A WOMAN has told how she raids from supermarket bins for food and has managed to save £700 in two months by dumpster diving.
Íde Mhic Gabhann, 39, from Dublin, who is a maths teacher by day, will raid the rubbish each night and rescue fruit, veg, meat, ready meals and even fancy chocolates from bins
For two whole months she's lived entirely off grub found in the trash and has managed to save hundreds on food each week.
The secondary school teacher pointed out ‘freeganism’ – the practice of reclaiming and eating discarded food – adds up money-wise with her two months of full-on bin diving in February 2019 and February 2020 saving her around £700.
Íde said her scientist and wildlife photographer husband Ciarán, 38, is comfortable with her dumpster diving – but her late-night foraging caused a bit of a stir in the staff room after she first took it up regularly in late 2018.
She said: “I talked about it quite openly at work.
“Sometimes I’d bring in stuff and I’d leave a sign saying, ‘Free doughnuts – these are dumpster-dived.’
“Some people were really disgusted about it.”
When she is out dumpster diving, some passers-by are also horrified.
She admitted: “It’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea – I’ve had people tell me they think it’s disgusting.”
Others though feel sympathy for her.
“People walking past assume you’re poor or you don’t have anything,” she said.
“I’ve had a homeless person come and try to share their food with me when they saw me dumpster diving. I just explained I was saving it from being wasted.
“I have shared food with homeless people in the past but would always let them know where it came from.”
But Íde, who first came across freeganism in 2016, said the reason she goes dumpster diving is simply to live as ethically as possible by reducing the food waste she and Ciarán generate.
And she insisted sifting through the bins is not as awful as people assume.
“When you think about how much food waste there is, and you know you’re making a small dent in it, that really motivates you,” she said.
“Ultimately, it’s the same food as what’s on the supermarket shelves.
“I want to show people the amount of waste there is and how avoidable it is.”
As for the idea that it’s revolting, she said: “There’s nothing that disgusting in the bins.
“The worst thing you might find is a squished yoghurt that has leaked or cocoa powder which has drifted everywhere.
“You’re not sifting through normal rubbish – it is just supermarket food.”
Íde, who married Ciarán in 2013, took her first step towards leading a more eco-friendly life by trying not to buy anything new.
The following year, in November 2017, she first joined a local group who would go out dumpster diving together, taking part more regularly from 2018.
Explaining how they organised their missions, she said: “Supermarkets will often have their bins in enclosed spaces.
“But we found one where they were putting their bins out for collection on the street at 10pm and we had an hour before the rubbish was picked up.”
Prepped with head torches, gloves and strong bags, Íde and her friends became “very sophisticated”, timing their rubbish raids to the minute.
“It takes two people to lift off the lid off the huge wheelie bins that contain most of the food waste and check the contents,” she said.
“But the vegetable bins are for composting and are normal-sized so they’re easy for me to access on my own.”
Íde prefers dumpster diving with others and said: “If you’re with someone else, especially on the main street, you just feel more comfortable.”
Through 2018, Íde honed her skills, foraging fresh fruits and vegetables, pre-packaged sandwiches and snacks, and even roast dinner ready meals.
From the start, she decided that she would eat meat she had found on her freegan missions even though she normally eats a mostly plant-based diet.
She said: “Normally, I won’t buy animal products, but I will eat them if I’ve got them from a dumpster.
“You’re not driving consumption and you’re saving something, that would have otherwise been wasted, from being thrown out.”
The veggie treats she found included near perfect fruit and vegetables.
“Sometimes they get new orders coming in, so they clear out the old ones or throw out a whole tray of cauliflowers or grapes as one of them has black dots on,” she explained.
“With staples and long-life things like rice or pasta, it’s often because the package has been damaged.”
The freegan food Íde rescued on her eco raids was supplemented by supplies Ciarán purchased from a package-free store, cut-price ‘yellow-sticker’ bargains on foods that were nearing their sell-by date in shops, and a veg box the couple subscribed to.
Then, in February 2019, Íde decided she was ready to take on the challenge of only eating food she had rescued from dumpsters, for the whole month – with Ciarán mostly taking part too, as the couple eat together at home.
Íde shared what it was like with her followers on her Instagram page to highlight how much food is needlessly thrown away.
She said of the experiment: “We usually spend around 400 euros (£350) on food a month for the two of us so we saved a lot of money – and stopped a lot of food going to waste.”
But there were some downsides too, she admitted, since buying no food at all meant their diet was very restricted.
“We ate a lot of fruit and vegetables, pre-cut fruit salads, and basics,” she said.
“It was tricky at times because we were only eating salvaged foods so we couldn’t even buy something like soy sauce to eat with a meal of rice and vegetables.”
Having less choice and control over what she could eat “kind of got on top of me” Íde admitted.
At least there were plenty of unwanted Valentine’s chocolates to enjoy after February 14, and Íde said chocs are a regular bonus for freegans all year round.
“After Christmas, all the Christmas chocolates get thrown in the bin, even though they’re not out of date for six months,” she said.
“I’ve eaten an awful lot of chocolate reindeers!
“Sometimes even before Christmas, they clear the ordinary chocolates so they can sell the Christmas stuff because it’s more attractive looking.
“And it’s the same thing after Halloween and Easter.”
In February 2020, Íde took on a fully freegan month again – and by this time she had discovered a new dumpster bin, that offered lots of pre-packaged food, including ready meals, a better selection of fruits and vegetables, and even beverages.
She said: “There are bottles or cans that are damaged – even bottles of wine where the labels are torn.”
Keen to feel more in control of what she ate during this second full-on month, Íde changed up her foraged ready meals by adding veg or gravy – or making them into a whole new dish.
She said: “Generally, what I did with the ready meals was upcycle them into something more exciting.
“They had these roast dinner portions and I’d make them into a pie or a cottage pie and maybe add some more gravy.”
She added: “The second year was a lot easier and I was happier with my meals.”
This year, the Covid-19 lockdown has forced Íde to give her February challenge a miss as she is no longer going past her regular dumpster diving spots on the way to work or exercise classes, due to the lockdown.
But she still goes out on her freegan forays whenever she can and is determined to keep showing people how much food is needlessly wasted.
Daily Freegan Diet
Breakfast – out of date pastries
Snack – pre-cut fruit salad
Lunch – stale ready-made sandwiches made into toasties, or quesadillas made from tortilla wraps and cheese
Dinner – thrown out rice and pasta with discarded vegetables or a ready meal past its sell-by-date
Dessert – leftover Christmas chocolate reindeers, or a hot chocolate from discarded powdered milk
“Food waste is a problem and it does need to be dealt with,” she said.
“I think we as a society need to change. We need to say that, when we go into a Tesco at 10pm, we don’t need to see fully stocked shelves of doughnuts – it’s fine if they ran out earlier in the day.
“We have to accept what is available when it’s available, rather than wanting every vegetable and every type of bread there when we go shopping.”
And one day, she would love to go on a freegan hunt and find dumpsters that are not crammed with tasty food.
“I want to focus on showing people how we can stop food waste before things are thrown out,” she said.
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