Bargain Betty

Bargain Betty’s money savvy tips

Eating like a freegan


This is a post originally written for my MSN column:

I’ve twice been accused of being a “freegan” — because I visit friends and family to raid their fruit trees. True freegans, however, shun spending money on anything. They find ways and means to get whatever they need for free.

Freeganism can be taken to real extremes, such as living off the land — or local landfill. You’d have to be pretty dedicated to go that far. Yet all of us can eat a bit like a freegan if we put our minds to it. Here are some suggestions.
Pot roast that bunny: I read once — with mild horror — about Christchurch resident Eng Tang, who checks out small ads for unwanted animals such as pet chickens and rabbits, which he collects for the family dinner.

Get to know your neighbours’ gardens: If your neighbour is a keen vegetable gardener, let them know you’re happy to take any leftover produce. Crops such as silver beet, capsicum, tomatoes, and fruit trees including guavas, lemon and apples may produce more than the property owner can eat. If you’re smart about this and spread your net widely enough you might never need buy fruit again. To thank your donor, pickle or bottle some of the free food they gave you and give it back to them as a present. That’s a sure fire way to be given more raw product.

Take advantage of public fruit trees: Within a 200m radius of my home I’m aware of a large number of olive trees, one apple tree and one feijoa — all on public land. “There’s bush tucker everywhere,” my wide-eyed Australian friend noted, when she visited. Within a kilometre there is a huge overgrown fennel patch in a Department of Conservation reserve and several parks that produce mushrooms. Check with your local council or DOC conservancy office if they’re happy for you to pick the fruit.

Grow your own: Plant fruit trees and other perennial plants, such as silver beet and rhubarb. Even better, get cuttings from your friends or harvest and save the seeds from last year so you don’t need to pay for the plant in the first place.

Build a chicken coop and beehive: My neighbour has both a chicken coop and two beehives, producing more eggs and honey than he can use himself. It costs money to set these up, and effort to look after both. If you discount his labour, then the ongoing cost is nil — providing you put the time in to get the variety of food your chickens need. I know one family that gets waste from the vegie shop for their chickens — although the somewhat eccentric husband, has been known to eat the outer leaves of the lettuce and cabbages himself instead of feeding them to the animals.

Barter: Exchange food or other items with your friends. You could even offer your labour in exchange for garden produce.

Have no shame: You could always check out what local bakeries, restaurants etc do with their waste produce at the end of the day. In the US it’s not uncommon for local freegans (sometimes called dumpster divers) to check out the waste bins at supermarkets. For the record, I could never do this unless life as we know it changes unrecognisably, which is why I’ll never be a true freegan.

Food banks: If you’re really and truly cash strapped, you could contact local churches, many of which have food banks. But these services are meant for the truly destitute.

Learn about edible plants and weeds: You don’t have to look far to find edible plants and weeds. Even weeds such as lambsquarters, dandelion and chickweed can be eaten.

Finally, freegans don’t believe in wasting food even if it was acquired for free. Many believe it’s their social duty to use food that would otherwise be wasted. It’s up to us as individuals as well to eat up all the food we buy instead of letting it go into the landfill.

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