Dustbin Dinner – Freeganism

9 08 2009

George Donnelly - Flickr

This week i met author and historian Tristram Stuart.  I was interviewing him for the BBC World Service and it’s particularly exciting for 2 reasons –

  1. This is my first report for the BBC World Service
  2. The theme of the package is Freeganism – something Tristram partakes in and something i (for some time) have been keen to learn more about
  3. Now although this activity took me to the leafy Sussex countryside and NOT the London streets – this is certainly a movement rippling through the capital and not an opportunity to be missed from Hotspotting to talk about…


    Dustbin Dinner – My adventures in Freeganism

    Tristram met me at ten past one, on Wednesday afternoon, at a train station in Sussex. Instantly recognisable from his Googled publicity shots we drove into town and chatted about what we might find.  He was keen to point out three things –

    1. There was no guarantee what would be in the bins
    2. He wasn’t advocating us all plundering the bins for our food – instead he was doing this to highlight a problem
    3. The car was not his usual form of transport – it was either that or sit on the handlebars of his pushbike!

    After a brief 10 minute drive we pulled up at the supermarket.  We had a quick recorded chat in the car (whilst we waited for a delivery van to leave the loading bay area) and then, with the coast clear, we headed over to the 5 wheelie bins at the back of the store.

    With Tristram’s latest book entitled ‘Waste – Uncovering the global food scandal’, it’s hardly surprising that he wasted no time in getting stuck into the fullest bin.

    Lifting up boxes and ripping open plastic sacks, Tristram expertly identifies the morsels that take his fancy.  Now i realise this may sound a touch repulsive – I certainly wouldn’t retrieve my evening meal from the depths of my waste bin.  But this is where it gets interesting…

    What’s in-store?

    Unlike the bottom of a conventional home rubbish bin – with coffee grounds and eggshells, potato peelings and mouldy cheese – the food that Tristram pulled from the supermarket dumpster was indistinguishable from that which you would pluck from the supermarket shelves.

    As Tristram puts it “It’s like someone went round the supermarket with a trolley, picked what they liked off the shelves, put it in a bag and then just threw it in the bin.”

    We found organic ham, expensive cheeses, smoked salmon, organinc seeded loaves, yoghurts, green beans, sweets and cut flowers.  These products weren’t mouldy, their packaging was (in the majority of cases) intact and although some were past their prime – some things were being chucked away even BEFORE their best before dates!

    A word of warning

    Now obviously things like meat and fish need to be stored in a cool environment and there was no way of knowing how long they’d been in the bin, but Tristram believed they had only recently been taken out of the store and still felt cool to the touch.

    He also made of point of mentioning that smoking/curing meat and fish (as the ham and the salmon were) was  a commonplace method of extending the life of those products.

    He wouldn’t say on record whether he would be eating those particular products and when i suggested we eat some of the salami – during the interview – he advised snacking instead on the vegetables  (as it would be ‘less controversial’).

    Milky Milky

    Interestingly, a carton of milk was pulled from the bags which certainly wasn’t fit for consumption (looking more like something you’d spoon onto a jacket potato than pour onto your cereal!)  This, i said to Tristram, was justified in being in the bin but Tristram’s response was to ask ‘why’ had it been allowed to get to that state in the first place?

    Surely it was the responsibility of the supermarket to manage its stock more effectively?  They should have ordered less or discounted it in advance of its decay.  Certainly an interesting point and an argument well made.

    Waste

    Reading Tristram Stuart’s book you get a clearer picture of the waste at every stage of our food supply chain and as he says during our interview “this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

    All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my adventure in freeganism and whilst i’m not quite up to the task of loitering round the back of Asda’s aright at this moment (which Tristram isn’t even encouraging) –  i have become more conscious of my own part in avoiding unnecessary waste.

    • This evening i wrapped up my leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch
    • and i ate two eggs that had passed their sell-by date

    Simple.

    Extra info

    Look at Tristram Stuart’s own website to learn more about him and his Liber-ate movement

    The London freegan scene is currently quite disjointed with only a few meets advertised.

    Alternatively – let’s try and arrange some freegan fun, a dumpster dive or a backstreet bin raid in London – whatever we call it – who’s up for joining me?!  

    Either email (info[at]nataliebarrass[dot]com) or comment at the end of the post.

    Picture at top by George Donnelly CC 2.0 on Flickr

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