The Guide to 4-Star Dumpster Diving

Are you a newly unemployed Wall Streeter looking to keep up your expensive eating habits? College kid looking to save a few bucks? Good news! The economic downturn seems to have inspired renewed interest in dumpster diving (well, with the media at least), which, in case you're unfamiliar with the practice, involves scrounging through giant trash receptacles outside grocery stores and restaurants in search of still-fresh food to eat. (There's no actual "diving" involved, at least as far as we can tell.) We know what you're thinking. Yes, it's horrifying and disgusting. And yet who knew the activity had so many accomplished alumni? (Including the Times's former dining critic Ruth Reichl, no less, although she also explains it was about three decades ago.) There's a whole political context to being a "freegan"; something about evil corporations, the Man, and saving the planet. Or something. But just think of the cash you'll save! How many gourmet food shops toss out perfectly good cuts of Wagyu beef, just because they're four hours past an arbitrary expiration date? But where do you start if you're a novice with a sophisticated palette? There are so many dumpsters around the city. And some of then have, like, dead bodies in them, not tasty Asian pears!

A few totally untested recommendatons—along with tips about what to expect—provided by the dumpster aficionados at Freegan.info. Caution: If the idea of eating sushi out of the dumpster outside the Dean & Deluca on Prince Street makes you nauseous, you can wish to stop here.

Gourmet Garage
453 Broome Street at Mercer
"This is the flagship store, so when you can get at it, it's a motherlode. Several giant dumpsters on the Mercer Street side. Rumor has it that these dumpsters are sometimes locked; it is more likely that security or a night manager will yell at you and/or chase you away. Go after 11pm."

Eli's
Third Avenue between 80th and 81st Sts.
"Most of their trash goes through a compressor, but on our first dive we found about five bags of uncompressed food including yogurt, almonds and butter."

Grace's Market
71st and 3rd Avenue
"This is a large gourmet supermarket with wonderful and copious food thrown out. When the trailblaze team visited in September 06, there were citrus fruits (grapefruit and oranges), a great deal of good corn on the cob, plenty of good bread and good bagels. And there were cute little pineapples, the size of a baseball."

Zaro's
920 Broadway bet. 20th and 21st; dumpsters are on the south side of 21st St. just east of Broadway
"Tip came in from a worker there: "Every night, a huge load of bread and pastries from that morning are discarded. Last night, I put out two bags of bread so heavy I could hardly lift them. I try to put the bags of clean food on the right or left side of the dumpsters rather than IN them." It's worth checking other Zaro's locations as well, including Penn Station and Grand Central. "

Vosges Gourmet Chocolates
132 Spring Street bet. West Broadway and Broadway
"Throws out sample truffles. Usually only around 5-10 a night, but still really fancy tasty goods. Trash is out around 8:30, pickup is early but usually not before 9pm."

Eli's Vinegar Factory
91st between First and York
"Continuously throwing away recycling dumpsters full of bread every day."

Patak's
Madison Avenue between 89th and 90th Streets
"Lots of black bags, but comparatively little good food. Some pre-made sandwiches and bread."

Peanut Butter and Co.
3rd St. and Sullivan, below Washington Sq. Park
"Peanut butter and banana sandwiches, whole grain bread, celery and carrot sticks, cups of peanut butter"

Balducci's
Northwest corner of 14th Street and 8th Ave.; trash on 14th between 8th and 9th.
"Is it a museum? A bank? No, it’s a yuppie foodstore! A daunting heap of black plastic bags, many containing garden-variety trash, also yields a plentiful feast for those with the time and patience. Bounty includes high-end bread, dairy, prepared foods, produce—you name it."

Dean & Deluca
450 Broadway between Prince and Spring Streets
"Sushi, bread, pastries, etc."

Guy and Gallard
29th Street at 7th Ave
Dumpster on 29th Street side
"Bagels, bread, salads, fruit salads, sandwiches, prepared gourmet meal thingees, fresh squeezed juice, yogurt and granola, etc. Kind of have to really reach in the bags to find good stuff sometimes, but there’s lots of it."

Whole Foods
South side of 14th Street and Union Square
"OK, you can't find anything at this location. Word has it they compact their trash and spirit them away. Still, predatorially located exactly opposite the farmers market, it's worth going in from time to time and asking why they do what they do."