On a dark night a few weeks ago I put on some black clothing and jumped on my bike. The time was 11.06 pm. My destination; the Co-op.
Having stashed my bicycle down a side street, I tip-toed towards the back of the shop where I positioned myself under a shady tree. Any expert in covert ops will tell you that if you don’t want to be seen doing something you shouldn’t be, perfect timing is crucial. The streets were deserted except for one chubby cat who, because i was so quiet and so cunningly hidden, walked straight past me clueless. I waited, and I waited some more. If I could just climb over the fence I would have access to all of the food wasted that day.
But sitting under that tree I wasn’t really waiting for the perfect moment. Truth be told, every minute that went by I became more and more aware that I would bottle it. Sure enough, five minutes later I retrieved my carefully stashed get away vehicle and cycled home with my tail between my legs.
In England the case of Williams v Phillips confirmed that ‘rubbish left for collection is not abandoned, so it can be stolen’. The police are loath to arrest bin divers because of the ethically sensitive nature of the foodwaste issue. However, as I hid under the tree I was very aware that if I did build up the courage to hop that fence, in the eyes of the law I would be guilty of trespass and theft.
A charity that navigates this grey area is FoodCycle. Their mission statement is to ‘build communities by combining volunteers, surplus food and spare kitchen spaces to create nutritious meals for people at risk from food poverty and social isolation’. Instead of taking food from bins in the dead of night, the FoodCycle volunteers pride themselves on explaining to shops the charity’s principles, asking politely if they would like to donate any unsaleable food, and saying thank you afterwards.
Two food-cyclers enjoying a free cup of tea
Here in Norwich the FoodCycle team assembles on a Friday afternoon and prepares a meal for 7pm at the Quaker Meeting house on Upper Goat Lane. For those who attend it is simply a matter of queueing up for a plate of food and sitting down to eat a table in the main hall. There are always baskets of bread set out on the tables and more often than not there is plenty for a second helping! FoodCycle provides a free meal, but it isn’t a one way street. Come with the intention to volunteer and the willingness to talk to new people.
The meal being dished out
The FoodCycle volunteers are split into four groups; the gatherers, the cooks, the servers and the washer uppers. I volunteered to cook last year and our task was to take the ingredients that had been acquired and work out the best way of fashioning them into a main course and a dessert. That means vegetarian stews, hot-pots, pies, curries and salads are common, and crumbles and fruit salads tend to be the options for dessert.
If, like me, you are too nervous for bin diving then you can help prevent food wastage in another way; by mucking in at FoodCycle and getting a meal in return!