We should all steal from supermarkets

Updated on 18 March 2011 | 0 Comments

As food prices rise and money is scarce, why are we arresting those who sensibly do their shopping in supermarket bins?

As food prices rise and money is scarce, why are we arresting those who sensibly do their shopping in supermarket bins?

There’s an altogether different kind of foraging happening in this country. Forget the romantic notion of nibbling at chickweed and gathering moss, and climb into the nearest supermarket bin. Because in that bin the assiduous freegan will find enough grub to feed a small Nordic village.

For years, freegans have been taking advantage of the appalling waste generated by supermarkets, scratching around in bins and feeding themselves really rather well. Last year the BBC aired ‘The Great British Waste Menu’, in which four chefs had to create a banquet using food foraged from the back of supermarkets. Several years earlier Giles Coren dug a three course meal out of London’s bins. This is no new craze.

But the authorities are unimpressed. Last month 21-year-old Sacha Hall was charged with theft after allegedly stealing £215-worth of food from a bin outside Tesco. The charge – ‘theft by finding’ – carries a maximum jail sentence of seven years.

Has everyone at Tesco gone mad? 

If there is one thing that typifies everything that is contradictory, pernickety, and downright barking about this country then this is it. To put the scarfing of food from a bin on a par with pocketing a wallet you found in the street is in itself deranged, but within the context of national and global food issues it is as myopic and dunderheaded as it gets.  

Global food prices have hit an all time high, caused by the economic spit-roasting that was appalling harvests in everywhere from Russia to North America to China, and general financial unrest. At the same time our own economy has shrunk, unemployment has splurged, and families are cutting back spending

On top of this, the Government constantly tells us not to be wasteful. Both Gordon Brown and David Cameron have criticised the amount of food wasted by supermarkets and customers, and particularly our fondness for ‘BOGOF’ deals, while the likes of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver have looked at more efficient means of farming, packaging, and cooking our food to avoid waste. 

Freeganism is the way forward 

Does it not make sense, then, to allow, nay encourage, freeganism? I’m not talking about some feral, Cormac McCarthy-style riffling through any and every rubbish tip you encounter, but an ordered, intelligent system, whereby supermarkets can pass on out of date products without fear of health and safety reprisals. 

There are some swellings in the right direction. The charity Foodcycle is doing amazing work in this area, while The People’s Supermarket is also raising awareness about the twisted monopoly of The Big Four. Online retailers Approved Food and Drink sell clearance goods with ‘best before’ dates (as opposed to ‘use by’ dates) at a fraction of their supermarket price. 

But these are ears of corn in a vast grain drier. As long as the supermarkets are making this urban foraging difficult, and as long as people like Sacha Hall are being prosecuted for innocent pragmatism, then we will continue to throw away sickening amounts of edible food. David Cameron can bang on about ‘The Big Society’ until he’s redder in the face, but unless we actually do something such platitudes are meaningless. 

What do you do to cut down food waste? Have you ever partaken in urban foraging, or do you find the idea appalling? 

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