Dumpster diving in New Zealand nets gourmet meal; not without risks

Dumpster diving, or freganism, has been around for a while but the current movement gained momentum through restauranteur (and Against Me! drummer) Warren Oakes’ magazine, Why Freegan? Folks who participate may being doing it for lots of reasons; it could be as a stand against food waste or as a hunger coping strategy. Or somewhere in-between. Some retailers worry about liability issues and others come close to facilitating it by sharing when certain items will be disposed to a network of known users. Reducing food waste through freganism is noble, but not without risk. And the divers and users are comfortable with the risks, go for it.dumpster-dive-flickr-diegofuego

The New Zealand Herald reports that kiwi chef Ben Barton jumped into the word of food waste and cooked a meal for 32 with ingredients largely recovered from retail store garbage.

For anyone none the wiser, it could have been a feast sourced from a farmers’ market.

Mr Barton used the challenge to highlight the amount of food binned by retailers and restaurants.

Collecting edible food from bins is gathering steam overseas. Thousands of New Yorkers have been rummaging through dumpsters behind food chains as part of the “freegan” movement in which environmentalists live off throwaway food as a political statement against corporate waste and big agri-business.

Mr Barton, who discovered dumpster diving while in Manhattan, finds the waste generated by the modern food system irritating.

“I hoped I wouldn’t encounter the same in my beloved … New Zealand but I have found that Auckland food retailers throw away enough food, of such quality, that I can turn it into an extravagant gourmet meal.”


Ajoblanco – a spanish soup with almonds, garlic, olive oil, grapes
Three types of crostini
Romesco – a nut and red pepper-based sauce with crumbed smoked gouda

Panade – a dish made from bread that’s similar to lasagne
Potato cakes with tomato sauce
Potato salad
Salad with greens, croutons, pinenuts, parmesan, sundried tomatoes and radish

Bread and banana pudding.

I’d worry about any cut produce (stuff like salad mix or tomatoes) used in the salad, even if packaged, since it’s unclear how long it was in the dumpster and what the cross-contamination and temperature abuse situation was.

Where it falls apart is giving the dumpster-salvaged food away to needy folks who may not be provided with enough information to make risk/benefit decisions:  this food is free, but because we don’t know how it was handled, and can’t cook many toxins out of it, it might make you barf.

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.