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Dumpster Diving: The Easiest Way to Find Free Food

by Cameron Karsten Sep 19, 2007
Dumpsters are full of provisions with passed expiration dates which are all edible. If you’re not afraid.
Hunger is a necessary experience of travel (and life). When blessed with a budget, there is very little fear of hunger.

IT IS COMMONPLACE in a strange land, on a strange form of transportation that might last for days, to wonder when you’ll stop for your next meal.

True, the local markets do provide wonderfully, as with the vendors along the streets and the friendly strangers who invite you in to quench your thirst, and hopefully (cross your fingers), feed you.

Yet there is never a guarantee, and to eat is a necessity. So whip out your wallet of traveler’s checks and foreign currencies and start paying. Or… put it away and enjoy the feast.

Let me tell you something: food comes free in many more ways than one.

Taking The Dive

Olympic diving is a sport. Like swimming.

The type of diving I speak of however, does not require water. And its’ only purpose is food: to satiate that shrinking belly of yours while the traveling road surges forward.

So you dive, and dive deep, often you come up with more than one meal. In fact, it’s possible the smart diver can feed a whole family for several days.

Are you ready my fellow travelers? Are you ready to go dumpster diving?

I have found it to be an art form. There is a method to come away clean, smelling fresh and carrying a bagful of healthy, wholesome, satiating rations. But let me first lay down the definition of dumpster diving.

Within a dumpster, food easily makes up over 50% of the waste.

Dumpster diving is just that. To take the plunge into a dumpster in search of practically anything. But today we focus on foodstuffs, because we’re travelers and we’re hungry.

Everyone must eat, therefore a diver can never be letdown. And with food, there is a certain identification tag that works to benefit all: the expiration date.

Most people in society today live by this expiration date. Their ablutophobia prohibits them from eating a morsel of bread with a speck of mold or a plump pear with an inch of bruising.

This works to our advantage…if our fear is minimal.

The Art of a Full Grocer’s Bag

Dumpsters are full of provisions with passed expiration dates, everything from breads to jars of jams and sauces to fruits and vegetables and boxes of snacks. People throw their things away carelessly to make room for the new.

And the adage-one’s waste is another’s treasure-applies well in this particular circumstance. To sum up, dumpster diving is the art of claiming others’ waste, and free food is an easy source of protein.

Like I said, it is an artform, and to make it an artform there must be a few rules and techniques. The following will help one become a seasoned dumpster diver and benefit from a society obsessed with creating waste:

1. Scout out your dumpster

It is risky to immediately walk up to a dumpster’s plank and dive in. Many times there are cameras on surveillance, or hazardous wastes nearby, therefore causing the goods inside to be potentially unhealthy.

Once outside Marks & Spencer in the UK, a security guard caught a friend and me. We played dumb, told him we were making a project to reveal how much edible food is disgracefully thrown away. He smiled and told us to leave.

2. Go for large supermarkets

They stick to a strict code of tossing food that has passed its’ expiration date. Also, the bakeries inside will often deposit their day-old breads. (At a Tescos in Nottingham, England my backpack was filled with loaves of sandwich and Irish soda bread).

3. Come Around Again

Once the dumpster has been scouted, return to it at an appropriate hour when traffic is minimal.

Walk up to the dumpster with confidence; do not portray any suspicions. But quickly, forage and collect what you can. Also, carrying a grocer’s bag from the market can help conceal your actions.

4. Move Swiftly

With a full bag move out quickly. Back home, check the provisions over and wash carefully. Here is where you can discard any products you feel are not edible.

In the end, it is under your discretion of what to eat and what to toss.

Also, it is good to note whether or not any other divers are at the dumpster. For example, if a community of homeless resides near a source, be respectful and leave it to them.

These are the foundations of dumpster diving, or reaping off what other people call “waste” when, in actuality, it can be spared and used as necessary fuel.

Treat it as an art form and you will soon find yourself with a free meal, and an intriguing way of discovering how to travel, eat and live on a budget.

Put your wallets away, save your traveler’s checks and foreign currencies, and take the dive.

Cameron Karsten writes spiritual and health travel columns for Brave New Traveler. He left his formal classroom studies to indulge in dreams of travel at 19 years old, and has been wandering ever since. Visit his personal website.

Have you ever tried dumpster diving? Share you stories in the comments!

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