Yo' Mama is so poor; she chases the garbage truck with a grocery list... is easily what I consider the single, most offensive of the highly misogynistic bunch of cult-classic Yo' Mama jokes that originated in the ghettos of New York City. But Londoner Lexi* doesn't share my outrage. In fact, this life-long resident of the suburb of Wimbledon feels as though it was written keeping her in mind. Just replace 'poor' with 'well-off' and the joke is on her. Literally.
Well, the 43-year-old mother of two and former investment banker is a member of a growing tribe around the world known multifariously as Dumpster Divers, Freegans, Urban Foragers and more appropriately, Skippers in the local London vernacular. These people prefer to live off the consumerist grid and seek sustenance from the surplus produce that supermarket chains and grocery stores daily chuck into public garbage bins.
Fascinated by their 'work', so to speak, after hearing of this burgeoning worldwide anti-consumerist movement from a friend, I contacted the group (dumpsterdiving.meetup.com) that Lexi is a member of, requesting to join them on one of their foraging jaunts during my vacation in London last winter. So, with a very welcoming email from them and the address to the rendezvous point in Central London hastily scribbled at the back of an ATM receipt, I take the tube for my tryst with Lexi and her garbage-loving posse.
I catch up with the group in a dark alley alongside the Covent Garden outlet of one UK's most famous chain of grocery stores. They are already gloved-up and elbow-deep into the large, industrial -sized garbage bins sorting through their contents. I am told that every day tons of perfectly edible food is disposed off by such grocery stores and supermarkets in London alone, all in the name of quality control. I also learn that most in the group are well-off, they can easily afford to saunter into stores and buy what they need. But prefer to live off the discarded food to protest what they call "wanton and wasteful conspicuous consumption". Although illegal under the UK's Theft Act 1968, they risk the occasional roughing up by the cops all for a cause that they so vehemently support and live in accordance with.
Preferring to take just what they need and always making sure to leave enough for other skippers, the group operates on strict codes of conduct. One of the chief codes, a very Mafiosi-esque unwritten Omertà–they never reveal their real names and refuse to be photographed before, during or after dumpster diving.
Back at Lexi's semi-detached house in Wimbledon, we gather around the very Spartan kitchen—furnished once again with 'freecycled' furniture, utensils and other sundry—to take stock of our findings. Magically, a packet of mixed greens is transformed into a garden salad with some feta cheese thrown in from someone else's 'shopping bag', while two defrosted chickens from Lexi's last week forage are bunged into the oven with baby potatoes. Dessert or 'pud' as the Brits refer to it, is a peach and mango cobbler made from tins of canned fruit they had found that night, along with a spray can of whipped cream. With measured apprehension I take my first bite of the roast chicken that tastes of, well... chicken! The salad is just like any other £1.50 salad a restaurant would ply me with and the cobbler, almost epic with the tartness of the mango and sweetness of the peach, all enrobed by the luscious cream. Would I do it again? You can bet your last binned tin of sardines, I would!
P.S.*name changed on request