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Heat or Eat? Now You Can Do Both!

Taking fresh food from bins means you don't need to choose between keeping warm and eating this winter

Feeling the pinch in the run up to Christmas? Things so bad you may have to choose between keeping warm and eating this winter? Now you can do both – by becoming a Freegan. Freeganism gives you a wide variety of free fresh food and consumer goods. There's just one catch: You get it all from bins.


I was brought up going down bins. My mother’s eternal question to my father is still: “Where are you going to put it all?”


The Bins became a mythical place to my early school friends, a spring overflowing with the interesting goodness of randomly generated objects. “Where did you get that?” they would ask of my latest prize.


“The Bins”. The place of treasure where no-one else would go.


I now understand other children’s bafflement. Thinking about it now, I can imagine their parents' bafflement too, especially when asked, “Mummy can we go down the bins?” Would you get away with: “No sweetie, maybe when you’re older,’” or would it be like having to explain the birds and the bees, but with social positioning?


On arriving in France for a week's holiday recently, my grandfather, father and I discovered that, due to serious inflation and the devalued pound, food was practically unaffordable. Within 10 minutes we had recovered more food than we could possibly eat from the shop opposite's bin: Fresh fruit and vegetables, cooked meats in formidable quantity, quince jam, cans and even tea.


Vacuum sealed, and so reliably edible, why had all this good food been thrown out? Because of the success of sell-by and use-by dates. These dates' benefits to the food industry are clear; their costs to the rest of us in unnecessary waste are exorbitantly high.


Waste itself is the basic problem. According to WRAP, 15 million tons of food were thrown out in 2011, and about 50% of that was from households. The average amount of food wasted per person in Europe and America is approximately 100 kilos per year, whereas for sub-Saharan Africa and south-east Asia is 9 kilos per person per year. (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)


The practicalities are that food 'waste' costs the average household £480 a year (Love Food Hate Waste). If you were given £480, would you put it in the bin or would you do something useful with it? You can save yourself even more by supplementing your shopping with free food – so what's stopping you?


The automatic objection to Freeganism I hear most is that bins are dirty. My response is that sealed food is clean when it goes in the bin, and fruit and vegetables should be washed before eating anyway.


The second most common objection concerns the social aspect. To eat something that someone else has actively chosen to discard makes you their inferior, if only in their mind. The forbidden fruit of our unwritten social code is surprisingly sweet.


Being exclusively Freegan makes dinner more of an adventure, akin to the playful glow of Christmas presents-to-be-unwrapped but with a survivalist edge. For me, it's an interesting supplementation of my mostly normally sourced diet; I have relied upon it only on a couple of occasions, for example I breakfasted on a wonderful cured meat platter at 8am one Saturday last year.


Freeganism is a step into actively involving yourself in your diet and on the path to growing one's own food, vertical farming and closed loop aquaponics. The more self-contained the consumer/producer cycle becomes, more efficient the cycle is. But to rely upon Freeganism entirely is to point out a problem in the consumer cycle without stepping forward to do anything about it, which is where a lot of yuppie-hippie effort sadly becomes hypocrisy.


Rather than seeing Freeganism as making myself inferior to those who discard what I choose to eat, I feel it removes the social positioning inherent in how our society views 'waste' – and those who choose to use it. Freeganism makes us all at least equal, in dietary choices at least, and can clearly be beneficial. As John Hoffman says in his humorously practical book, 'The Art and Science of Dumpster-Diving' (Highly recommended – get it free here): “Dumpster-diving is no longer the action of last resort. Dumpster-diving, in fact, can be your vital edge, your vital Darwinian advantage”.


Next time you go to a supermarket, ask yourself what does the experience make you feel? Are the operators of those self-service machines doing what they do because they love doing it, or because they have to operate? Giving money to a machine makes me feel like one. I'd rather explore and support the alternatives.


As an article on this subject in the New York Times asserts: “Opening the first bag of trash is the first step”. Why not find out for yourself?


George Pinnegar

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