(SAMANTHA KEENE) Can you imagine spending only $10 on food in a month? How about in a week?
That’s still more than dedicated dumpster diver William Reid has spent in 2 whole years. Since 2014, he has spent just $5.50 on food, choosing instead to collect scraps wherever he can find them and scouring supermarket dumpsters for untold treasures.
The biggest surprise? He’s eating like a king.
A graduate student in film and electronic media at American University in Washington, D.C., Reid gave up buying food in August 2014. Since then, he’s been sustaining himself on found meals that rival what even the healthiest consumer buys for themselves. He eats vegetables, fruits, meat, eggs, and milk — “anything you can imagine,” he says. He has never gotten sick from picking food this way, nor has he had to compromise on nutrition.
“My life isn’t tremendously different from other people’s,” Reid told The Huffington Post.
“Other people go shopping for their food; I’ll go around back and see what’s available,” he explained. “I’m getting to make the same decisions about what I’m eating as another person would.”
While outlawed in some cities, dumpster diving is legal in the U.S., provided it isn’t done on private property, which then becomes illegal trespassing. But Reid says he’s never been stopped or ticketed for taking unsold food out of dumpsters, and has even been helped by store employees, who hand him food they were about to toss so he doesn’t have to sift through garbage to find it.
Reid’s success as a dumpster diver stands as testament to the severity of the country’s food waste problem, as approximately 40 percent of all food in the U.S. goes uneaten. Despite this egregious waste, however, 1 in 7 American households lack regular access to good food.
Food waste happens along every tier of the suppy chain in the U.S., from grower to consumer, but supermarkets and restaurants account for nearly half of the total loss. The result? A veritable dragon’s hoard of uneaten and unspoiled food just sitting in dumpsters in trash cans, waiting to be plucked by the daring and resourceful ‘shopper.’
Reid argues that “people would be surprised about the level of quality of food” in dumpsters and finds this reality “tremendously disturbing,” particularly in light of the many malnourished individuals and families in the country.
“It actually kind of sends me chills,” he said. “We have tremendous want and need in this country for healthy food, and we have tremendous waste.”
Of course, Reid didn’t always eat this way. He began dumpster diving in 2014 while he was volunteering at Food Not Bombs, an organization that collects unsold food from stores and donates it to food pantries. Months of ‘urban foraging’ led him to realize just how much good food was available, and that he could reduce, or even eliminate, his food costs by taking advantage of this perfectly good trash.
“It occurred to me that it might be possible for somebody to survive that way,” Reid said.
And so he began eating exclusively trashed or donated food, though he has since stopped accepting donations. Not only that, earlier this year he decided to become vegan — not out of a desire to stop eating meat, but because it had become “too easy” to find free food. He wanted to push himself even further.
Reid admits that going vegan was “difficult” and he has lost weight in recent months, since he has to look through many more dumpsters to fulfill his new dietary needs. He notes, “I don’t always have time to cast my net that wide.”
Yet Reid doesn’t spend nearly as much time scavenging as one might imagine, even with the change in diet. One of the biggest misconceptions about dumpster diving is that it takes hours to gather enough ingredients for a meal, but Reid says it rarely takes longer than a typical trip to the supermarket.
“It’s not like I have to go any more often than others,” Reid said. “I think people have this idea that there must be a big time commitment, but I go to some dumpsters that are in my neighborhood and, in 15 minutes, get some food and I’m out.”
That being said, this way of life isn’t for everyone. Aside from the social stigma, which is not inconsequential, one must have a fair amount of flexibility in their schedule to spend even short intervals rifling through trash cans for food. And if you have a whole family to feed, that time will only increase.
But Reid acknowledges the uniqueness of his position and assures that he doesn’t aim to encourage others to become dumpster divers too, but rather to just raise awareness about the absurd of amount of food waste in the U.S. Indeed, he’s making a documentary about the issue that he hopes to finish in December and release in early 2017.
So, you’re probably wondering: If Reid is so good at dumpster diving, what caused him to snap and go on a $5.50 spending spree? A scheduling conflict forced Reid to spend an extra night on Deal Island, in Maryland, where he was shooting a film. Since he didn’t have extra food with him, he had to eat what he could find.
“I was sort of stranded in a situation, and I needed something to eat and really didn’t have any options,” Reid said.
So he splurged on a bag of Chex Mix and a protein bar.
“I was weak,” he added laughingly. “It wasn’t even real food.”