The 70-year-old dumpster diver

My friend Hope called me early this year and told me this story and sent me these pictures. I felt I should share it–mainly because I found it so disturbing.

Perfectly good thrown out food.

(In a large-sized midwestern  American  town, the first week of Jan 2012.)

Out walking her dog, Hope came across a dumpster behind a bargain-priced grocery store. Hope’s dog  bee-lined  for the dumpster and she realized the dog had discovered thrown out food from the grocery store. Dented cans, smashed fruit and dairy and meat products with passed expiration dates sat high on boxes in the dumpster, a few tossed products didn’t make it in and lay scattered on the ground, which her dog gnawed. She peered in and saw boxes of perfectly good tomatoes and lettuce.

As she walked away, two men who appeared homeless walked through the woods and headed straight for the dumpster. Reaching in for the food, they immediately sat down and began to feast.

A month later, while Hope shooed her dog away from the dumpster yet again, a woman peered around the corner of the dumpster, startling Hope .

“Is there anything good in there?” the woman asked. She looked to be in her 70’s.

“Gosh, I don’t know,” Hope replied. “I haven’t looked.”

“Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m from Germany. My food runs out before the end of the month. I only have social security, and they’re getting ready to cut that. I don’t know what I’ll do,” the elderly woman said, pulling out bags of crushed apples and a package of pork chops. “Do they have any lettuce in there? I need a salad,” the woman said.

Hope helped her root around. “Oh, look at these!” Hope exclaimed about a packet of yogurt that wasn’t expired yet. I wonder why they threw this out. ”

“Shhh. You must be quiet or they’ll come out and make us leave,” the woman said. “One of the workers opens up the pints of milk and pours them out so no one can take them.  Be quiet or they’ll shoo us away. Oh, I love milk. I like to have milk for my cereal.”

“Here’s a gallon right here!” Hope said.

“Oh! I can’t believe it! Milk! I never find that!” the woman squealed in delight, reaching for the gallon.

“What’s the expiration date on that?” Hope asked.

“Oh, I don’t care about that,” she answered. “I’ll drink it anyway. I know it isn’t very expired. I  come every Wednesday and every Sunday to the dumpster to look for food. Most places you can’t do this. ”

The elderly woman pulled a white trash bag from the dumpster and took it to her car, only to turn around and bring it back. “Oh darn, this is someone’s trash,” she said.

Hope helped her carry the food to the car, and watched her drive away.

“It made me sad when she accidentally picked up someone else’s trash and took it to her car,” Hope confided. “Is this what it’s coming to?”

I wasn’t sure if I was more disturbed that a 70-year-old woman on social security has to dumpster dive to get enough subsistence for the week or by the amount of food America wastes. Talk about zero waste!

What do you think? 


13 responses to “The 70-year-old dumpster diver

  1. Ahh! I have EATEN dumpster-dived food. It’s perfectly good, perfectly edible, but NOT perfectly sell-able. It is on my bucket list. If I do it, you KNOW I’m going to blog about it! (And I think you know I’ll do it. I just need more time…LOL)

  2. I don’t watch much TV but while home and in-between classes one day I caught an episode on TLC called Extreme Cheapskates. There was one Asian woman who gets everything by dumpster diving or whatever is left on a curb on trash day. She found decent food and cooked a meal for her friend and his girlfriend one night. Neither liked the food – it tasted stale or dry or just gross. The cake they tried for dessert was said to taste old. It was very interesting. I think the worst food waste is in school cafeterias though.

  3. What’s really mystifying is that there is no downside for supermarkets if they donate goods to food charities – in fact, it can help their bottom line. Food donations are tax deductible, and there is no risk of liability (except in cases of gross negligence) since the Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act was signed into law in 1996. And, with companies like Food Cowboy sprouting up, they don’t even need to worry about logistics.

    • jean-francois, merci encore. as a student of american wasting habits, i do appreciate the data you provide..indeed, the only downside to grocers is that they must exercise patience while waiting on sometimes unreliable volunteers who do not come to pick up the goods when they are ready to leave the store-room floor ‘pronto’, indeed, a snag in the donation mechamism..aside from that..i’ll be sure to peruse the logistics of it on food cowboy etc..

  4. That really is disturbing – both for the food waste and the people that are in such need. I honestly dont know what stores here do with the wasted food – but I do know that the produce that is looking less than perfect gets marked down for quick sale and put in a special bin at the end of the produce section – I guess that is better than nothing. I have bought it before too, for immediate use, or to freeze for later.

  5. again jennifer, you procure highly entertaining info on the ‘waste not want not’ status of the local food scene…either the food store managers have an uneasy conscience, or they are totally oblivious to the real needs of people on the ground…
    how noble of the reporter and of the dumpster acquaintance to shed true light on the disgusting way food is handled in the mass market..that was one big ugly discovery of mine when i came into the country.. how energy and nutrition are de-valued and neglected…(yet another unwritten blog post for me to spend winter days)..and i DO have personal anecdotes a’plenty on the subject..
    at whatever stage on the food chain you may be ladies, keep carving a path to social awareness, rename the word shame into a proud and happy “FOOD SAVIOR MENTALITY”

  6. yes but she had a car…what is more important buying food or running a car. In Bulgaria there is a lot of people rooting about in dumpsters, they get very little in benefits and many live in broken buildings

  7. I was just riding my bike this afternoon, up and down the alleys–I can’t help it, I peer in dumpsters, never know what treasures I might find. But this time I looked in the dumpster behind the church we attend, wow, about a half a box of donuts that we had just munched on 2 hours previously, in the dumpster! I didn’t know they were going to be pitched, I might have eaten another one! A few alley’s further on, I seen a large can of peas on the sidewalk, I thought it must have been empty, no, it wasn’t opened. I never thought about the cartons of eggs that have one cracked egg. This brings up disturbing questions— I need to ask at our local food bank if Walmart and our local grocery store donate “damaged/expired” food. One day this past summer, the local library was handing out ripe bananas to the patrons–this is a good thing. Good post Jennifer, it’s got me to thinking and I’m going to act on some of these concerns. (I agree with one commenter about the waste in school cafeterias–parents need to teach their children not to waste).

  8. From both of the standpoints you raise, waste and need, this is truly tragic.

    As Heidi said, some supermarkets mark down products that are close to expriy for quick sale. Others, like Walmart mark them down but leave them in their usual place. With the three golden retrievers as regular guests in our home, I have been buying chicken gizzards there. I noticed that they are on a six day cycle (today’s the day) and I stop by and stock up on those that otherwise would go into the dumpster.

    (Now if I could just find a local recycler to accept the styrofoam container in which they are packaged).

  9. Crazy story and a bit disturbing. I can’t understand why grocery stores won’t donate this kind of stuff rather than throw in a dumpster???

  10. I went dumpster diving once in Toronto and it was such an interesting experience as it felt right and wrong at the same time. I went with the group “Food not Bombs” which has chapters all around North America.
    Thanks for the link to the film too!

  11. My daughter worked in a school cafeteria and she said the workers would give these young children such big servings (way to much food) and most of it went into the garbage…. never touched

  12. i like the melon, and i just eat a melon…

Tell me what you think. I don't get to answer comments like I did before baby but I read every single comment. And they really make my day!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s