It’s Essentially Just as Good

Ever walked by Wallingford’s Essential Baking Company only to find someone reaching over the dumpsters in the parking lot, gripping a pair of tangled legs and feet?

These urban acrobats are infamously known as dumpster divers. They flock from all over Seattle, most of them working professionals or students. Some arrive by bike, bus, on foot—some drive up in the occasional Jag or Lexus. Certain seasoned divers bring equipment, like headlamps for late-night dives. Most just do the lean-over technique, but a select few leap right in, especially when dumpster loads are sparse.

Wallyhood spoke to several of these urban foragers who commute from all over the city for a few free loaves of Rosemary Diamante or Raisin Pecan. While some live right up the street, others travel from as far as West Seattle and Ballard.

To them, there’s nothing shameful in diving. In fact, it’s widely accepted and viewed as trendy among their friends—for some, it’s even a status booster. Most described the bread as being entirely edible and sometimes just a day old, claiming it would otherwise go to waste. Almost all of them said they would never actually purchase EBC bread, citing the $5.99 price tag as a big deterrent.

“Dumpster Dan,” a glass blower who drives in from West Seattle, stops by once to twice a week to empty the dumpsters (of all consumable bread) into his truck bed. He then ships it out to troops in Afghanistan where it’s processed and used in various dishes, like bread pudding. Unlike most of the divers we encountered, Dumpster Dan bought bread from EBC for four years before becoming a full-time diver. He’s had relatively pleasant experiences with the bread company’s delivery drivers, though there is the occasional hostile driver who will shout: “Get the hell outta here!” Far worse than the drivers, he says, are some fellow foragers who become outraged at him for cleaning house and will actually yell at him. He’s taken to setting aside a few loaves during his dives in case he needs to pacify one of these mouthy individuals.

Green Lake resident Joanna started diving four years ago and now dives one to two times each week. Career-wise, she teaches environmental education at the preschool through high school level. While EBC is a family favorite, such that she and her father frequently drink coffee inside the store, they both go around back to get their bread. At times, drivers have just handed her bread. Still, she says, “I would never buy bread there.” Her diving doesn’t end there, though. She also frequents the dumpsters at U-District’s Trader Joe’s and Fremont’s Theo Chocolate. Her diving days really took off during her college years at Evergreen College in Olympia, where she says everyone dumpster dives. These days she just reaches over the side instead of jumping in, but recalls experiences in Olympia where she would accidentally hit her back against the dumpster mid-dive and feel “dumpster juice” stream down her. “It made me want to vomit,” she said. While Joanna’s never come across a moldy loaf in EBC’s dumpster, she realizes some people have their prejudices against urban foraging. Often times when they throw dinner parties, she and her father will set out an array of dumpster bread. It depends on the crowd as to whether they share their source.

Caleb, a Wallingford resident, doesn’t hold back on sharing his thrifty methods, though. “I’ll often take it to my friends and family for dinners and such, and they love it,” he said. “They live further away…so now they’ve started buying it from stores. So, my diving has actually increased EBC’s business.”

Local diver Craig found out about EBC from a dumpster diving website.

Three-year-diver Kristin makes the rounds every weekday on her commute from the Phinney/Ballard area to UW, where she’s a grad student studying fisheries. “I feel like Essential is doing grad students a great service,” she said.

Do you dive? Would you ever dream of it? Ever gotten stuck? Would you take your Mom? Feed it to your kids? How do you feel about diving? Ashamed? Or, has it earned you bragging rights? Whatever you think we’d love to hear it!

  • http://www.wallyhood.org Wallyhood

    And I gotta say, my Thanksgiving stuffing, made from dumpster-dived Essential Bakery Rosemary Diamante bread was AWESOME!

  • http://zachhale.com Zach

    Do you know when they usually dump bread?

  • David F>

    Couldn’t EB provide the bread to programs that serve the needy instead of the folks in trendy clothes on nice bikes I see diving there? The “slumming” activity of hipsters should be offensive to anyone who understands poverty. The majority of people I’ve seen diving there could clearly afford a loaf of bread.

  • amber

    david, how can you judge whether or not one can afford something by looking at them? i don’t think that’s really fair.

    And also, just so you know, Essential Baking bread can be found on the bread shelves at the FamilyWorks Food Bank.

  • http://felsputzer.wordpress.com Chris W.

    Personally, I’ve smelled enough dumpster juice to be totally averse to eating anything that came out of one — unless I have to.

  • Brian

    Oh my god!! This is a hoax, right?

  • Mimi

    One word: rats

  • Bill

    People dumpster dive for all kinds of things, not only food. I have friends who did this years ago who would find entire cases of unopened produce thrown out in the grocery store dumpsters. I could never quite bring myself to participate in the dives or eat anything from these treasure hunts. But it is amazing the amount of good food that is thrown out in this country given the number of hungry people out there. It’s just too bad they couldn’t put the salvageable foods out in something more sanitary than the dumpster since clearly people are consuming their finds.

    When I was a teenager, I worked at a bakery and we would pack up all the leftover pastries and breads, and take them to a shelter rather than throwing them out.

  • http://www.wallyhood.org Wallyhood

    David, I’m struggling to understand what you find offensive. If you had said “I find it offensive that people are paying $6 for a loaf of bread while others go hungry”, I could see where you’re coming from. But to be offended that some people choose to save bread from going to the garbage, that I don’t get.

  • http://felsputzer.wordpress.com Chris W

    My partner used to work at Tully’s and they wouldn’t let her take the day old bread to the homeless camp near where we lived at the time so she would just stick pastries & bread in her pocket instead of taking it out to the dumpster, and she’d drop it off on her way home. I liked that she did that.

  • http://www.busygamernews.com jacqui

    Just be careful about where you dumpster dive – some places will pour bleach or rat poison to discourage this type of behavior. (And, presumably, rats.)

    Me, I wouldn’t mind eating some of the delectables mentioned here, I’d just prefer not to know where they came from. I am wondering, tho – is the bread in bags? Or are you guys just grabbing bread sitting out in the dumpster?

  • Erin Leach-Kemon

    @jacqui: Almost all of the bread in the dumpster is bagged either in the EBC brown-paper sleeves or in sealed plastic bags. At times, bread falls out of its packaging, so you’ll definitely see a few lone loaves and rolls. Definitely grab bread from the top instead of digging too far down, as the freshest goods will be higher up :-)

  • Erin Leach-Kemon

    @Zach: I’ve spoken to quite a few divers at this point, and all of them have gotten the same impression as me…the dumpster fillings are pretty random. For awhile there, it seemed like Saturday was one of the best days to go. In terms of time of day, I’d suggest getting there no later than 3 or 4pm, seeing how lots of people make a run on it after work around 5/6pm-ish.

  • Erin Leach-Kemon

    @amber: You mentioned that EBC bread can be found on the shelves at FamilyWorks Food Bank…can you tell us more about EBC donations to non-profits and food banks in the area?

  • amber

    @Erin: I am actually not sure. I used to work at FamilyWorks, but not directly with the food bank. I just know that there was always EBC bread there every week during the few years I was there.

  • Erin Leach-Kemon

    @amber: Okay–thanks for the info! Does anyone else know of local non-profs or other food banks where EBC donates their bread?

  • Hayduke

    if they want to donate their day old bread, good on them. But If I was EBC, I’d lock down those dumpsters. The last thing they need is a lawsuit because some idjit got sick eating bad food, or got hurt jumping into their dumpster.

  • Lauren

    Wow – I’m surprised people feel so strongly about this. Dumpster diving is certainly not a new thing, just a new name. A great documentary about the subject is called The Gleaners.

  • Melissa

    I think it’s important to note that EBC has two sets of dumpsters. One set is in the back, next to the delivery vans, and that’s where all the bread is. In the front are other dumpsters where they presumably put their actual trash and recyclable (I’ve never checked). This is the key fact I tell anyone who seems disturbed when I tell them where I got that tasty bread they’re eating.

  • Regina

    I was in thier Cafe awhile ago and saw a sign posted listing all of the people they donate bread to, and it was a long list. I asked about it, because I work with a non-profit group, and they said they donate bread to non-profits and food banks every day.

  • Anonymous

    Yikes. If this sounds tempting, please consider buying “day old bread” from Meridian Market. It’s made at the Essential Bakery and is extremely inexpensive. We eat it all the time. It’s not even ready for bread crumbs, yet.

  • Anonymous

    After 5 or 6 years of eating bread from the EBC dumpster, the dumpsters have moved to Georgetown. What a tough break for Wallingford. Now I have a huge hole in my daily caloric budget to fill!

  • AnonSB

    Can someone please post the address/location of Essential Bread’s dumpster in Georgetown?

  • Hoby

    According to yelp on April 9th, the new address is:

    EBC – Georgetown Cafe
    5601 1st Avenue South
    Seattle, WA 98108

Subscribe to Wallyhood

Never miss a story! Enter your e-mail address to receive Wallyhood to your inbox.

Email Address