cover image: The Real Junk Food Project
I’m standing in a dark car park in west London with a man I met 40 minutes ago, holding a large plastic bag and a torch.
“Here,” he says, handing me a black wool beanie, “it might seem like overkill, but loads of shops have much better security now and we don’t really want to get caught.”
While to anyone passing by we might look like we’re about to pull off some kind of heist, we’re not here to rob anyone, instead we’re going to be looking through their bins.
For the next week I’m going to be joining the bin diving culture of the UK and only eating food that’s been discarded by supermarkets and shops. It’s a mission I’ve been nervous about for the past week, but now I’m here it doesn’t seem so ludicrous…
My companion Mark* has been a part of the freeganism culture for years, after being introduced to it in Leeds through The Real Junk Food Project. Agreeing to help me in my goal of temporarily joining the skipping lifestyle, he’s brought me along for his “midweek haul”.
The food he collects tonight will go towards food banks, shelters and community kitchens, along with filling his own cupboards – and for this week, mine too.
“ I was taken inside and a manager was sent for. There was talk of calling the police”
“There are certain shops and supermarkets in London that are easier to hit than others,” Mark explains. “The big supermarkets in zone two and further out tend to have big fences and gates surrounding their bin areas now, as well as a lot of cameras and often a lot of staff around too.”
“I have the best luck in central London and zone one supermarkets, especially with the slightly more upmarket shops that stock a lot of fresh produce.
“While this food makes shops look impressive to visit, the reality is that not many people buy it on a regular basis. There’s a lot of artichokes and fennel being served in community kitchens lately!”
This is the first of three supermarkets we’re planning to hit tonight and my first dip into the world of freeganism. Mark has planned out our schedule in order to get to each one just after they throw out stock for the night. This is clearly a more organised trip than expected.
Passing the store on the main road, we turn onto the street to our right before double backing into the alleyway behind.
Walking along and chatting, Mark doesn’t seem to be at all worried about sneaking or looking out for cameras, but what would happen if we did get caught?
“I’ve only been caught twice,” he says, “the first time by a woman working on the checkouts, who didn’t know what to say, so I made a run for it.”
“The second time I was taken inside and a manager was sent for. There was talk of calling the police, but I played ignorant and said I was collecting food for a charity and in the end they let me go on my way.”