Why Middle-Class Americans Are Turning to Dumpster Diving

Have you ever thought about getting your food out of a trash can?

Dumpster diving has become a hot new trend in America. In fact, dumpster divers even have a trendy new name -- "freegans" -- and as the economy crumbles their numbers are multiplying.

Many freegans consider dumpster diving to be a great way to save money on groceries. Others do it because they want to live more simply. Freegans that are concerned about the environment view dumpster diving as a great way to "recycle" and other politically-minded freegans consider dumpster diving to be a form of political protest.

[Click here to read the New York Times article, "The Freegan Establishment"]

But whatever you want to call it, the reality is that thousands upon thousands of Americans will break out their boots, rubber gloves and flashlights and will be jumping into dumpsters looking for food once again tonight.

So is this actually legal?

In some areas, dumpster diving is considered to be legal. In other areas, dumpster divers are technically breaking trespassing laws. Although in most areas the police have so many other problems that they aren't really concerned about cracking down on dumpster divers.

One of the biggest issues facing dumpster divers is safety. Crawling around in back alleys and side streets in the middle of the night is not exactly the safest thing to do. But the lure of large amounts of free food is enough to keep some people coming back over and over again.

During the recent economic downturn, the popularity of dumpster diving has exploded. Today, there are dumpster diving meetup groups, dumpster diving Facebook groups, and even entire organizations such as Food Not Bombs that openly encourage their members to go dumpster diving.

If your family was going hungry, would you go dumpster diving?

You might be surprised at who is doing it. Dumpster diving is not just for the homeless and the unemployed anymore. A lot of people that have decent jobs have picked up on the trend.

Just check out the following example from a recent MSNBC article, "When Money Ran Short, This Dad Started Dumpster Diving."

A programmer by day, Todd takes to the streets of North Carolina by night, digging through Dumpsters at drug stores and grocery stores all around his rural neighborhood.

"You would be simply amazed at what businesses throw out," he said. "I've only had to buy two loaves of bread all year. ... Last week I had a trunk full of cereal, cookies, chips and ramen noodles."

Todd slinks in and out of smelly places with low-light flashlights to evade rent-a-cops who will shoo him away. Most nights, his 14-year-old son comes along.

The truth is that dumpster diving is just another sign of the times.

Food prices continue to rise and are putting incredible stress on the budgets of average American families. We just saw another huge rise in food prices during the month of August. Just check out the following data from a recent article posted on The Economic Policy Journal...

The index for finished consumer foods jumped 1.1% (13.2% annualized) in August, the third straight rise. Over 30% of the August advance can be traced to meat prices, which climbed 2.4% (28.8% annualized). Higher prices for processed poultry and eggs for fresh use also were major factors in the increase in the finished foods index.

If you are married and have a couple of children it can cost a lot of money to feed them every single month. It is not hard to understand the allure of dumpster diving for people that are having a hard time making ends meet.

[Dumpster diving isn't the only way to cut down on spending. Check out these 25 Ways to Save Hundreds on Your Monthly Expenses.]

Other Americans are choosing to dumpster dive because they believe that it helps them live a simpler lifestyle. There is a growing movement of people in America that are rejecting all of the "consumerism" that we see all around us.

Today, the average U.S. household has 13 different credit cards. We are constantly being bombarded with ads that tell us that we need more stuff in order to be happy.

Well, a lot of people have decided that is a lot of bunk and they are doing whatever they can to simplify.
#-ad_banner_2-#Other dumpster divers are absolutely horrified by how much food is wasted in America: It has been estimated that 263,013,699 pounds of food are thrown out in the United States every single day.

Can you imagine?

We are probably the most wasteful nation on the planet. With the number of hungry people in the world, it is absolutely criminal how much food that we waste. In that sense, it is probably a good thing that dumpster divers are saving some of that food from the landfills and are finding positive uses for it.

In my recent special report about poverty in America, I noted that 46.2 million Americans are now living in poverty.  For now, the U.S. government is helping feed over 45 million Americans through the food stamp program, but what is going to happen once the social safety net starts to break?

Right now, dumpster diving is cute and fun and an interesting way to save money, but in the future there may be millions of Americans digging around in trash cans if we don't get this economy turned around.

Note from the Editor: This article was originally posted at The Economic Collapse blog. 

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

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