Dear Abby: Dad's dumpster-diving habit causes his family concern

photo Jeanne Phillips

DEAR ABBY: I have an issue with my father and don't know where to turn. Dad is in his early 80s and - aside from poor eyesight - he's in good health. I'm concerned because he has developed an unusual habit. He likes to look through the dumpsters behind the grocery store.

Initially he told me it was to get old produce for compost in his garden. But I have learned that he eats some of the things he finds. I have tried telling him this is dangerous. He could cut himself digging through the trash or get food poisoning. He refuses to listen and insists that what he is doing is safe. (He is not forced to do this out of economic necessity. He has enough money to buy groceries.)

The situation has become critical because he is now planning to cook something he found in the dumpster for a family gathering. I told him not to do it. If he does prepare food from the trash, I told him he must let people know where it came from, so they can make an informed decision about whether to eat it. Help. - GROSSED OUT

DEAR GROSSED OUT: If you can't convince your father to disclose that the food he's serving may have come from a dumpster, YOU should alert them to that possibility.

P.S. A worldwide trend I heard about recently is something called "freeganism." (The term is derived from a cross between "free" and "vegan.") Freegans "rescue" food from behind markets to share among themselves to combat food waste, and in Paris, France, there's even a restaurant that serves food procured this way for a reduced fee.

Caveat emptor: People who consume this food should be aware that the food may be past its nutritional peak, and they may risk a food-borne illness if it wasn't stored properly.

DEAR ABBY: My 9-year-old daughter has several friends whom we love and who are good buddies for her. However, the rules in their homes are different from those at ours. One friend in particular, "Sarah," eats a lot of junk food and watches more TV than we allow. When my daughter asks why she can't have chips and ice cream after school, or why we watch movies only on weekends, I remind her that good food and exercise make her healthy, and with less TV she does better in school.

I'm not interested in critiquing Sarah or her family, who are lovely people we really like. However, I do want to make the connection between unhealthy lifestyle choices and possible consequences because this is a subject we'll keep revisiting as my daughter grows up.

I have been trying to say things like, "Everyone makes their own decisions. This is why we do it this way," but at 9, my daughter sees things as pretty black or white. If our way is right, then their way must be wrong. I'm totally failing at subtlety. Is there a better approach that I could take to talk about this without invoking comparisons? - LIFESTYLE CHOICES IN SOUTH DAKOTA

DEAR LIFESTYLE CHOICES: Do not attempt to debate this with your 9-year-old. If your daughter argues with you about your parenting style, tell her that different families have different standards and that you are doing what you think is right for yours. Period. If she needs more of an explanation, then fall back on the message you have been sending her, and in time she will understand.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Contact Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.