Dumpster Diving as an Urban Survival Food Strategy



TEOTWAWKI hits and it’s every man, woman, and child for him or herself. YOU live in the city (or suburban outpost). It’s HELL – roaming bands of biker thugs emerge from out of nowhere, clean water is difficult to find, screaming people can be heard at night – and day, and there’s no end in sight. You’re hungry. You were smart enough to stock food in advance, but you didn’t stock enough, so you were also one of the first to raid neighboring apartments when the owners didn’t return (and you knew they wouldn’t). You scored more food there. It’s day three of the Apocalypse. You’re hungry, so you sit down in your little hidy hole with canned beans and can opener.

Don’t do it! Don’t open that can of beans! Save it. It’s only day three. Grab the grub that’s going bad first, go – dumpster diving!

My favorite dive is the “Armstand Group”. This is when the diver assumes a handstand position at the end of the diving platform and pushes off. Being that it’s a dive NOT used with a springboard, it’s also perfect for dumpsters.

Why not dive? You’re gonna get dirty anyway. Once, when I was a kid, I was on an 4-H “Teen Discovery” trek into the boonies. There was this little bitchy kid on the trip that was “helping” me get the canoe off the shore – only he wasn’t really helping, because helping would’ve meant getting his feet wet. Camp counselor dude comes along, assesses the situation and tells the kid to “go stand in the water.” The kid responds, “huh?” Counselor dude: “Go stand in the water – now.” Then little bitchy kid figures it out. Once wet, getting wet for the canoe is no longer an issue. He reluctantly got wet . . then helped with the canoe.

What does this have to do with dumpster diving? . . . ummmm . . . . oh yeah! DIVE into the dumpster and, once covered in blech, getting your paws dirty scrounging for grub won’t be an issue. Besides, you’ll be less appealing to thugs if you look and smell all nasty. Deception!

Seriously, though – scope it:

There are also large losses in restaurant salad and buffet bars. Mickey Dedajic, an 18-year-old immigrant who lived off rotting potatoes and rice during the siege of Sarajevo more than a decade ago, said he’s astonished at the waste of food in America after working as a waiter and bus boy at an Alexandria, Va., hotel.

“Most of the time we run out of food, and there’s more food in the garbage than on the buffet,” he said. “People just aren’t thinking about it.”

From the same article (here):

“I just don’t understand this,” said Jones. He suggested that bulk purchases at discount stores are resulting in people having too much food they are not used to keeping, and so are just throwing unopened portions away. About 34 percent of discarded edible food was dry-packaged goods, and 19 percent canned goods that keep a long time.

I could write an entire post just on what a waste this is WITHOUT a survival situation. Seriously! I wonder if the Mrs. would like to head out to a restaurant for dinner . . . BEHIND the restaurant. Doubt it, but I’ll be on that scene in no time WTSHTF.

– Ranger Man

17 comments… add one
  • oldman in the boonies January 30, 2008, 11:56 am

    The rest of the world is appauled in the amount of food we Americans waste. Oh yeah I am sure we benefit from healthier buffets. But when the Buffets are gone and we are forced to eat like the rest of world, will we have natural immunities they do?

  • ryan January 30, 2008, 12:14 pm

    I think that you hit on the biggest issue with urban dumpster diving when you talked about biker gangs appearing out of nowhere and constant screams of people being harmed. Be sure to have good security while dumpster diving. Maybe it could be made into a battle drill, “cover me while I dumpster dive”, “got you covered buddy dive away”.

    Do remember that if it is day 3 food has been in there for atleast 3 days as people will probably stop wasting food if SHTF. Error on the side of caution and cook any raw food. If in doubt do not eat it. I can not think of many worse things then having food poisoning when SHTF.

    I personally dumpster dive by climbing in feet first. I am currently something of an opportunistic dumpster diver. If I see something that has potential I pull it out and evaluate it. I got a full sized oak dining room table from a dumpster along with a speaker set for my laptop and a 3 ft high 4 ft long stuffed moose.

    Good food for thought if nothing else.

  • worrbaron January 30, 2008, 12:17 pm

    I think the point of preparedness is to not get to this point. However I do see the value in this post and if sufficiently hungry I’m sure anyone would eat just about anything. (dog post)

  • DW January 30, 2008, 12:47 pm

    Go to Mexico.

    Many people continue to live only because of what they can get out of the dump.

    Coming soon to America.

    What goes around comes aro;und.

  • worrbaron January 30, 2008, 1:27 pm

    Have posted anything about hunting and cooking specifically in a semi urban area?

  • The Hermit January 30, 2008, 2:07 pm

    I live so far out in the woods that there isn’t any dumpster type apparatus to be found. However, I throw very little away. If I can’t eat it, my dogs or cats probably can, and if they can’t, the chickens can. Chickens will eat anything, including dead animals.

  • The Hermit January 30, 2008, 2:08 pm

    Worrbaron, you might enjoy Ragnar Benson’s “Living off the Land ” which covers urban environments. Paladan Press sells it, as does Amazon.com

  • Ranger Man January 30, 2008, 3:40 pm

    Hermit, we would – of course – advise worrbaron to purchase any Amazon books through the SHTFblog Amazon “store” – right? ;-)

    It’s a way to toss me a bone.

    If you don’t find what you’re looking for in the storefront I set up, type what you want into the Amazon search bar and shop away. Amazon tosses me a small commission.

    – RM

  • boodaman January 30, 2008, 6:22 pm

    I remember seeing this TV show where 5 kids from foreign countries were given video cameras and the spent a few weeks going all over America. People could post to a website with ideas of where they should go, what they should do.

    The show was kinda lame, but the one thing that sticks out in my mind was seeing them go to some average restaurant, I think it was in Memphis or Nashville. And one of them, a woman, held a plate of food up to the camera and said “in the Philipines where I come from, this would feed a whole family”. The plate was just a typical plate of food that you would get in your average America restaurant for 7 or 10 dollars or whatever.

    For some reason that really stuck in my mind, and now I pay really close attention to my food portions. It is surprising just how small a 4 oz piece of meat is when you think about it, and you’re not even supposed to eat that every day, let alone 8-12 oz every day.

    Americans will buy packaged food and think each package is a serving, but if you look at the label, it will probably say something like “2 servings” or “serves 4”. We have no idea how much food we eat and waste.

    Another thing that boggled my mind was reading that over half of the world’s population (that’s about 3 billion people or 10 times the entire population of the US) still uses open flames as their primary cooking method. We don’t know how good we have it.

  • worrbaron January 30, 2008, 6:55 pm

    I live in a very rural part of western Maine, I was more concerned about other readers and their options while living in a semi urban area.

  • Anonymous January 30, 2008, 7:15 pm

    Dumpster Diving, post TEOTWAWKI!?! Unless you’re finding cans, this isn’t gonna last a week. & good luck dealing with what you’re gonna catch from spoiled food. Yeah, I want to deal with Montezuma’s Revenge while I’m running from those biker hordes you mentioned.

    • Dave January 8, 2018, 10:37 am

      Well, If you were being chased by biker hordes while having Montezuma’s Revenge, you can take solace in the fact that they won’t get any traction behind you. That may give you the time you need to escape. :D

  • Bathroom Graffiti February 1, 2008, 2:20 am

    Beautiful article! My family of four almost lives on dumpster goodies the last week of college. Our town has five colleges, and lots of international students. We are constantly amazed at the amounts of pre-packaged, unopened food we find in the dumpsters during move-out from the dorms. It’s a lot of fun trying new dishes from places like Taiwan and West Africa for free. *grin*

    We already have lookouts and safety regs for diving set in our family, from the 7yo on up to us parents, we know that living survival makes for an easier adjustment when you have no other way to get by.

    Very timely, thank you.

  • AleMaker August 3, 2008, 2:39 pm

    Don’t forget- any shit-stain companies with a mind to put a lock on the dumpster (current functioning economy problem only) can be made to weep and remove it with one (or many) assaults on the lock with a 50-cent tube of superglue.
    Cost effective and dumpster-licious

    I learned from the best at 18 years old in Tucson, Az. I miss those guys.

  • THE SHINDIGS... November 11, 2008, 9:39 am




  • Samperiod September 20, 2016, 6:32 pm

    Don’t forget grocery store dumpsters . Bruised fruit !!! Cut out the bruise and FEAST .

  • Anonymous January 4, 2018, 9:32 am

    My question is where is this food coming from? If the situation is that bad and bikers are roaming the streets who is eating in restaurants


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