Attitudes, beliefs, and prevalence of dumpster diving as a means to obtain food by Midwestern, low-income, urban dwellers

Nicole Eikenberry, Chery Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


"Dumpster diving" is a term generally used for obtaining items, in this case food for consumption, from dumpsters. This study evaluates the prevalence of dumpster diving in two low-income urban communities in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Additionally, attitudes and beliefs of adults who engage in this behavior are reported. Surveys (n = 396) were used to collect data including individual dumpster diving behavior, food security, health, and demographic data. Nearly one-fifth of those surveyed had used dumpster diving as a means to obtain food. Focus groups (n = 17) were conducted to further evaluate dumpster divers' attitudes and beliefs about dumpster diving, use of food assistance programs including benefits and barriers, and other strategies used to obtain food such as stealing. Focus group participants were primarily homeless and most were high school educated. Ways to improve delivery of food assistance are suggested. In conclusion, more research on the use of dumpsters as a source of food is needed. Utilizing more of the 96 billion pounds of food wasted each year in the US through food recovery and donation programs could help to provide socially acceptable means for low-income urban dwellers to obtain food.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)187-202
Number of pages16
JournalAgriculture and Human Values
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2005

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank all of the survey and focus group participants for taking the time to share a piece of their life with us. We would also like to thank Stefanie Fila, MS, RD, for her help with focus group transcriptions and editing, and Deja Hendrickson for her invaluable assistance with surveying. Additionally, the project was funded in part by the Agricultural Experiment Station of the University of Minnesota and the Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program. We would like to dedicate this manuscript to the memory of Dr. Joseph Warthesen (1948–2003), head of the Department of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Minnesota, 1998–2003.


  • Dumpster diving
  • Focus groups
  • Food assistance
  • Food insecurity
  • Food waste
  • Homelessness
  • Hunger
  • Minnesota


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