Known as dumpster diving in the US, skipping food is the term given to the act of salvaging food that has, for one reason or another, ended up in somebody’s bin – usually that of a supermarket. If you live in an urban environment and want to live moneylessly, utilising waste food will play an important part, due to the general lack of sufficient growing space in built up areas to produce all of your nutritional and calorific requirements. The fact that an average UK household wastes 25% of its food (and “an estimated 20 million tonnes of food is wasted in Britain from the plough to the plate”(175)) is depressing on many levels; the good news for you is that there will be no end of choice for dinner.
Technically, taking food out of someone else’s bin is illegal, as it – rather bizarrely – is still regarded as their property, despite it being blatantly obvious that they no longer want it. Our council’s waste collectors seem pretty confident that its legal owners no longer want it when they come to pick it up every week. That said, it is highly unlikely that you would ever be convicted, or even prosecuted, for the offence of ‘stealing’ waste. The only case I’m aware of is that of Sacha Hall, who got a twelve month conditional discharge for lessening the levels of waste within Tesco’s bins, but that case was lambasted enough in the media to deter other cases being brought against freegans.(176) A much more likely scenario, if you are caught, is that you’ll receive a reasonably friendly ticking off from a police officer, have your name taken and told to move on. If you’d prefer to avoid that, I recommend going on a reconnaissance mission to the skip’s site before entering. When you feel that you know a time when the chances of anyone being around is unlikely (night time is good, as it is also dark), go there as often as you feel it is worth it. Sometimes you’ll go and find everything you need, other times you’ll find nothing, whilst on another occasion you may find a hundred chocolate bars and a years supply of baked beans. Bring along an 8mm triangular key, the type you use for a gas meter box, to gain you access to the bin; if you don’t have one, ask for one from the Freeconomy network.
I personally feel we’ve an obligation to use every ounce of food we can, given the amount of energy, destruction and exploitation that is embodied in our diet today, coupled with the fact that half the world is undernourished. Word of warning: I wouldn’t recommend living off a purely skipped diet, unless it contains a lot of fruit and vegetables that are sufficiently alive to still be nutritious. If the weather is warm and you suspect that meat or dairy has been in the bin for a while, then there are obvious risks attached which you should strongly consider. As a general rule, if in doubt don’t eat it and put it back. If you have a compost heap yourself (or your community allotment has one), the fruit and vegetables you find in supermarket bins will be suitable for it, even if they are not fit for you belly, so it may still be worth taking if you can motivate yourself to do so.