Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Eating "Trash"

A few days ago, a friend sent me this video. It reminds me of slumdog millionaire except more poignant without the hollywood ending. I was reminded again of this video when my colleague and I were talking about how we don't blink an eye at how much food is wasted in affluent societies. Singapore being one of them. But while there are those scavenging the trash for food, there are also those who purposefully dive into dumpsters looking for food and not because they cannot afford buying! But they were doing it because they are "freegans"

Although dumpster diving is often associated with the poor, a new movement (freeganism) concerned with environment, anti-consumerism and all the conspicuous consumption (and waste) as well as urban poverty issues have begin to emerge in recent times. There is also an anti-hunger organization called Food Not Bombs gets a significant amount of its food from dumpster diving from the dumpsters at small markets and corporate grocery stores in the US and UK. Food Not Bombs have also taken off in Singapore and there have been attempts to collect some of the food that are regularly being drawn out by wholesalers and supermarkets in Singapore. Even though these food are being throw away, they are not always inedible. They then use these materials to provide food for the homeless in Singapore. Yes, we have homeless people!

The first time I heard of dumpster diving is from 2 young Australians who were part of a team going to Poznan, Poland for UNFCCC-COP14 by land last year (2008). They were well educated university students who were definitely capable of paying for their food. But one of them told me that he is a "freegan". I was simply amazed that he would eat food picked out from dumpsters and he told me that it is amazing how much good stuff you can find in the dumpsters of supermarkets. Surely the singaporeans amongst us who loves a good deal will know of how bakeries offer food for cheap at the end of the day before they close. Those food if not sold, will have to be dumped. And as long as they are not dumped, they are perfectly good to it! And if dumped, they can still be eaten if you pick them up straight away! Apparently the usual practice is to negotiate with the owners so that they will give the freegans these food that's meant for the bin. Likewise, a lot of vegetables are thrown away if they have blemishes or do not meet certain aesthetic demand from hotel restaurants or fast food chains or even supermarkets consumers who wouldn't buy vegetables with holes or fruits that are bruised.

Speaking for myself, I find that being an urban Singaporean living in an affluent country, I find such affront at considering the possibility of eating food from the dumpster.
Honestly, freeganism is pretty extreme even to me and my mind is still reeling from it now as I write.

Yet at the same time, there are people like those children in the video who have no choice but eat food from the dumpster, if there's even scraps left. Look at the face of the little boy who cheered at the sight of spaghetti served from the rubbish bin. It wrenched my heart.

Somebody mistakenly thought the video is about globalization and poverty but I think showing the fast food restaurants is merely commenting about how much food we usually waste in our daily meals. Fast food restaurants are pretty much frequented only by the middle class and above in many developing countries, such as Manila which was featured in the video. Do you think about the food that you can't finish at lunch or dinner? We try to console ourselves that there is now food recycling where food waste is used to generate fuel and energy. But how about going one step back? Buy what you need and finish everything you can. What is trash to you is food to many. As long as we don't get food poisoning from eating it, why are we not eating it?

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