Klosterman discusses the ethics of preventing dumpster diving

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?

Chuck Klosterman, author of one of the best music books, Fargo Rock City, answers a question in his other job as The Ethicist in the New York Times Sunday Magazine.Unknown


consider Dumpster-diving to be moral. I understand that supermarkets don’t like it because the divers are their potential clients. But is it ethically wrong to Dumpster-dive in a private Dumpster? TOMO JACOBSON, NEW YORK

You suspect the supermarkets are against this because the divers — if not allowed to take the rubbish — would be forced to pay for nonexpired food through conventional means. That would indeed be unethical; if food is deliberately being discarded, there’s no reason a person should be stopped from consuming what someone else views as waste. In actuality, however, supermarkets are primarily against Dumpster-diving because it happens on private property, and “diving” constitutes trespassing. Furthermore, having people rummaging around in garbage reflects badly on the perception of the business, not to mention the liability risks involved with allowing strangers to jump inside a massive metal box filled with refuse and then consume the contents. This is ultimately an issue over trespassing and how a private business wants to represent itself in the public sphere. The supermarkets absolutely have the right to stop people from rifling though their privately owned receptacles, in the same way that a homeowner does.

Trespassing may be a factor but grocery store food safety folks also worry that someone might pick out some food that makes them, or others, ill.

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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.