On a recent warm summer’s evening in Madrid, about 30 people dined alfresco on a meal of sauteed vegetables and mixed salad. Sounds enchanting except that all the food was rummaged through and extracted from waste bins on the street.
According to AFP’s Anna Cuenca, members of the “Comida Basura” (“Junk Food”) activist group in Spain, intermittently gather for a dining experience open to the whole neighborhood. The food they eat is collected by them from the local area trash.
The previous evening, members of “Comida Basura” rifled through the waste bins of food shops on the hunt for discarded ingredients until they found food in a rubbish container outside a fruit and vegetable store.
They found Swiss chards, apricots, tomatoes, carrots, bananas, medlars, half a pineapple, plus cabbages, cauliflowers, peppers, celery and cherry tomatoes.
“It is a good haul. Most of it’s in good condition,” said 50-year-old Txomin Calvo.
The following day the group ate at a table in a park of the working class district of Lavapies, opened to residents by the City Hall. The menu was cream of aubergine soup, grated carrots with tofu, green beans, vegetable and fruit salad.
“Comida Basura”began their effort in 2010 to protest the amount of good food going to waste. “To make it more than just a protest, we use it to give free food to people in difficulty,” Calvo said.
“Some days you can find a lot of really good stuff, on others almost nothing,” said 43-year-old Luis Tamayo, another founder of the group.
“The aim is to try to promote moderate, responsible consumption. We don’t have unlimited resources and we have to share with those who need it more. There are a lot of people,” said Miguel Carreno, another member of the group.
Cuenca notes that in addition to the ingredients found in bins, shopkeepers donated some food that had gone past the expiry date.
“I have no problem eating a meal like this because I know the food we throw out isn’t off,” said 44-year-old Pepe Rodriguez, who is unemployed and heard about the free dining from a friend.
“This isn’t rubbish to me. I have to say, it is really good.”
The movement started off in the United States in the 1990s as “freeganism”. But Cuenca points out that the movement has acquired a new meaning in Spain, which suffers from a deepening recession and financial crisis.
In May 2011, a UN Food and Agriculture Organization report said too many shopkeepers and consumers were throwing out food that was perfectly fit to eat because of excessive attention to outside appearance.
Cuenca claims Spanish shopkeepers are barred from donating out-of-date food and people who rummage through the bins in Madrid risk a 150-euro ($190) fine.
The group’s goal now is simply to concentrate on reaching more diners. “We would like this initiative to spread to every district,” said Ignacio, a 49-year-old member of the group.