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PHOTOS BY BEN RAYNER TEXT BY JOHN MCDONNELL
You may be under the impression that eating out of bins is a practice confined to tramps, starving refugees and really crazy people, but the phenomenon is becoming very popular among students and young arty types who tend to live in squats. Pretty gross, don’t you think? For these people, scavenging for food in amongst dead rats, broken glass, faeces and maggots isn’t something they are forced to do to survive, it’s more about not wanting to spend money on stuff they can get for free.
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We decided we needed some meat so then jumped on a bus back towards Karley’s house to have a search in the bins behind her local Sainsbury’s. We were in luck and found a selection of out-of-date packets of pork pies, scotch eggs, chicken pies and lots of lots of bread. There were flies everywhere and the smell of rotting food in and around the bins was so bad I had to hold my breath the whole time, otherwise I would have hurled. We also got a huge whiff of piss, which we hoped was the result of a tramp caught short while bin raiding, rather than a family of rodents living where we’d just picked up dinner. We now had enough food to make a meal, so I hoped for the best and headed back to the squat where Karley and her friends were staying.
We took everything we had found and dumped it on their dining room table, where they had the contents of the previous night’s scavenging expedition—crisps, apple pies and packets of Snack-a-Jacks—laid out. Pretty surprising all the stuff you can pick up for zero money, eh?
Despite some advice from another housemate, Simon, who works as a chef, we turned to a Delia Smith cookbook for tips on what would make the most delicious meal out of our not-so-delicious-looking ingredients. The kitchen looked like it had never been cleaned before, which certainly added to the whole experience.
We needed someone to help us cook what we had found and Karley’s housemate Maria was keen to help. She had lots of ideas for weird stuff we could cook. I just wanted her to make something that looked more edible than what we had found, so let her get on with it. The food actually smelled pretty OK while it was being cooked. We began by cooking some peppers and tomatoes in a frying pan and I started to convince myself that maybe I would be able to eat some of this stuff.
Apart from a little fire, the preparation of our feast went fairly well. I had to scrub the potatoes that we found caked in mud in a skip with a Brillo pad, but they seemed to turn out OK. The stuff in the saucepan at the back is rhubarb. We didn’t really know what to do with it, so decided to boil it and use it as some kind of dessert.
Finally it was ready. We had pork pie served with ratatouille, Spanish omelette and an avocado, rocket and cherry tomato salad drizzled in a sachet of oregano and olive oil dressing we found attached to a packet of steamed vegetables in a bin. It looked great, but it tasted like it had been sat in a sewer for the past week. It felt like the food was decomposing in my mouth, more than melting in my mouth. I wanted to puke, but managed to slowly nibble through some of the salad.
Meanwhile, everyone else was stuffing their faces. They were genuinely enjoying it. The idea of serving the pork pies was my idea and a bit of a joke—I certainly didn’t plan to touch them, since we’d just taken them out of a bin earlier that day. I didn’t really expect anyone to eat them, but everyone gobbled them down. I sat there dry heaving the whole time, trying not to look at anyone eating and trying not to look at any of the food.
I let the others finish my food and then it on was to dessert. We made some French toast served with rhubarb and a strawberry sauce made out of ten whole rot-infested punnets of the fruit. This wasn’t so bad. The bread wasn’t too stale and the sauce was so sugary you couldn’t really taste the mould. Karley liked it so much she licked her plate clean. She then polished off mine.
Everyone loved the food. They finished every last bit. It was the nicest meal they had eaten in ages apparently. I felt ill. My head was spinning. I wanted to get out of there. I made my excuses and left to get some fresh air. I felt spaced out for the rest of the day and couldn’t eat another thing until I woke up the next morning. Right now I’m seeing a counsellor three times a week to get me over my phobia of pork pies. Okay, not really, but I’m never going near a supermarket bin, and never taking processed meat out of one, and never going to a squat to eat it ever again. I am literally gagging thinking about all this again.