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Trash or Treats

Article Published: Feb. 4, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Trash or Treats

An area resident takes a dive in a Dumpster.

Photo submitted

A number of people in the High Country are getting their food for free.

Some find the thought of digging through trash revolting, and even worse, eating what is found. Despite the concerns of people who would never look for lunch in the trash bin behind a grocery store, some in the area are. Dumpster divers are getting last week's specials for free.

"The truth is that there is safe, unspoiled food in grocery store Dumpsters," said Chelsea, age 21, who preferred not to disclose her full name. Despite the negative preconception of "Dumpster divers," she is well kept and dressed neatly.

"My experiences have led me to believe that (a supermarket) alone throws out no less than $1,000 of edible food per week," an anonymous source said. "It is likely that they are (throwing away) more in the $2,000 to $3,000 range."

With anti-consumerist attitudes, some individuals go diving through trash because they do not believe in the excesses of a wasteful society. Others pick the bins because they cannot afford to buy from grocery stores. There are some still who dive through refuse bins because what they find, to them, is just as good as what they would buy inside.

Depending on the seasons, foraging can happen in bins or off the streets.

"Some wild edible plants that are very prolific around here are chick weed, Nettle's, dandelion, plantains (North America), violet, and many more," area resident Jared McQueen said,
"People who are able should get chickens to have a consistent supply of healthy eggs at a low cost. Wild foods can be found almost everywhere. They should be picked in areas that see little human traffic."

McQueen gathers some of these not far from his home and brews teas or eats the low growing plants where he finds them. A short hike from his home, he picks stinging nettles and steams them to make tea. He says that the brew aids digestion.

"Chick weed will be one of the first wild edible plants that will be proliferating early this spring," he said. "It is a very tasty wild edible plant that is commonly found in this area during the early spring and late fall. It likes the cold. It is nutrient rich and truly tasty."
But in the months during which the earth doesn't bear growth, freezing conditions can keep foods thrown in the trash from rotting. Some of what grocers toss out are products that have expired sell-by dates.

"If you look at it this way, it's like drinking some milk that was supposed to be sold a week ago," the anonymous source said. "The dates are right there on the top. There are a lot of foods that you find in the trash bins that aren't a week over their sale dates; they are just a day over."

"They (grocers) put an arbitrary sell-by date on the product," Chelsea said. "They have averaged the time it takes before it spoils, and then they knock the date back further, so that they don't get sued for something that has spoiled. It doesn't mean that (something) is through. When it's thrown out in freezing temperatures, it's even better."

Chelsea said she had been diving for goods in trash bins for more than two years. She was first introduced to it by a friend. At first, she did not pay much attention to the practice until she began to see the fresh fruits and vegetables that were being pulled out of the trash bins.
She warned others who are considering diving for themselves.

"I was behind the (grocery store), and a manager, or a guy in a tie, came out and said that we were not supposed to be there," she said. "We left because he could call the police. I was driving away, and when I looked in the rearview mirror, he was splashing the contents of a white bottle over all the trash."

Chelsea added that a friend had been digging in the trash bin at the same grocery store later that day, and, after eating what they found, got sick.

Chelsea did not make any determination on why her friend had gotten sick, but when tracked down, the friend said that bleach had been poured over the contents of the trash bin.

Rather than destroy or spoil the food, Chelsea offered merchants a different suggestion. "Find a way to give it to people who need it," she said.

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