By Ben Nelms
I never thought I would say “that’s delicious” after taking a bite out of expired and moderately warm cashew ice-cream. This was one of the many presumptions that would be broken in my time spent with this intriguing group of “urban gleaners.”
A “Freegan” is someone who gathers edible food from the dumpster bins of grocery stores or food stands that would otherwise have been thrown away. This is usually due to being past an expiration date or being damaged. Bread, fruit and vegetables, canned goods and even ice-cream is found and given a second chance.
I first met Robin through another story I was working on at a young women’s shelter in downtown Vancouver. Robin, who works there part-time, mentioned that she had quite different food habits than the normal 23-year-old city girl in Vancouver. I asked if I could photograph her on one of her “grocery shopping” outings and the rest fell together from that moment on.
As it turned out, Robin lives in the same household with five other dumpster divers who practice veganism as well: some for as long as nine years. Hopping on their bikes and venturing through the back alleys of Vancouver looking for food is a regular way to spend a sunny afternoon. After gathering their found food, the women will jump on their bikes and pedal back to their communal home in East Vancouver. They prepare and make delicious gourmet-style dishes that no one would expect had been found in a dumpster hours earlier. Believe me, I had a fair share of freegan food and I was taken back with the quality of food thrown out.
On the first night I went out with the group of girls and soon realized I should have worn my waterproof boots. With a lot of rain in the days before, jumping into the dumpster was like jumping into a puddle of slime. The girls call the water flowing on the bottom of the dumpster the “moat.”