Back when I was the only poor kid at a rich school, I would spend my midday breaks looking for the pricey cookies other kids had left lying around the huge athletic stadium we used as a playground. You got punished for leaving your shit lying around of course, so I didn’t usually find much except for scorn from my schoolmates. Still, I remained oblivious enough to keep on doing it into my adulthood. I perfected techniques such as ordering just a cheap snack at restaurants during group dinners and waiting for some anorexic friend to hand me her leftovers. I was always on the lookout for free or at least really, really cheap food. After countless fantasies of finding the perfect luxury restaurant dumpster right by my house and taking silver plates with whole untouched lobsters straight from the trash to my table, I finally got off my ass. I assembled a small scout team and off we went to find out what’s being wasted and where it’s hidden.
Our first forays were pretty discouraging. Garbage, in Berlin at least, is mostly locked away in little cells in the backyards. We would have had to engage in criminal trespassing just to check out some café’s precious waste.
Then we hit the mother lode: the charity organization Berliner Tafel. They send out five trucks every day to pick up from the many bakeries, hotels, and supermarkets that have agreed to give them their unused goods. Every day, the Tafel collects around seven tons of fully edible food.
After spending a day with a couple of Berliner Tafel workers, we learned that only three supermarket chains donate and that an awful lot of it (all dairy and meat products, for example) cannot be used due to health questions. While the really cool rocker driver and his soldier wannabe buddy [pictured above] from the Berliner Tafel waited around for the people at grocery chain Lidl to deliver them the daily boxes, we rummaged through a trash container that had everything the Tafel didn’t take. There were chocolate bars, salami, a whole chicken, potato chips, biscuits, and cereals. We started eating bits here and there just to check. It was all pretty OK. The bread was the only thing that was noticeably not-so-hot.
At our final stop, a massive bread factory, Tafel couldn’t take all the leftovers because they wouldn’t even fit in the van. The bread factory workers got to pick some sausages and so did we, ending the day like happy schoolchildren fresh out of a trip to the candy factory (but with meat instead of everlasting chewing gums).
HUMPTON B. DUMPTON