Volume 75, Number 37 | February 1 - 7, 2006

Freegans find free feasts

Text and photos by John Ranard

Janet, a high school Spanish teacher, napped after Madeline’s gourmet meal, her body satiated with the comfort of a full stomach.

The lucky ones invited to Madeline’s two-bedroom West Village apartment were served carrot ginger soup, followed by ratatouille (onions, peppers, eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes sautéed in olive oil), organic salad with spinach, roasted baby potatoes and whole wheat bread. Homemade lemonade was the drink and the dessert, frozen banana whipped into sherbet.

The ingredients came from New York’s bountiful streets, actually from trash bags on the sidewalks in front of grocery stores where an hour earlier the food would have sold at full price. The fruits and vegetables, and whatever packaged foods that had reached their expiration date, had been discarded at the end of the stores’ working day. The food is free for the picking during the two-hour magical period, usually from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. — between closing time and trash pickup time.

This is when the Freegans show up and the street party begins. The Freegans are a loosely organized group of activists — some of whom are vegans — calling attention to the waste of our marketplaces.

“We hit something!” Cindy, a freelance Web designer, exclaimed outside the Food Emporium at Seventh Ave. and 10th St. The opened 40-gallon trash bag revealed sealed, packaged, washed organic salad mixes, each advertised: “Washed and ready to use.” Cindy placed 10 or so packages on the street to offer pedestrians walking by. They were snapped up immediately. Sealed bags of baby carrots, potatoes and peppers also sat in a pile ready to be picked up. Eduardo, from Colombia, just happened to walk by. He looked at his girlfriend for approval but she returned a glance that said “No!” Cindy handed him a bouquet of flowers found earlier. He passed them to his girl, she kissed him on the cheek and away they walked. But first he picked up two wrapped sandwiches.

The manager came out for a brief moment to check out the scene: five or six Freegans foraging through New York’s castoff cornucopia. Asked his thoughts, he at first declined to comment but then said, “I’m mostly concerned everything is left as clean as they found it and I’ll be happy — so far no problems.”

“Welcome to the future,” said Gary Wados of Massachusetts. He stood with mouth ajar in disbelief and bemusement. The Freegans had moved to the sidewalk in front of LifeThyme Natural Market on Sixth Ave. between Eighth and Ninth Sts.

Wados had just attended the opening of his friend’s video documentary “That Man Peter Berlin” at Village Cinima.

He checked the expiration date of the quarts of organic yogurt the Freegans had placed on top of black plastic garbage bags, as well as an assortment of packaged cheese vegetarian sandwiches, tofu hotdogs, eggless salad and wheat grass. Wados picked up four quarts and continued on his way.

For more information about the Freegans and how to attend a foraging tour in your neighborhood, check their Web site: http://www.freegans.info/.

Photos this page, clockwise from top left: Cindy and her bouquet of flowers; a Freegan bounty; Debra Carter, manager of Columbia University’s Chemistry Department, happened by the Freegans in action and walked away with a bag of bagels. Drew found some good peaches; Gary Wados inspected the expiration date of yogurt; what the Freegans couldn’t save went in the trash.

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