Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Freeganism and Skipping - Saving the world, one cabbage at a time

Skipping - The art of getting into massive industrial bins to find the gold at the bottom.

The first thing I noticed was the irony of the word "pride" printed on a cardboard box inside the skip I was about to root through for food. The man working in the carpentry workshop across the car park was paying absolutely zero notice of the two freegans - myself and my good friend PK - rummaging through the crates outside of the local fruit and veg cash and carry, and combined with the friendly wave from one of the vegetable shop employees this was a good enough reception for me to stop my silly snobbery and get my hands dirty.

The thing about Skipping is that good things can be found, if you only look for them. The cash and carry we visited is used to having waste-hating types rescuing lettuces from certain disposal, and so they try to keep the best produce together and upright, at the top of the bin. Apart from a couple of broken eggs, our delving was rewarded with mostly tasty offerings; so much so in fact, that we had plenty left for the next opportunistic hippies to help themselves to, too.

There are, of course, legal implications to Skipping. The Greggs nearest to us has taken to locking their bins up in metal cages to stop us local free-wheelers from nabbing ourselves a couple of loaves of bread, and several supermarkets have been noted as using CCTV to prosecute freegans for Trespassing - despite it being an unwritten rule that you only take what would be disposed of without your interference. You have to be careful if you want to live for free. You have to be prepared to climb a lot of fences, and run from a lot of security lights. You have to stand on a lot of pallets, and you have to pretend you're doing something illegal a lot of the time (it makes it more exciting than just going to get carrots out of a bin).

After your first trip (which will provide you with perhaps two potatoes and an onion) you get to understand what's worth taking, and what you can find if you look hard enough. On my first Skipping trip I found a motherload of fennel, a vegetable I had never tried before. Turns out I love it. The beauty of finding your food is that you never know what you're going to have; your menus become as varied as the food you're rescuing from a fate at the dump, and you eat a lot more foods you wouldn't normally try. Sometimes there'll be a glut of teacakes - sometimes it'll be sweet potatoes. Buy enough spices in bulk from your local international supermarket, and you could be quite literally on your way to eating a different meal every day of the year!

Sifting through rubbish doesn't sound like everyone's ideal way to spend an evening, but the sense of achievement you get sometimes from saving a kilo of mushrooms or a box of Proscuttio (this has happened!) outweighs any self-consciousness you might suffer. You're cutting down on wastage! You're getting a free shopping trip! You're eating more vegetables to boot!

I keep mentioning vegetables, because they seem to be the most receptive to freegan pilferings (and they get visited by the most by freegans - after all, most of them are poor and vegan) but there are always hidden gems in any town. Cafe's for bread rolls, round the back of Subway for condiments....a friend of mine once found a pristine box of 24 in-date and still-chilled Muller Fruit Corners in a skip outside Somerfields. It all depends on where you look, and who you Skip with. I still need my PK to show me what to do, I'm short and I have terrible eyesight. A major shortfall in this type of endeavour, when skips can be five-feet high and you visit them at night.For your first few excursions, I would definitely recommend asking around for people who Skip too. They know where it's safe to skip, who has the best loot, and who makes it easy for you. Do not, on any account, go by yourself to a 24 hour Tesco depot wearing a ninja outfit and expect not to get arrested.

Here are PK's tips on how to go about saving the world, in the food sense:
1. If you're going somewhere hard to go, plan a bit ahead
2. Don't take unnecessary rinks
3. Don't try and persuade a "man on the inside" to chuck good food out - this isn't worth people losing their jobs over
4. Don't take more than you need - it'll only get wasted by you, and might as well have been left in the skip
5. Leave it tidy, and respect the businesses you're Skipping from. If you leave it a mess they'll know you've been, and will tighten security - or if they let people Skip, make sure you thank them by tidying up after yourself!
6. Skipping isn't worth getting into trouble over. Don't get greedy, and stay away if you have doubts about the security measures of a premises.
7. If there's loads of good things that you can't take, leave it easy for others to get to. They'd do it for you!

I'd love to know if any of you are Skippers, or if you go on a trip out after reading this. Let me know!

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