There’s no such thing as a free meal.
Sounds cynical doesn’t it? It’s a sad indictment of our society that one of its axioms tends to suggest no-one would ever be willing to feed you unless they were getting something in return – that you’d starve before anyone intervened through empathy. Well, the same instinct that produced that proverb has also produced a society of enormous excess that, ironically, means there very definitely are free meals to be had. You’ve just got to know where to look.
What we put in our bodies, that which sustains us, is so important that some people can’t quite get their heads, or their stomachs, around the idea of freeganism. Skipping meals is something models do. Indeed, on the face of it, skipping (definition: foraging for food that has been discarded) is quite galling. This stuff has been thrown away, discarded; it’s lying in bins or bags on the side of the street; no one wants it and, if no-one else wants it, why would you? What are you, an animal? Where’s your humanity, man? And yet, just a moment ago – before closing time – you would have eaten it, felt satisfied and paid for the privilege. But then it had the reassurance of a price tag: a value, a worth. For the freegan it’s the green food waste bags that contain this so carefully packaged food, marking it as untouchable, that gives it worth. Sure, it’s passed its best, but it can still fulfil its destiny, still have a purpose. Don’t we all deserve a second chance?
In my naivety I’d initially asked my squat mates if there was such a thing as too much skipping. This stuff is waste, right? No one wants it, so we can just fill our boots. Wrong. There are countless others out there who are also skipping, a whole skipping community, and an etiquette that goes along with that. You only take as much as you need and leave your residue in as decent a state as possible. Do unto others remains the rule of thumb.
Earlier this year I lived with an odd Frenchman in an odd apartment in Cairo. Neither myself nor the two English girls I lived with could quite understand his odd habit of peeling mushrooms before he cooked with them. It took a Spanish squat mate doing the same thing with a load of grey-brown fungus – that I’d dismissed as a pointless pick-up – for me to realise that, much like the onion, the mushroom has layers. Peel back the dead stuff on the outside and underneath is pristine and sparkling white. Alive. When did we, my generation at least, forget about this?
Globally, we waste a third of all the food that is produced. Your childish instincts were quite right: it would be highly impractical to send your scraps to sub-Saharan Africa by air mail. But we all operate as part of a free market where banks and bomb makers are endlessly propped up by your tax dollar; but the vagaries of supply and demand mean that widespread waste on the tables of the west pushes the price of food up in the third world, and makes it unaffordable. Think about that next time you’re about to chuck a browning mushroom.
Of course, all this hippy bullshit is deeply uncool; are you really going to go ferreting around in bins in your best sneaks, anyway? But there’s nothing cool about being taken for a sucker. There’s certainly nothing cool about Sir Terry Leahy et al getting fat off your hard-earned. They may not be laughing out loud, but somewhere inside their soul lurks a self-satisfied smirk.
“It’s fat city, brother… how do we work it?”
Ps. If anyone’s interested in setting up a skipping date, do get in touch. Only wolves and lions dine alone, said Epicurus; the same surely goes for grubbing around in bins.