Freegans August 10, 2011

I like this story and what these folks are doing, even if you won’t find Kris and me diving anytime soon.

A new documentary about food waste could dampen grocery chain Trader Joe’scrunchy image.

“Dive” illustrates the waste of wholesome food by following a group of “Dumpster divers,” people who mine trash bins for usable products. In the film, the divers are not homeless or even particularly poor; they just don’t like to see good food go to waste, and they like to get stuff for free.

“In the United States, even our trash cans are filled with food; you just have to go get it,” director Jeremy Seifert says during the film’s opening sequence.

The “freegan” divers – Seifert, his wife, Jennifer, and a bunch of their friends – discover large quantities of fresh meat, vegetables and fruit in bins behind a couple of Trader Joe’s stores in the Los Angeles area. Seifert is appalled that so much food that is not spoiled and not past its freshness date is being discarded.

But Seifert says the target of his film is wastefulness, not Trader Joe’s.

“In our consumerism we‘ve become wasteful,” he told CNN. “And I try to bring it back on us because of the food waste in the home.”

A typical household of two adults and two children loses $600 in food per year through spoilage and mishandling, University of Arizona professor Timothy Jones estimates.

Still, “I don’t get mad at people when they don’t think about food waste, because I didn’t think about food waste,” said Seifert, 34, who holds a master’s degree fromFuller Theological Seminary.

“I didn’t think about food waste until I started eating trash.”

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  • I’ve had some pretty great meals served up by dumpster divers. No complaints here!

  • Blake

    The laws say when the grocery stores have to throw out food and its significantly earlier than when it actually goes bad. It doesn’t matter what the chain is you can dumpster dive at any of them and get lots of good stuff. I’ve got friends at seminary that regularly go dumpster diving at a nearby Kroger.

  • When I was a shelter director, a high-end dept store contacted us. Once a month, we picked up all their “waste” – as in, all the end of the line items or discontinued items they were no longer selling. The conditions were simple – we wouldn’t disclose who was giving us this high quality stuff to give to our shelter residents, and we would take everything, including stuff we couldn’t use in the shelter, give to the residents, etc.

    I’ve heard of rescue missions getting perishable items from groceries who are disposing of excess day-old bread, for instance. I wonder if there are food safety regulations which inadvertently get in the way of many more stores doing that? It would be good to explore the issues more.

    I’m sad to say that too often there may be a miserly element that is at work. If “I” have to pay for this, “you” shouldn’t get it for nothing. When I worked w/ the Salvation Army serving Katrina refugees, there were people who got angry that poor local people came to eat w/ the refugees. The Salvation Army’s response was simple, “we don’t turn anyone away who is hungry.” The official response was to build fences & create ID’s to keep the locals out of the refugee area. There are so many facets of human brokenness.

  • Although this is noble, I wouldn’t recommend this for everyone. Food can certainly be found in these dumpsters, but also a smorgasbord of disease, germs, medical waste, and fecal matter. Be careful.

  • DRT

    There are businesses that will come and clean out your attic and take the stuff away for ownership. I wonder if there is a similar concept that would come into play here.

    I could see it now, they come into my fridge and say “you won’t eat this in the next day” Or, “this has already passed its use by date” then they take it away, for Free!


  • Josh T.

    I would be concerned about the unknowns–the “why” behind the food being in the dumpster in the first place.

    I doubt stores throw out sellable, unexpired meat for no reason at all. Maybe it came in contact with bad chemicals; maybe it was part of a preemptive recall (before the product hits the shelves–I don’t know if such a thing even exists); maybe it’s something we haven’t thought of. But whatever the reason (and if it is a good one), it’s not necessarily detectable by the people retrieving it from a dumpster–not to mention the fact of what the food has come in contact with inside the dumpster.

  • There are many organizations who try to harness what is normally classified as waste and use it for good. In NYC, there is a program where high end restaurants and catering halls that have excess food can call a non profit. They will come and pick up the excess and give it to homeless shelters and soup kitchens.

  • Kenny Johnson


    Yeah, I’m a bit of a freak about food and food tampering. It’s not quite a phobia, but probably not normal. I even check with my wife to see if she opened the juice we just bought if the seal is broken before I drink any (I assume the worst). There is no way I’d ever be caught eating food from a dumpster.