5 Ways to Rescue Food (without diving in the dumpster)

Dumpster diving is just not your thing. We get it. It takes a special kind of weirdo to stick their head (or body) in a stinky, grimy refuse bin and pull out something to eat. We love being that kind of weirdo, but we also know that if dumpster diving was the only way to rescue food, our food waste problem would never be solved. Luckily, there are other (more proactive) options.

Reduced for Quick Sale Bins

We love the fact that almost all of the grocers around us (and even Walmart) have a rack for day-old breads, pastries, and other baked goods. Some grocers, like Kroger, take that concept a step further and have a quick-sale bin for produce. These areas are our first stop when shopping. On almost every occasion, we’ve been able to find just what we were looking for to fill our weekly shopping list – be it lettuce, apples, bananas, potatoes, or more – on the quick-sale rack.

Clearance Sales

Unlike the quick-sale bin, which usually only offers fresh produce and/or baked goods, your grocer’s clearance rack may have needed pantry items at a drastically reduced price. Kroger, Food Lion, and Walmart (in our area) all have clearance areas for food items. In fact, right now our Walmart is undergoing a remodel and they have an entire clearance end-cap. Items that are no longer going to be carried by the store but are in perfectly good condition are placed here. This week, we were able to stock up on PAM cooking spray (50 cents a can), banana flour ($1 a bag), unsweetened almond milk ($1 for 1/2 gallon), baking powder (25 cents a can), dried cherries ($1 a bag), and more.


On the way home from my mom’s house yesterday, we saw a tangerine on the side of the road. I assume it fell out of a grocery bag or a kid’s backpack and it probably would have rotted there if we had not picked it up and eaten it. Yes, technically that’s not true “foraging” but how often do tangerines just jump out in front of you? Not very often, I would guess. But you’re probably passing perfectly edible foods every day and you don’t even know it. Learn what’s edible in the wild. Pick berries on your walk through the woods. Gather nuts off the ground. Pick apples hanging over a fence row (on public property, of course).


Gleaning is similar to foraging but with permission from the garden owner (in most cases). We have several neighbors who have old fruit trees in their yards. Since they didn’t plant them, most have little to no interest in harvesting the fruit. By simply asking for permission, we’ve harvested buckets full of pears, apples, and peaches. And a few years ago, my mom’s next-door-neighbor completely abandoned his garden and allowed us to glean everything we could get our hands on.

Closeout Stores

Though not my first choice, closeout stores are still a viable option for rescuing food. Many of these stores obtain their inventory from other stores that have gone out of business or purchased too much of a particular item to sell themselves. The foods found here are generally packaged goods – dried fruits, nuts, canned goods, spices, and pastas – and most are at or close to expiration. They are typically 1/2 the price of the same item in the grocery store and most will still be good long past the date on the package.

Food Waste Update
We took a break from dumpster diving this week to go to the mountains for a short vacation.

  • Wasted Food this week: 0 ounces
  • Total Wasted Food in 2018: 38 ounces
  • Rescued Food this week:  .25 US pounds
  • Total Food Rescued this year:  99.17 US pounds

Keep up with our food finds in real time by viewing our Food Find Gallery.

A Few Thoughts on Food

This morning I’m sitting at my desk eating a rescued Panera cheese bagel and a banana while I work. I haven’t bought any groceries since Angie left for Texas on May 4th. Come to think of it, I haven’t bought groceries all month! It wasn’t my intention to skip the grocery store during the 2 weeks I’m home alone (with Caesar) but a few days in, I saw the possibility and at that point, the zero-grocery challenge was born. What can I say, I love a good challenge (and I needed something to keep my mind off Angie being gone).

I didn’t expect this to be a very challenging challenge. I knew from the start that my mom had every intention of having me over for dinner at least every other night. I also knew we had food at home. It’s not always what I want to eat but nonetheless its food. And I knew our CSA was set to start yesterday. So I felt pretty confident that I would be fed…and fed well.

There were 2 things I didn’t anticipate though – first, a major storm flooded the farm that supplies our CSA share so they had to delay the start of the season for another week. Second, my mom went back to work. The latter brought with it a delightful consequence – the ability to rescue food.

20160506_114037On the first day Mom returned to work, she came home with a Ziploc bag containing 3 apples, an orange, and a bunch of grapes. They were all in good shape. One of her coworkers had been cleaning out the breakroom fridge and tossed them out. She also tossed out a dozen Panera bagels. My mom brought the fruit home, telling her coworker, “Melody and Angie will kill me if I let you throw these things away!” Good job, Mom! (She’s still learning.) Mom was too late to get the bagels (though had I been there, I would most definitely have pulled the box back out of the trash).

My mom works for a large corporation. They like to buy breakfasts and lunches for their employees, especially during meetings (and they have a lot of meetings!). Sadly though, not much of the food is ever eaten. Last summer when Mom was working more often and we were camping full time, she brought home whole untouched pizzas, half eaten deli trays, full loaves of bread, and more than once, an entire fruit tray from Chick-fil-A.

Yesterday was Nurse Appreciation Day so they threw a party – with more Panera bagels. This time, Mom brought the leftovers home. She also brought a still-warm Chick-Fil-A sandwich (which I ate with a salad and baked potato for dinner). Yes, I know it’s technically fast food but that’s a battle for a different day. Today, I’ll celebrate it as a victory in reducing food waste.

My lunch yesterday: PB&J (using a jelly packet my mom brought home from work)

We think a lot about food waste and food security around here. You might say, food waste is our passion project and it has been for a very long time. I don’t want to disparage my mom’s employer. In their field of expertise (nursing), they are superb, but when it comes to good food stewardship, they have much to learn. They are just one branch office of one company in one city and it bugs me to know that they are not the exception. We are a country of wasteful consumers.

So what can we do? The simplest answer is to buy less. If everyone bought only what they could actually eat, a lot of our food waste would end. Challenging myself to stay out of the grocery store for 2 weeks is a small sacrifice. At most, I’ll forego milk and bananas. At best, I’ll clean out the cabinet and fridge, readying them for restocking of good wholesome foods in quantities that make sense for our small family. And who knows, along the way I might rescue a bagel or two!

Do you subscribe to Amazon Prime? (If not, you can get a 30-day FREE trial here). If you do, check out Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story. It’s an eye-opening documentary about a couple who spend 6 months living only on wasted food. I was blown away by the volume of food they found!

If you want to learn more about gleaning and food rescue, I encourage you to visit the Society of St Andrew. They’ve gleaned nearly 30 million servings of fresh produce this year to feed the hungry.

If you’re interested in learning ways to reduce food waste at home, consider taking the Food Steward’s Pledge.

If you happen to work for a company like my mom’s that likes to treat their employees to meals, encourage them to treat less often or give gift cards instead.