Urban Foraging

Hey you, over there, eating that platter of oysters and sipping Champagne. You think you’re an adventurous eater, don’t you?

But how adventurous are you, really? Would you eat offal? How about insects? Or the most taboo item of all—food that was plucked from a garbage can?

The LA Times on Tuesday fronted a piece about the burgeoning freegan culture in New York City. (The New York Times covered the movement earlier this summer.) “Free-Lunch Foragers” profiles Madeline Nelson, who did what we all say we want to: She opted out of the rat race, leaving her corporate job and selling her Manhattan condo in favor of a Brooklyn apartment and a lifestyle in which she volunteers for her favorite causes and trolls the garbage cans of the city’s best grocery stores for food.

And she’s not the only one. About 40 people attended the “trash tour” described in the article. They foraged pricey items like soy milk, dog food, avocados, and tubs of party dip, and even turned up their noses at supermarket bagels:

[A] D’Agostino’s employee brought out a big bag of doughy, plump, sweet-smelling bagels.

The experienced freegans glanced at the bag and kept walking. Instead they led the group across the street to Daniel’s Bagels, voted one of the best bagel shops in New York by one online site.

‘We’re picky freegans,’ said Deirdre Rennert.

Needless to say, supermarkets frown on the practice, saying food found in the trash should not be eaten. But Nelson’s tasty ’n’ free dishes may convince people otherwise:

For lunch in her modest apartment, Madeline Nelson tossed a salad made with shaved carrots and lettuce she dug out of a Whole Foods dumpster. She flavored the dressing with miso powder she found in a trash bag on a curb in Chinatown. She baked bread made with yeast plucked from the garbage of a Middle Eastern grocery store.

Voluntary simplicity, indeed! But there are those who resent the freegans’ cooptation of a different social movement’s name.