Couple lives off food waste for a month

Paul and Sophie with a box of gleaned apples photo
© Vegan On Board

From gleaned apples to out-of-date produce, there are many ways to score a free meal.

From the dumpster diver who found 36 cans of free beer to Bristol's pay-as-you-feel food waste restaurant Skiptchen, TreeHugger has long been interested in the topic of food waste, and those willing to live off food waste.

We've sometimes been asked, however, whether the whole concept of dumpster diving is counter productive—doesn't the image of 'dirty hippies' digging through trash put off would-be environmentalists and undermine the idea of sustainability as an aspirational goal?

I tend to disagree. For one thing, as someone who has been ridiculed enough times in my life for my crunchy ways, I would argue that the 'dirty hippy' boat has already sailed. And for a second point, of all the topics around the broad subject of environmental awareness, I tend to believe the food waste comes second only to plastic trash in the oceans as a uniting force that can bring the most skeptical anti-environmentalist on board. A significant number of us have, after all, been taught from very early on that wasting food is bad, and perhaps even immoral.

Of course, that doesn't mean that everyone is going to start actively dumpster diving overnight. But if we're honest, that was never really the point of the dumpster diving movement. Instead, by demonstrating just how much perfectly good food gets thrown away, most environmentally-motivated dumpster divers are hoping to shift societal standards and create systems where food waste doesn't actually happen. In other words, they are seeking to dumpster dive themselves out of existence.

The latest example of such selfless giving (err, taking?) is Sophie and Paul Collins, who live in Cambridge, England. The married couple behind the blog Vegan On Board recently pledged to live off nothing but food waste for a month. By using the food waste connector app Olio, visiting the Cambridge Community Fridge, eating out with food waste rescuing charities, and gathering waste food and windfall fruit from friends, neighbors and random fruit trees, the couple appear to have actually eaten quite well.

Sophie does confess that it was difficult at first to put together a meal from the seemingly random items that came their way, but Paul is quick to add that this is a feature, not a bug, of a challenge like this:

“The challenge has made us more creative with the food we eat. We now know so many great ways to use stale bread – French Toast, Breaded Mushrooms, Garlic Croutons… that we will never throw bread away again.”

Of course, as mentioned above, such efforts are unlikely to convert everyone into hardcore dumpster divers and urban foragers overnight. But that's hardly the point. Alongside documenting their efforts and helping folks to be just a little more creative with whatever soon-to-be-waste they happen to have in their kitchen, Sophie and Paul also used the challenge to raise more than £1000 (US$1250) for food waste charities FareShare, Feedback and FoodCycle.

So here's to Sophie and Paul. If they sold it near me, I'd raise a glass of beer made from recycled bread in their honor. Oh, but lest you start feeling too bad for these heroes and their sacrifices, keep in mind that they did get to eat this rather delicious looking windfall apple tart...

Couple lives off food waste for a month
From gleaned apples to out-of-date produce, there are many ways to score a free meal.

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