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!