Edible Waste: Free Food 4 All!

Just how expensive is London?

London is expensive–nobody can deny that. When I was there, I had to limit my expenses to a minimum, as I was only there because of my sister’s good intentions. I packed my own lunch–which normally consisted of either a plate of fresh cut vegetables with butter or oil that I’d heat up in the school’s microwave, a granola bar, a muffin, or a piece of apple and yoghurt bought a few days before in the nearest Sainsbury’s or Tesco (way cheaper than the ones they offer at school). And of course, not forgetting the filled-up water bottle from the nearest tap. Normaly, the total of my lunch would cost me around half a pound, which is crazy cheap compared even to the amount of money Londoners usually spend on one-time snack. And it’s already twice the amount I usually spent on lunch back home, sad.

While I was quite miserably rejecting my summer course friends’ offer to go grab lunch together, I found out that there’s a group of people handing out free food outside on lunch break! Every day there’s a number of Hindu students who set up a cart fully packed with food, and people lined up like crazy! Usually, there’s already a long line formed when they haven’t even done setting up their cart yet–crazy! I always wanted to try and line up because, well there’s obviously no comparable reasons, FREE FOOD–in London! Yet, the line was always too long and I was afraid that I wouldn’t make it back before the class started. And so, I gave up trying to line up in my lunch break.

One day, I went to SOAS on a Saturday. It was my birthday actually, yet my sister went to US for a conference, her host family went to Spain to look after their grandma, all of my summer school friends are very reserved so we’re not quite close, and there I was, spending my birthday in London all alone. Sad, I know. I was chatting up with my friend who wished me a happy birthday. I told him that while I might be in London, this is no doubt the lonelinest birthday that I ever had, with nobody I knew well enough in the country. He told me to at least take a walk and go outside, and stop playing pokemon in my room–HA! And so, I got out of bed, took a quick shower, cuddled the cute old persian cat named Angel, and went out. I went to look for some used books in good condition that I can bring as souvenirs back home. There’s this neat secondhand bookstore near University of London neighborhood called Waterstones that I passed by a few days ago. I went there, passing my school on the way, and there I saw it, the food cart–and no lines to be seen! It took me no second thought to approach it.

I was confused with the unfamiliar situation and didn’t know what to say. The guy in charge undoubtedly saw my confusion then asked me whether I want some free food. I nodded, though in my mind I was screaming ,”Hell, yes!” And there it was, a big portion vegetarian food for me to savor–excluding the bread and strawberries that I didn’t take. It tasted okay–healthy, vegetarian no doubt, yet a bit too much for my portion. He even gave me an olive with the food! Overall, I was happy receiving my first free meal there–it was undoubtedly an accomplishment!

A few days later, I went there again with my sister. We originally wanted to go to a farmer’s market behind Birbeck, but then later stopped by the food cart. She had been curious with the food cart and Hindu students’ association that provide it ever since she was still taking her master degree, yet had never had the chance to line up as it was always too crowded. There was, again, no line then–presumably because most people went to the farmer’s market (which is, extremely expensive to be sure). And we took our share then. There was this girl who was very excited to encourage us to take more food. She was extremely friendly, also complimented my batik skirt while serving us some food. My sister talked to her and her coleagues for a while before taking her plate away.

I later found out from her that they were able to provide free food everyday because they got the ingredients for free. The ingredients have considered passed the supermarkets goods’ proper quality and are usually being thrown away. The Hindu students asked some supermarkets to give the waste to them rather than being thrown out, and then they cook it. She told me that there’s recently this trend going on in London similar to what they’re doing called edible food.

Basically the idea of edible food is to utilize the food that are past due date yet have not gone bad. Well in a four-climate countries, those food are most probably even in a better condition than Indonesian yet-to-pass-expiration-date food. Due to the dry climate, not many germs and fungus can manifest quickly in four-seasons countries, different than tropical ones. I then remembered what Jen, the US travel leader for my USIPP program, which happened to be a baker before, told me “They’re (food) still good. Expiration date is a way for supermarkets to make more money. They can go for another week.” She told me that after I pointed out that all of our snacks, including bread and yoghurt, have passed the date, which is unusual as it has only been bought a couple days before. I go by her stand, the expert on bread, and bought super cheap muffins that almost pass its expiration dates in London. I stocked it up for a couple of days after the date, yet it still tastes amazingly good! That’s a good way to get the best bargain for food when all the others are superbly expensive.

The concept of edible food, however, certainly cannot be implemented in Indonesia. Our country is just too humid that bacterias just swarms all over the place! Remember all the stinky sweats, even though you’re only walking down the road? Magic. I can still remember moments when I opened a sealed white loaf of bread that still had a few days left until its expiration date, yet the insides is full of molds–yuck! God is fair, after all–giving the chance for a free food in a place where living costs are so expensive, and amazingly cheap food rate in others. Viva edible food!

Lintang Cahyaningsih

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