessarily calling on others to do it.

“I want dumpsters to be empty and stomachs to be filled. I’m not advocating dumpster diving… There’s a broken system and we need to change something at a fundamental, systemic level,” he said.


  • Jeremy Seifert, director of the film “DIVE! Living Off America’s Waste”

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  • Jess

    I threw a party and invited a couple friends that were dumpster divers. They brought food that they had salvaged. They left me in the position of having to tell people where it came from! I was not happy and felt that it was wrong of them to serve food to people that had no idea where it came from!

    • Russell

      Hey Jess. Maybe you need to get rid of your friends and fine some that will supply you food that was purchased “up front” from the store rather than from the back.
      I have served family and some friends the foods I salvaged. Most could care less.
      If this is a certain or bothering you, get new friends.

      • http://twitter.com/gumdrop923 Jessica M. Durbin

        I agree with Jess. I would NEVER serve someone food that came from a dumpster. Regardless of the ‘gross’ factor – the most important reason is that I don’t trust anyone to “feel the meat” or otherwise judge whether something is still safe to eat after the expiration date has passed. 

        I’m all for not wasting food, but serving “dumpster delight” to an unknowing person is wrong.

  • Teh

    Good job fellow. I can say that I have been doing this for well over 35 years. The wide variety of waste created by supermarkets which I tend to frequent is amassing.
    Many of the stores actually save me all their trimmings, etc.
    So this minimizes the diving. I generally carry 5 gal. pails and long handed 4 prong fork to retrieve what is necessary.
    Within the past hour, I did my usual Tuesday run at my local store. Lots of tomatoes, mainly for the compost pile. Also lots of onions and potatoes which I tend to give away to neighbors. Depending on the day, I can get from 2-3 boxes to well over 10. Over this past weekend, I was given a case of eggs of which we sorted out over 11 dozen “perfect” eggs. Over 5 dozen were cracked in various ways. Those I feed to the cats.
    Living on a farm, most gets composted which is an advantage I have living in the country.
    I was able to convince some of the bread vendors to take their expired breads and rolls to the local homeless shelters. However I still could retrieve easily 200 loaves of  a variety of bread, buns, rolls, etc weekly from my local store.
    And this morning, I was given a whole flat of Twinkles. Those are mainly sugar, flour, fat and chemicals. They go into my fireplace as they burn hot.
    I have no regrets about what I do on the side. America is a very wasteful country compared to dozens of other countries I have visited and worked in. I work in the field of biology and chemistry and am aware of what I deal with.  For the uneducated or ignorant who fear the “germs” or “bacteria”, etc, then I advise you carry on with your lives.
    Keep up the good work Jeremy Seifert.

  • Bunny

    As small business owners we don’t have much disposable income.  When our daughter got a job in an upscale food market one of her duties was to check shelves for items about to expire. She sometimes brought  these home giving us occasional treats we couldn’t otherwise afford.
    We also took their leftover fliers to  recycle as that was another type of waste we couldn’t stand.

  • Mrtwiki

    Just heard the interview on NPR – AWESOME WORK!
    I’ve long wanted to do something to stem the wastefulness I see like this and fell more hopeful that there is a solution!

  • Kateri Collins

    Great piece! I am going to go check out our locally owned grocery store and see their policy! We and our three kids still abide by the eat everything on your plate rule!  But I am sickened by the amount of food left on the plate when children come to our house,  eat a bite off their plate, then say they’re done. I scrap their plate into a tupperware! Thanks for bringing attention to this issue. The National Geographic had a story on food waste a few months ago.

  • Mtdoom

    In the middle ages people ate aged meat to the point of being decayed.  Fruit and vegetables that were partially rotten were commonly consumed.  Their stomachs contained bacteria and enzymes that could tolerate and digest these things with ease.  By starting to eat slightly contaminated foods as a youth you build a tolerance to germs so that by your teen years you should be able to eat foods with mold, decay and even putrefaction with no problem.  Indeed “aged” meat takes on a tender texture and flavor unlike anything fresh has to offer.   If society breaks down and it becomes survival of the fittest those who can eat spoiled meat and vegetables with no concern will be the ones that stay alive at the end of the day.

    • Guest

      Well said!

  • http://www.facebook.com/susan.nazzaro1 Susan Bimbo Nazzaro

    The information in this interview is outstanding.  There are so many people who need to understand how important it is to feed all Americans.  One in four children in Texas (Mr. Perry’s state) are on food stamps.  Food banks all over this country are crying for food donations.  This interview is mandatory…

  • Deborah

    I, too, am appalled at how much food we waste.   For years now, I have (politely) bowed out of “pot luck” lunches at work because people bring in way too much food and so much of it gets tossed away.  The math is very simple, though it seems so many people don’t get it:   if you prepare a dish for 10 people, and the 10 people attending do that, you have enough to feed 100 people.  You should actually prepare just enough to feed 1 person, so that the amount of food is appropriate for the amount of people.  Yes, I know that will never happen, and that is why I say no thank you to the invitation, then explain my position.
    Additionally, I do dog and cat, puppy and kitten, and even farm animal rescue – the idea of throwing away food that humans could eat or my critters could eat is unconscionable.  At least  in my house nothing goes to waste:  what we don’t eat, the dogs or cats (or pigs or hens!) eat, and what they don’t eat gets composted so that others can eat healthy, organically grown food.
    I have visited enough places in the world to have seen real hunger, and I pray more people hear this report and see the film, and learn something from it!

    • Guest

      That is another concern in itself. People eating way too much. When I go to a restaurant my husband and I share a meal and it is more than enough for the both of us. A meal intended for ONE person!
      I never see anyone else do that and I feel like I am the only one that feels that way. It is nice to hear others that agree.

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

        I’m tired of restaurants trying to give me a skimpy meal for too much money.  When I buy a meal, I want to eat.

      • Guest

        I also share a meal with my significant other when going out to eat at a restaurant. My friends sometimes tease us, but I know they’re really jealous that they can’t share as easily.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Mr. Seifert,

    If I buy food, it’s mine to do with as I please.  I may eat it, throw it away, mulch my garden with it, or whatever I wish.  That’s not an unjust law; that’s property rights.

    • Suzanne Plulnkett

      Oh brother. 

    • Claudia

      You are right Greg. You bought it so you can do whatever you wish with it.
      Practicing the American way of life, aye? Sounds like capitalism to the max.  Keep spending and over consuming.

      “We’ve turned into this nation of overfed clowns, riding around in clown cars, eating clown food, watching clown shows. We’ve become a nation of cringing, craven f*ckups.”  James Howard Kunstler, author of “The Long Emergency”

      The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.  Tacitus

    • Sheila

      He’s not saying that you can’t do what you want with your edible property, he’s just saying that there is a big disconnect in the way that these supermarkets throw away food that is deemed unsellable but may not necessarily be unedible.
      Food waste is a problem. I have thrown away food because it’s gone bad, and I’m only wasting not only food but money as well. It’s hard to keep on top of it but I think it’s something we can all work on.

  • http://twitter.com/gumdrop923 Jessica M. Durbin

    Advocating for grocery stores to donate their “wasted” food and educating consumers to buy less | waste less is great. Getting food out of a dumpster to eat is absolutely foul. 

    • Anonymous

      have you ever gone hungry?

  • Guest

    I work at Blockbuster and just the amount of expired candy and soda we throw out makes me sick. Often I set it all next to the dumpster and then after work go out and get it to bring to a food pantry. It’s not just food either. Our boss, and I am sure many others, throws out old computer supplies etc. There really should no longer be a general trash service. Everything has a place it can go to be recycled and it is medieval that we still just have an out of sight out of mind attitude on matters like this.

    • Llel11

      yes it is not, not, not, about trash… I have come to this conclusion. america has become a giant production assembly line. it is about disposal of the unbought as quickly and cheaply as possible, passing the cost of ‘storing’ the unbought onto the taxpayer via public landfills…private individuals are urged to recycle but businesses throw out obscene amounts of everything, from the office to the loading dock…’trash’ is an absolute myth, we are being used as a way for corporations to dispose of unprofitable goods, if they could find a way to profit off those ‘unusables’, THEN they will recycle or otherwise use them, case in point manufacturing plants that have bins of copper and aluminum scrap, this is very common. Why? Because they can sell that ‘waste’ and profit from it. Nothing else is the corporation asked to consider, whereas the individual is urged at every corner to ‘go green’…we throw everything away at work, and then at home we are greener than the grass in the yard…it’s insane the mindset we have.

      I have been shocked in dumpster diving to find the most expensive chocolates I have ever eaten, time and time again. Stuff I would never buy, that still has a month or two before expiring. Kudos to you for donating that stuff.

  • Doublebeagles

    When my daughter was in college she lived in a co-0p called the Lorax (as in the Dr. Seuss story). They all had jobs there and one job was to take a bike with a trailer and go dumpster diving to supplement the food supply at the co-0p.  I was somewhat appalled at first but then amazed at what she found in the trash.   Since they were all vegetarians/vegans there, they didn’t get any meat but lots of produce and I think all the bread they ate there came out of the dumpsters.

  • Anonymous

    You ended the story with the standard PRI/NPR snarky condescension. Do I think they’re crazy?  No, I don’t.  Why don’t you ever ask about the pople that send the military to kill and die in pointless illegal wars, “”do you think they’re crazy?”  or the people that go – do you think they’re crazy? Do I think Bush and Obama are crazy? Yes. Do I think the regime in Israel is crazy? Yes.  But of course, prominent important people are never q2uestioned. No, it’s just wacky ordinary people, like your listeners who get challenged.  It’s like People magazine in public radio land these days… famous people are treated with reverence and deference, people who aren’t famous are losers of questionable sanity. Have you covered the Wall Stree Occupation? Ah, who cares, just a bunch of crazy people anyway.

    • smartgirlwholistens

      Actually, I think they covered the Wall Street Occupation immediately after the story on Dumpster diving.

      • Anonymous

        On Here and Now? Didn’t hear it, can’t find it, do you have a link?  If you mean the All Things Considered segment, this is what I posted about that:  “Ah, NPR listeners, we need to be careful what we wish for. We push and push and push, so NPR shows they can’t be pushed around by delivering 3.5 minutes of incredibly lousy and arrogant coverage designed to make the protesters look stupid and sheeplike. Quite different than the coverage of the Arab Spring, where they managed to notice there was government oppression of the protesters. If I was in NY, I’d protest NPR.”  Never happy, right? Well, no, not until they start treating this as seriously as they do Bill O’Reilly hawking his new book

  • Sheila Garrett

    I’m so glad that this subject is being discussed.  I doubt everyone will agree on whether dumpster diving is a good idea but it’s way time for everyone to know that wasting food is a huge problem in our culture.  For 10 years I worked at a progressive boarding school with a farm.  We arranged to get discarded produce from the local supermarket to feed to our chickens and pigs.  The inedible stuff went onto the compost heap.

    I’ve known a lot of dumpster divers and I have harvested some thrown away food (not in a dumpster) myself.  I welcome the education that people are getting through this show and Jeremy’s film.  Thanks.

  • Erik PDX

    I’m very conscious of not letting food go to waste.  I evaluate what’s about to expire and base my daily recipes on that.  I was inspired by an except of the book “An Everlasting Meal” by Tamar Adler, who touches on the next meal that can be made with the leftovers from the previous meal.

    I believe that all stores should donate their food destined for a dumpster so food banks can feed even more people.  Even Walmart has taken measures to do just that, and they bought delivery trucks to execute it.  A great documentary that includes dumpster diving and reusing all sorts of things is called “The Gleaners and I” by Agnès Varda. 

    Thanks for the great topic!

  • Mysticlabradors

    I am embarrassed to hear people say they would not eat food at a party that came from dumster diving.  they, obviously have never been hungry.  the amount of food we waste  in this country is horrible.  when I was young, my dad aged beef until it had a mold on it, then scraped it off and had the best steaks ever.  I do not throw anything out,  never get sick.
    Not only the children are going hungry, but our elders also. 
    thanks for taking the time to  bring this to our attention.  Dumster diving is a civic responsibility as it talking to our grocery stores about all the food they throw out. 
    I have friends who will not use anything if it is beyond the “buy date”.  Try to explain to them that is just a  CYB for the grocery stores.  If some things are looking a bit used in my refrig, I make clean out the frig and freezer soup.  Everyone should have a compost pile for those items that are beyond saving. 
    We need to get everyones attention in this country about the food they waste. 
    Thanks again for this article.   

  • SP

    My husband dumpster dives regularly, and we have cut down on our grocery costs by %25-50!  Much of it is nowhere near expiration, but merely has a tear in the packaging, is no longer being stocked, or is being replaced by different packaging. To your points about serving dumpster food to unknowing people, what in the world would be wrong from serving perfectly good people to unknowing people??  We would never eat or serve anything that looks spoiled, but that is extremely rare! 

    The waste is disgraceful, plain and simple. It’s an embarrassing part of being an American. 

  • Lotreefrog

    My kids and I used to volunteer in Arizona for a food bank that would pick up any all food offered by the grocery stores.  We had a once a week route of 4 stores to visit, pick up the food that would otherwise be thrown out, and drop it out off at the food bank.  It was a great lesson for both my kids and myself to see what would have otherwise gotten thrown out.  We even helped create the food into meals a few times and served the people it fed.  It was a great service that was constantly competing with the dairy farmers that fed their cows and with this excess and the store worries about liability if a person got ill from spoiled food. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VWYWW6NAVCQWZZWUNA22ANJBUY Rachel

    I’ve been dumpster diving from the produce department at an upscale grocery store for 3 years, only they are kind enough to give it to me in the back room at an appointed time each week before it goes out to the big dumpster. Most of this goes to my chickens, but I do eat it as well. Each week I get a giant box or two of produce, most of it near-perfect– thrown away because of a bruise or a spot of mold on one berry in a box. Most stores are not allowed to give away their produce per company policy (concerns about litigation), however the produce manager at the store I go to feels so bad about the waste, he lets me come get some of it (not sure about the company policy). I think the numbers he gave me were that they throw away around 200 lbs of just fruits and vegetables every single day. 

  • JoeyM

    Waste of food is a  *HUGE* issue – people can’t live without food – but our refuse/discard culture extends to other items as well.  There is enough discarded metal in trash to build the body panels of  my car.


  • Esimpson

    After hearing the review of Dive today, I immediately purchased it.  I’m going to be showing it to my community college students as an inspiration for writing assignments.  That big groceries waste food is horrifying.  Great story.

  • Alfred

    America is a culture based on consumerism. Keep consuming way past your limits and end up in perpetual debt. Just as the elite would prefer it.
    As the old German saying goes: He who owes, loses his freedom.

    Currently its about 1 in 7 in the US getting food stamps and approaching 1 in 6. A year ago it was 1 in 8. At some point, there will be riots by those who need to eat. One of life’s basic needs.
    I already see in my town at least 6-7 different people that dumpster dive. This is double from a year ago. Times are getting tougher and when people need to eat, they will resort to extreme measures if needed.
    Currently scavaging for food is free whether its in from a dumpster or plastic bags on the curb.
    People will do what they must.
    Ever seen a food riot? I have in Africa and in India. Its ain’t pretty.
    You don’t think it can happen in America. Then go back to your football and beer.

  • Ed Williams

    Dumpster Diving was an interesting program.  There wouldn’t be so much waste if food suppliers wern’t so afraid of lawsuits and government regulations and their related infractions.  To protect themselves businesses leave little to doubt as they throw away anything that even hints of possible contamination.  Just look at the millions of pounds of meat that are recalled and destroyed when only a few instances of e-coli are discovered.  If indeed as much as 50% of food is actually wasted, then if only half of that could be saved and used, then the cost of food would decrease.
    I recently came across another example of incredible waste.  Little Ceasar’s Pizza has a “hot to go” offer which I use often for a large fast pepperoni pizza that is cooked in advance and kept hot and ready for instant sale.  I discovered that they throw out the pizzas after 30 minutes if not bought within that time.  I say incredible because it defies belief.  There’s nothing wrong with a 30 minute old pizza and indeed we eat them often and often save the remains for later snacks.  So why not sell them at a discount after 30 minutes or offer them to nearby store employees or have them picked up by food pantries several times a day?   
    While all the comments including mine lament the waste of food, there is little understnading as to why stores and restaurants throw it out other than because of lawsuits and government regulations.  All it takes is one report (true or not) of a food related problem to kill the profits of a business for months.  So, be safe and wasteful or, be reasonable about food safety and waste not so much.  We spend entirely too much time, effort, and money being too safe in order to satisfy the courts, the food agencies, and the media that often spreads news without understanding consequence.

    • Anonymous

      we’ve been conditioned to see fruits and vegetables displayed artistically, each piece perfect.  That represents a lot of food dumped because it has a blemish or a slight ding.  There’s a perfectionism that says that anything less than well designed and well displayed is not good enough.   We pay for this waste with the increased cost of our food. 
       I know inflation is supposed to be low but you can’t tell it by the prices of fresh produce in grocery stores.  I remember picking downed apples from my neighbor’s yard (the house was in the process of being sold and the trees hadn’t been sprayed).  Out of a bushel of drops I got an abundance of apples that I made sauce of.   Sure it had a bruise here and there and some brown spots, but I just cut around it). 
       People today live in another world.  Ask anyone who lived through the depression.  Nothing is ‘good enough’ for most people.  They’ve never known real want or hunger except when they wanted marble countertops in their new house and had to wait for them to be installed….   

  • Sandy Kretschmer

    I find the paradigm shift really interesting, our consumption oriented society does waste a tremendous amount of resources besides food. Food markets and other food sellers should strive to incorporate redistribution into their business plans thereby getting the resources to those that are needy. It is a socially responsible and ethical way to eliminate waste. Our local Trader Joes does make food deliveries to the local food bank, I was surprised and disappointed to hear that it is not their corporate policy across the board. Public awareness and pressure from consumers should help businesses reconsider how to handle food waste and redistribution.

    • Llel11

      yes, i don’t understand because is this stuff not tax deductible? i mean, that would be quite the write off,  if someone could keep track of it. it should not take more than five minutes a day.

  • Mdterborg319

    In re: Dumpster Diving. I frequently volunteer at Second Harvest Food Bank sorting food donated from grocery and drug stores.  I am concerned about their policy of discarding so much good food. We have to throw out what they consider “out-dated” food. Those of us sorting agree we have older stuff in our cupboards at home, but it goes into the dumpster and we are not allowed to take any of it. Such a waste!

  • Blake

    Glad to hear that Food For Free’s work
    salvaging food in Cambridge was mentioned. I have worked for this
    organization for over a year, and am proud to report that we salvage
    over half a million pounds of donated food each year that would
    otherwise go to waste, and distribute it to food programs in
    Cambridge, Somerville, and Boston. Good to see a discussion of food
    waste in the media.

  • Gula

     I wonder how much of this 96 billion pounds of food is actually considered “fit for human consumption”.I personally have gone on runs over the years getting produce from a couple of local food stores. Brought home easily over a 150 lbs. per week and I only visited them 3-4 times a week.I also come across a lot of bread and other baked goods along with boxes of various snack foods along with all kinds of packaged potato and corn chips.Myself for many years, I have eaten a predominately raw food diet. I also grow a lot of it. Much of the waste other than produce as I described above, I do not consider fit for human consumption. The Standard American Diet(SAD) is one of overprocessed, fragmented, chemicalized, GMO ladened, dead and stale in nature.I eat much better on a standard fare of food(which is fresher first of all) in almost every country I have travelled to in the past 46 years.The food stuffs available in America are calorie dense and nutrient deficient and most important ENZYME DEAD.  As I have said many times over the years, Americans are overfed and undernourished. One only need look at the health care system being overwhelmed with those who are ailing, ill and dying. The sickest people on earth are in the US. Records bear this out.Why does the richest country on earth have the stalest food for its people and also the sickest on earth? There is a direct correlation between a good  diet and health. And Americans have neither.Studies also bear this fact out.
    As Dr. Joe Nichols stated back in the late fifties. Eat foods that spoil, but eat them before they do.

    The educational system has done a poor job teaching the youth from an early age of how to care for and feed the human body. In American with the medical-industrial complex and Big Pharma, the focus is on treating dis-ease with drugs rather than on “prevention. There is no money in healthy people.
    Overall there is a tremendous amount of waste in all sectors across the country.

  • Vee

    Three things stuck out for me.

    1) We have twice as much food as we need.

    2) 1 in 4 children is hungry.

    3) This is unnecessary suffering.

  • Lem

    After you view this view, go watch Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance from 1892 to see how we got to where we are today.

    • Lem

      Sorry about the typo above. Thats 1982

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