- a blog about food and value

Living for free

Moneyless man Mark Boyle (Photo: Charlotte Sexauer, The Guardian)

Moneyless man Mark Boyle (Photo: Charlotte Sexauer, The Guardian)

I have friends who very rarely, if ever, pay for their food. Instead, they go foraging through the skips and bins of Dublin city, picking up the mountains of perfectly good discarded food. It’s easy to sneer – ugh, eating from the bin? – but the food is usually well packaged or wrapped up; they don’t eat things covered in bin slime.

It’s astonishing how much food, particularly sandwiches, salads, and cakes, ends up in the bin. Back in 2003, one college mate went along to all to all the anti-war marches giving out “food, not bombs” to a hungry crowd. I wondered how many were aware, as they scoffed it down, that the food had been rescued from the skip.

In today’s Guardian, Mark Boyle writes on how he has lived a moneyless existence for the past 18 months. The most common question he encounters is “How on earth do you eat?” The answer, he points out, is that food is free: it comes from the earth. It can be grown, foraged, bartered for or, like my friends, saved from skips.

The apple tree doesn’t ask if you’ve got enough cash when you go to pick its fruit; it just gives to whoever wants an apple. We are the only species, out of millions on the planet, that is deluded enough to think that it needs money to eat. And what’s worse, I often observe people walking straight past free food on their way to buy it from all over the world via the supermarket.

The article is well worth a look. Click here to read it.

Do you think you could live without paying for food? And would you eat from the bin?


  1. Thanks for highlighting this. I find this idea really interesting. When I finish the course Im on & get to live in the one place, I will definitely be interested in growing my own food. I would eat things from a bin-Im just too embarrassed to look in them!

  2. He’s getting a lot of flak from the ‘urgh, not another middle-class fool slumming it in the name of the inevitable book deal’ brigade. Have to say your anecdote about your friend feeding the Five Thousand with bin food has really creeped me out. That’s the last time I avail of the free muffins in the kitchen at work 🙁

  3. I’ve no problem with someone doing that, but I don’t want to.

    I think its awful that rescued food from a landfill was given to unsuspecting people, shouldn’t they have a choice by being told where it came from? I think its incredibly appalling to be honest.

  4. Apologies, I should say “it was rescued from the bin” not landfill. Post updated. But I really don’t think it’s appalling at all: she wasn’t deceiving anyone but nor was she loudly declaring the food’s origins. If anyone asked she told them.
    The sandwiches were well packaged and perfectly delicious, and I think she was doing a very good thing by a) feeding people for free and b) saving good food from rotting in landfill.
    I’m curious: if someone gave you a sandwich still in its wrapper, and it looked delicious, and you were just about to eat it when they told you they had taken the (well packaged) sandwich from a skip, why exactly would you object?

  5. I wouldn’t object, I don’t understand people’s horror-maybe if you’ve ever lived on a very tight budget or grew up with very little then its different. Food that is clean and unspoilt-what’s the problem?
    Love this topic!

  6. When I was working for a convenience store chain (let’s not name it), I always “saved” the damaged food… otherwise they would got thrown out… perfectly good packs of rice and pasta, just because there was a slight tear on their cardboard boxes. A bruised apple, a banana with just a few brown spots… I was baking plenty of cakes week after week using the caster sugar they wanted to throw out… just because there was a tiny hole on the packaging.

    We are simply just too quick to throw out perfectly edible food. Such a waste!

    (Apologies for my English.)

  7. @sarah I have lived on a tight budget, for too bloody long, still am and I would still want to know about the origins of my food. This is neither a snobbish attitude or the opinion of someone who doesn’t know what its like to try and run a household on £20 a week, as I have. I just think no problem if someone wants to do that, grand work away, but to hand food out to people without telling them the fact that it came from a skip is questionable.

    I wouldn’t dream of making a supposed veggie meal with chicken stock and saying nothing to the vegetarians.

    And in fairness the post first said landfill which conjured up its own image and whether or not food is wrapped, rats could have peed on it or anything, I just think that people should have been told that its rescued food and then decide whether or not they wanted it. Many probably wouldn’t object if its all packaged up properly, but I still stand by people in that instance should be told.

    And its not about damaged boxes or whatever, bargain shelves are the business, this is about food thats been in a bin or a skip, open to the elements and rats!

    Someone can make a choice about eating rescued food, and for me its only right that they would give that choice to someone else by being upfront about it.

  8. We should eat the rats, then….
    I wouln’t mind rescuing fruits, vegs, dry goods. But not sandwiches or cream cakes or anything that needs to be kept in a fridge.