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Lars Eighner’s Article on Dumpster Diving: Analysis

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Analysis of the article
  3. Reflection
  4. References

Keywords: Lars Eighner, Dumpster Diving, Eighner’s use, middle-class dumpster divers, knowledge of dumpster diving, fire ants, risks Eighner, New England, topic of dumpster diver, Eighner’s first-hand experiences, dumpster diver’s life

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“On Dumpster Diving” is an online article from Issue 1 Special Issue on Homelessness: New England that was written by Lars Eighner. Eighner is a person who lives his life as a “scavenger” with his dog Lizbeth. Dumpster diving is his only way of surviving and supporting himself and his companion and so he is forced to live this way. He writes this article to advise homeless and middle-class dumpster divers on how to be safe whiling diving, what to look out for and what to expect. He also writes this to inform those who are interested in the topic of dumpster diver about what goes on in a dumpster diver’s life and the challenges they face on a day to day basis. Eighner’s use of vivid descriptions, first-hand experiences, personal anecdotes, and emotional stories effectively share his experiences as a dumpster diver and shares his tips on how to survive living a dumpster diver lifestyle.

Analysis of the article

The biggest, and seemingly most important, strategy that Eighner uses to share his knowledge of dumpster diving is through his vivid descriptions. He explains in lengthy detail what kinds of foods to watch out for and how to check food properly to avoid sickness or even death. An example of this can be seen in his advice on how to check canned foods. He shares that canned goods “turn up fairly often in Dumpsters…” and “are among the safest foods to be found in Dumpsters…”. Despite this positive review on canned goods he continues and shares the potential risks of eating canned goods. Eighner shares that “botulism is a possibility” from eating canned goods and that “botulism is almost certainly fatal and often the first symptom is death.” With these risks Eighner then shares ways to avoid the sickness by explaining that “heat can break down the botulin” but is “requires more cooking than most people do to canned goods.” He also shares what kind to creatures that feast in dumpsters that dumpster diver should to be watchful of. Eighner explains that “city bees harvest doughnut glaze” and “birds find Dumpsters profitable” but the worst of them all are the fire ants. Fire ants, according to Eighner, are “vicious and aggressive,’ and “ it is easy to brush against some surface of the Dumpster and pick up half a dozen or more fire ants”. These types of descriptions and tips are extremely important in the overall effectiveness of the article to the readers but it gives his audience the information they need to survive with step by step instructions on what do to (or what not to do) when dumpster diving of food or anything else, and how to be cautious of when doing so.

Almost just as important as vivid descriptions, Eighner’s first-hand experiences are also an important factor of his dumpster diving advice. In the article, he explains how all the knowledge he has obtained thus far in his life about dumpster diving has come from things he has experienced. A big chunk of the knowledge that Eighner has obtained is on food and food safety. Like mentioned before, his vivid descriptions of the kinds of foods that are found in dumpsters come from his experiences scavenging through them all the time. He’s been able to learn what kinds of foods to avoid such “game, poultry, pork, and egg-based foods” and what foods to lean more towards eating such as “raw fruits, vegetables…crackers, cookies, cereal, chips” and even “pizzas out the Dumpster behind a pizza delivery shop.” Along with this knowledge, Eighner was able to learn about how dumpster diving affected others, the kinds of things to be wary of, and know where and how to find the things he needs. Luckily the author of this article, Eighner, was able to acquire all the necessary skills to be able to survive. These pieces of information highlight the credibility of Eighner and his tips on dumpster diving, and it shows that his advice is trustworthy. Eighner is shares advice from someone who is a dumpster diver and is surviving as one. Therefore, this makes his readers take in the words that he says more deeply. Without this key factor, his article would be missing an important effect on its readers.

Eighner’s anecdotes add a major touch to the article to grab the readers’ attention. Eighner gives an example of one of these anecdotes in his small story about his experiences scavenging for pizza. Eighner shares that he “began scavenging by pulling pizzas out of the Dumpsters behind a pizza delivery shop” and knew when the shop closed to go to the dumpster “as the last of help left.” However, after a while “the people in the shop became suspicious and began to retain their garbage in the shop overnight.” Another one of Eighner’s anecdotes involves his life before he became homeless. Eighner shares that while he and his dog Lizbeth “were still living in the house on Avenue B in Austin” his saving began to run out and almost all of his money (money he managed to dig around and find) into his rent. Eighner’s life was getting rough and he had to “extract from Dumpsters” the things he needed to take care of Lizbeth and himself. He had to eat from dumpsters and get his clothes from dumpsters as well. Anything you could think of he had to go searching for these necessities in dumpsters. The little stories that Eighner throws in occasionally give the readers a way to put themselves into the author’s shoes and empathize with the author and the many others that live that lifestyle and may have similar stories as Eighner.

Just like Eighner’s anecdotes, his emotional stories have an impact on how the reader takes in his information, but in more of an emotional approach. These stories add an element to the article that sits with the reader. An example of this so shown in his story of how he discovered the different stages of a scavenger through the experiences of others, and how these stages affected those people in different ways. According to Eighner, it starts with the new scavenger being filled with “disgust and self-loathing” towards themselves but, eventually this “Dumpster shyness begins to dissipate” and this can sometimes resolve in the once new diver becoming lost and fevering recovering from it, becoming essentially addicted to the idea of scavenging. Another example is seen in his idea of how he may have to returner Lizbeth to the dumpsters from which she received everything she needed to live. Eighner shares that he finds “many pets lying in the state in Dumpsters” and feels that unless he can get off the street (which is highly unlikely) his dog Lizbeth “will go into a Dumpster too.” He wants to give Lizbeth “a long and comfortable old age” but with his circumstances, he most likely won’t be able to make that happen. However, Eighner also shares that he believes that the Dumpsters may be a nice place for her to go considering they have given her life all these years. Eighner placed these stories in this article to express the emotional aspect of a dumpster diver’s life and to share that with his readers to give them a taste of what challenges dumpster divers are faced with.

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After reading this story, I feel very appreciative that I have a warm room to rest, a secured place to stay, and prepared food to eat. Though, Eighner’s essay did not change my point of view on homelessness. I understand that there are many reasons to become homeless, such as disabilities, kids who were abandoned on the street, people who temporarily ran away from home due to family discord, lost their homes due to fire, and runaway youth. However, if one becomes homeless because of negligence.


  1. 1. Eighner, L. (1991). On dumpster diving. The Threepenny Review, (47), 6-8. (
  2. Eighner, L. (2013). On dumpster diving. New England Journal of Public Policy, 24(1), 10. (
  3. Lehtonen, T. K., & Pyyhtinen, O. (2021). Living on the margins: dumpster diving for food as a critical practice. Distinktion: Journal of Social Theory, 22(3), 441-463. (
  4. Eikenberry, N., & Smith, C. (2005). Attitudes, beliefs, and prevalence of dumpster diving as a means to obtain food by Midwestern, low-income, urban dwellers. Agriculture and Human Values, 22, 187-202. (
  5. Wingo, H. (1997). Dumpster diving and the ethical blindspot of trade secret law. Yale L. & Pol’y Rev., 16, 195. (

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