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Page last updated at 09:21 GMT, Thursday, 9 August 2007 10:21 UK

No such thing as a free lunch?

By Daniela Relph
BBC News

Bob and Paul
Freeganism is a lifestyle choice
They eat food they find in bins and are driven by conscience, not financial need. Meet the freegans.

There's no such thing as a free lunch, so the saying goes, but freegans beg to differ.

They only eat food they can scavenge for free from supermarket dustbins. Most is only just past its sell-by date, some is still within it but the packaging has been damaged.

The freegan philosophy of "ethical eating" is a reaction against a wasteful society and a way of highlighting how supermarkets dump tonnes of food every year that is still edible.


They argue capitalism and mass production exploit workers, animals and the environment. For the most extreme proponents, freeganism - the name combines free and vegan - is a total boycott of the economic system.

The "urban foragers" do not like to reveal the exact location in which they operate so as not to alert store managers to their after-hours work. In America they call it "dumpster diving" and when the shops shut, that's what they do.

Freegans Paul and Bob operate in a suburb of Manchester and have a network of bins that provided rich pickings.

Paul eating
All food is washed before eating
For them it is a lifestyle choice. They have money and could buy food if they wanted, but as a protest against supermarket waste they choose to live a freegan life.

"There's so much waste it's just unbelievable," says Bob. "While that continues I can't see my freegan lifestyle changing."

On a night out with them, the pair delve deep into their first bin of the night to see what they can salvage. It's a good start - yoghurts, a cauliflower, eggs, mushrooms and some ready meals.

Raiding a second bin they discover it's full of bread, loaf after loaf and many of them still in date. But the haul is nothing compared to their best-ever bin raid a few months ago.

Barbed wire

"We got 75 bottles of beer, 100 frozen chickens and all sorts of things like that," says Paul.

"We found so much food we went out and bought ourselves a big deep freeze and filled it with chickens, meat and all that."

To get from bin raid to bin raid they use a converted post office van. It's where they store all their food and also where they now live - a mobile home in the truest sense.

Not every raid delivers. One major supermarket chain has secured its bins behind fencing and barbed wire, an effective way of keeping the freegans out.

Often food is within its sell-by date
Each item raided from a bin is washed and the packing wiped over with disinfectant. Then it's opened up and cooked even if its past its sell by date. Seafood is banned if not in date but they'll give everything else a try and are rarely ill.

Many supermarkets now give their leftover food to charity and while waste has been cut, a lot of food is still thrown out. So what do they think of freegans?

"As a responsible fresh grocery retailer we cannot condone this behaviour," says a spokesman for Somerfield. "We have reduced our wastage levels by improved processes and by giving our stores the opportunity to markdown products earlier to ensure that they are sold within their use by dates."

But it's not just supermarkets who are to blame. Figures from the Waste Resources Action Programme - which works with businesses and consumers to cut waste - claim households in Britain are among the most wasteful in the world.

Each year 6.7 million tonnes of food is thrown out. Half is perfectly edible and in a lifetime its estimated that each of us wastes up to 24,000 worth of food.

It's figures like these that are the reason Paul and Bob live life the freegan way.

Here is a selection of your comments.

We were doing this 20 years ago. A major Supermarket chain used to dump food in palladins on the day that the expiry date expired. I remember one summers afternoon sitting in the garden of my North London squat eating chocolate eclairs and fresh strawberries. I was looking forward to my evening meal of fillet steak. Unfortunately, now I have appearences to keep up so I have to pay for my self-indulgence
Nick, Hackney

A superb idea. I'm tempted to dive for cans of mushrooms myself. A friend of mine worked for a supermarket and was fired for eating a sandwich that was destined for the dumpster!
James, Berkhamsted, UK

I can't afford to throw good food away, but I wouldn't even if I was rich. It is so easy to cook up raw food into a stew, pie or curry and have it a day or two later. Raw or cooked food can be put in the freezer so easily. Just wrap it well. Only rule there is never refreeze without cooking in between. Of course the easiest thing is don't buy too much in the first place. I do feel that someone who throws out a significant proportion of what they buy has got to be too stupid to run a household. People who do that are mad and ultimately selfish. There is only so much food in the world - while I don't recommend posting packets of mash to Drafur - you could always buy less and give the money to charity? Retailers should have to distribute any edible waste. Only disposing of fully out of date stuff.
Sandy, Derby, UK

Freegans are such hypocrits. You can afford to buy the food yet choose not to, so it's thrown out, then you scrub through a bin for it. You may as well be stealing it from the shop. You're causing the waste by not buying the food in the first place. Sounds like a poor excuse for being tight fisted to me, not a protest against supermarkets.
Kirsty, Leeds

Years ago I was very skint and had to eat like this to survive. I don't agree with the waste and think that homeless charities could be given more by the supermarkets earlier so the food is still edible. Also marking the food down by more than the odd 20p would encourage people to buy the nearly out of date food in the store so it doesn't end up in the bin. The supermarkets were aware that some people were scavenging from the bins when I was doing it and would purposely pour bleach or washing powder on the food to render it inedible. I hope that they feel ashamed.
Naomi, Bristol

Scroungers. Why don't they go in to the store and look for the reduced items that will end up in the bin and BUY IT! Strewth everybody wants something for nothing. I bet if this lot hurt themselves whilst getting the food they'll sue the supermarkets!
Ed, Cardiff

Good for you! I think this is a fair way for showing that so much food is thrown out, but hasn't gone off - I have only just taught my other half that 'Best before' doesn't mean that at the stroke of midnight the food will instantly go 'off' but that it may taste better before this date. Our society is such a 'throw away' society and needs to find out that there are other ways to recycle and save the planet, such as this (not wasting good food).
Shazbhatt, Sheffield, UK

Good luck to Paul, Bob and others who follow this trend. I'm not sure Ild do it myself, but I think they are certainly proving a point that far too much good food is wasted. The only point I would like to disagree on is the term 'freegan' which has apparently been made up from the words free and vegan. As Bob and Paul will eat meat and other animal products they have foraged for, they are not vegans.
2PennyWorth, Dudley

Why would anyone not condone Freeganism? If the food is going to waste, and the Supermarkets have not arranged for it to go to a good cause - something which i understand M&S does - then, in my opinion, it's up for grabs! If Somerfield doesn't like their bins being raided, then they should get rid of unnecessary packaging, and donate left over food to charity.
Hazel, edinburgh

Buying and using a huge deep-freeze big enough for 100 chickens when you don't really need to isn't particularly environmentally sound.
Rachael, Cambridge

I know everyone is looking for the best way to express themselves but I prefer food from grocery stores than from neighbourhoods bins.
Tom Sikorski, Bradford, West Yorkshire

You can justify it all you like. You can sugar coat it. But it's EATING FROM A BIN.
Matthew MacGregor, Inverness, Scotland

I used to work in the foodhall of a department store and every night when we closed they would get all the loaves of very expensive fresh bread, all the cream cakes, buns and pastries and shove them all into bin bags ready for the bin. When I once asked if we could have any to take home, I was told 'of course, at full price'. It used to really bother me that as I left work there was always homeless people outside the store - why the company couldn't - and still don't - donate this food to charity I don't know. It is such a waste!
Liz, Manchester

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