(March 25) -- As a recreational activity, Dumpster diving gets dumped on a lot. However, the prevailing economy as well as interest in conservation and environmentalism is making the once-reviled pastime downright upright.
Once viewed as a way of life for tramps, the homeless and the lovable Mr. Wendal, the protagonist of the 1992 hit for rap group Arrested Development, Dumpster diving is now getting respect from academics like Brooklyn-based SAT prep teacher Allison Burtch, who regularly blogs about the goodies she finds while raiding neighborhood trash.
Burtch Dumpster dives for all her food and says on her blog that she does it for philosophical reasons.
"Dumpster diving is a Band-Aid to a much larger, systemic problem. The cut runs deep. It is not an end in itself. I'm not trying to make diving a popular way to save money," she writes.
Burtch declined to be interviewed, but she recently filmed a video for AOL's WalletPop, where she explained how much edible food gets thrown away on an average night.
Burtch started blogging about the vittles she finds on her nightly Dumpster dives on Feb. 24, and in just the past month, she has found perfect red peppers, 250 jars of baby food, fresh lettuce and pasta and many other items.
One reason she started blogging about her food finds is because people didn't believe her when she claimed she could get enough free food on an average night to feed several families. Now she is torn: On one hand, she wants to raise waste awareness among her fellow citizens. On the other, she doesn't want to kill the goose that dumps the golden eggs by forcing companies to lock up their Dumpsters for good.
But while Burtch's blog may be stoking an Internet frenzy, it's not as if she's doing anything new.
Dumpster diving is part of a long tradition of "adaptive reuse" that goes back centuries. Even before the Dumpster in its current form was invented, "gleaners" used to collect leftover crops from farmers' fields after they had been commercially harvested or on fields where it was not economically profitable to harvest.
Even during the 1980s, a decade known for conspicuous consumption, guys like Minneapolis-based graphic designer Kevin Brown made Dumpster diving a regular ritual.
"I actually considered myself a professional Dumpster diver," Brown recently reminisced. "A group of us anarchists pretty much lived out of Dumpsters. We had two different routes that we would hit once or twice a week. Then we'd return to a central location, process the food and distribute to our neighbors."
Brown, who had a one-piece "Dumpster suit" for his "dives," says the key to successful Dumpster diving is concentrating on wholesale businesses such as produce warehouses because the quality of merchandise is fresher than it might be at a grocery store. Plus, businesses that specialize in, say, produce are less likely to have Dumpsters that are contaminated by other items such as glass or ammonia.
On one raid, Brown found a 5-gallon tub of almond butter and 5 pounds of Turkish apricots.
On one occasion, Brown and his fellow anarchists had an event called the "Sacco and Vanzetti Spaghetti Dinner," where every item was purloined from a Dumpster. Best of all: Every Dumpster diner had his own 8-ounce bottle of Lambrusco that had been rescued from the trash.
Brown stopped his Dumpster diving after getting a job in a food co-op and deciding he no longer wanted to eat fruit that is "less than fresh," but he is still supportive of the practice.
"Everyone should Dumpster dive at least once," he said. "If people saw the scale of waste -- it's overwhelming. And most of the time, it's perfectly usable."
Not always, though.
Brown remembers one friend who got sick after eating a bunch of pickled herring in a cream sauce that he found during a dive.
Other supporters of Dumpster diving include Texas Christian University sociology professor Jeff Ferrell, who has Dumpster dived his entire adult life and even lived off trash for an entire year while penning his 2009 book, "Empire of Scrounge" (NYU Press).
In a 2009 interview with FlashNews, Ferrell argued that Dumpster diving is the most efficient way to live without being wasteful.
He also says trash digging has allowed him to furnish his whole house and stock his closet with brand-new threads that people throw out.
Through his research, Ferrell has discovered that Dumpster diving is most fruitful at the end of the month because that's when people move out and toss toiletries and household goods.
But while Dumpster diving can be a fun and educational way to land some free stuff, there are inherent dangers that go beyond eating pickled herring in cream.
Dr. Margaret Lewin is the medical director of Cinergy Health, a life insurance company, and she says people considering Dumpster diving need to follow some important rules of the load, the most important of which is: Don't actually dive in the Dumpster.
Rules for Divers
"Use a ladder instead," she suggested.
Other Dumpster diving dictates from the good doctor include:
Don't let the lid slam down on your head when you're inside the Dumpster.
Wear a helmet and protective gloves and make sure your outfit has leather patches on the knees and elbows.
Make sure you're up on immunizations, especially hepatitis A and B.
Take a friend when you Dumpster dive, because you never know who else is Dumpster diving.
Park your car directly in front of the Dumpster so you can get to it quickly.
Don't park in the way of garbage trucks.
When approaching a Dumpster, kick it first to warn any wild animals or wild humans beforehand.
But while there are dangers with Dumpster diving, for many the thrill of getting that free bottle of Lambrusco, those practically fresh chicken sausages or those perfectly good bags of pasta outweighs the risks.
Take Brown, for instance. Although he has pretty much given up Dumpster diving for food, he can't help but be curious about the goodies his neighbors might toss out in the garbage.
And sometimes he scores, such as a recent art print that he found that, upon appraisal, is worth $1,000, proving, once again, that one man's trash is another man's treasure.
Dumpster Diving: The Rules of the Load - AOL News