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Freegans Find Free Food

Intro: Some New Yorkers eat food they find in the trash. They’re called “Freegans.” They don’t just do it to save money on groceries. For most Freegans, eating discarded food is a political statement. Reporter Lindsey Kortyka attended a freegan “trash tour” and feast to learn more.

KORTYKA1: Every day, 20 year old Mavis Figuls hunts through trash bags for food. (AMBI OF TRASH BAGS) – Today, she is in midtown Manhattan walking around with the group to help them collect food for a feast.

FIGULS1: six full containers of spinach, carrots, we’ve got like 20 bags of carrots we got oh man, cauliflower, cauliflower bits

KORTYKA2: On this trash tour, they find (TRASH BAG AMBI) pounds of discarded food at a Health Foods Market. They pile it up on a rolling table (ROLLING TABLE AMBI) they found on their route, making a display to show onlookers, who stop and watch. At the very last stop on the tour, one thing they find is sushi. Some say they don’t eat fish, but others say eating sushi from the trash is perfectly fine. Janet Kalish pulls a packet of sushi out of a garbage bag.

KALISH1: it was packed today and it was thrown out today. A good test is to give it to your cat. Cats won’t eat it when it’s bad.

KORTYKA3: Then, they pack up the food, careful to tie up remaining trash bags to avoid fines for leaving a mess. David Emmanuel rounds up the group.

EMMANUEL: Everybody done?

KORTYKA4: Why do freegans eat discarded food? They believe they are making a statement about the environment, hunger, and the economy. 30-40% of the food supply in America ends up in landfills. Wasted food creates a larger carbon footprint – over 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide in the environment. Also, some of the food thrown out can feed the hungry – just under 1 ½ million New Yorkers face hunger every year. David Emmanuel believes freeganism can be a part of the solution.

EMMANUEL1: As you can see there’s almost every kind of food that you might conjure up. It’s criminal because you know there are people that are just within walking distance who are food insecure. We’re trying to highlight that inefficiency and to be blunt criminality of a system that just hours ago would hold the food hostage in that store and now it’s free to take.

KORTYKA6: New York Freegans have an advantage over other freegans. They say they are able to be more open about their habits because the trash in New York City is on the curb, which is public property. They don’t go into dumpsters. In manty other parts of hte country, people dive into dumpsters on private property, which can cause legal problems. But just because what New York Freegans are doing is legal, that doesn’t mean it is widely accepted. Some say Freeganism isn’t doing anything for the environment or hunger other than creating a mess on the street. Others say there are health risks. Jim Chan worked as a health inspector for 36 years.

CHAN:Because It could be spoiled, it could be cross-contaminated in the store, or they could be mixed with other ingredients they cannot serve to the customer.

But most Freegans, like Janet Kalish, are not concerned with the health risks.

KALISH2: I’m not eating garbage, I’m eating good food I retrieved from the garbage.

KORTYKA: The next day in Queens, Kalish, Emmanuel, and the freegans are cooking the food they got the day before.


KALISH3: There’s going to be an eggplant string bean masala, and there’s going to be a string bean garlic dish

EMMANUEL: Somebody mentioned pesto, possibly

KALISH4: That’s right, and there will definitely be a salad

KORTYKA7: Everything at the feast is what they call “rescued” food. But, Kalish says she doesn’t just rescue food. She even rescues furniture, books and other things. One of her favorite spots to hunt is outside of the NYU dorms when the students are moving out – she says she finds the best bath towels there.

KALISH4: I do consider it a mission of rescuing things and I it is sad that I can’t rescue everything.

KORTYKA8: After lots of cooking and preparation, (COOKING AMBI) the group of freegans sit down to eat a nice, delicious dinner (LAUGHING AND TALKING AMBI) – all of which was in the trash the day before. Lindsey Kortyka, Columbia Radio News.


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