Going Gratis

Imagine a life without any spending. Is it even possible? Apparently it is if you live in Britain, where squatters have some rights.

I found this piece about living for free in London totally engrossing. The article comments on the disposable nature of British, and really Western, society. And of course, a big part of that is food. The author, Katharine Hibbert comments on how the timing of retail system means produce currently ripe has almost no value for wholesalers. 

For fruit and veg, I would visit New Covent Garden, the wholesalers’ market. The bins were surrounded by fresh produce, most of it perfect to be eaten that day or the next – no good for retailers but fine for us. I feasted on melons and mangoes, blueberries and raspberries, cherries and ripe avocados.

One of Hibbert’s takeaway lessons was music to my ears:

Even if the businesses and homeowners couldn’t reduce the amount of waste, they didn’t have to dispose of their surplus as rubbish. FareShare, the food redistribution charity, say they could redistribute 15 times more surplus food than they currently do.

I don’t often think of freegans choosing they feel like eating, but Hibbert soon found that she had plenty of options: 

I learned when cafes and shops threw out food and could adjust my foraging route according to what I fancied eating. I learned that bags containing food weigh more than those full of empty cups and boxes, and that the more upmarket the supermarket, the more they throw away.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t have the happiest ending. Things are getting harder for scavengers:

Several skipping spots that were reliable sources of meals have been sabotaged – a large branch of EAT, for example, used to throw away sacks of sandwiches, wraps, salads, yoghurts and fruit every day. It still does, but now the shop assistants open every packet before putting it in the bag, emptying yoghurt over salads and sandwiches to make them inedible.

But, there is a happy ending to this post–Hibbert has a book on her experiences coming out this month (Free: Adventures on the Margins of a Wasteful Society). I bet it’ll be good, based on this excerpt and that it’s less ‘my year of living for free’ and more ‘my new life of living for free.’ And, if you get it at the library–it’ll be free.

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