Eating For Free in Barcelona

Eating For Free in Barcelona

Fucked off my face on cheap German lager in the city of Barcelona, I walked the boulevards around 5.30. It was still daylight. I was following a somewhat street-wise French guy who, upon approaching strangers for a cigarette, would inform them that he only smoked camels, and sure enough, that’s what he’d return with. The people putting me up weren’t going to be home until much later, or maybe they just didn’t want me hanging around whilst they made their music and art. Anyway, I was digging the vibes of the boulevards. I can’t remember the name of the quarter I was in, all I recall is that the map of Barcelona resembled a big pizza, with every kind of topping, and it was tantalizing my 18-year-old senses.

“Let’s go to Carrefour,” said the French guy, aiming toward a large corporate supermarket chain in Barcelona, the common option for groceries. La Boqueria was the other option, a famous fresh produce market. The only reason my French counterpart wanted to head to Carrefour was to steal some 8.8% generic beer, and this meant concealing cans in his trousers during peak-hour shopping. At the time I wasn’t really into shoplifting so I felt obliged to buy myself some beer of a lower percentage and not the supermarket brand (jeez I was a snob back then). I bought two cans and found Frenchy outside on his second can. I drank a bit with him, realised I wasn’t an alcoholic and mentioned that I was hungry. The French guy knew the city very well and before I knew it I was at the back of La Boqueria saving so much good fruit and veg from going into a garbage compacter.

There was every type of food being trollied out by the market lads: mostly produce that remained unsold from the day’s trade and was superficially damaged or starting to go off. To me, it was all edible. Even though I was vegetarian at the time, I could see that fine meat was heading for the compacter. Fortunately, I was not alone in this crusade to get a free meal from this perfect and otherwise destined-for-waste produce. There must have been 30-50 people doing the same thing; most of them were older men or couples, literally doing their weekly shopping. Some came prepared, using plastic bags and, in some cases, trollies from Carrefour. Others brought courier trolleys and grabbed whole boxes of food as it was wheeled out.

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Since my Spanish was minimal, I used body language to ask an old lady for a plastic bag. She promptly handed me one and smiled, a silent acknowledgement between foragers, before continuing her hunt for whole tomatoes and oranges. This was definitely Spain. At this point I already had more than enough fruit and veg to sustain me for the a few days so I got out of the way to let the others shop for their families. That was about eight years ago, when the effects of the Global Financial Crisis were being realised in Spain. Having said that, it wasn’t sad or desperate, more of a practical and resourceful reaction to economic developments. I remember a distinct feeling of unspoken comradeship with these complete strangers; it was a beautiful experience.

When I moved back home from my two-year stint overseas, food selection was quite bland, so I gravitated toward the Mullumbimby Community Garden and made myself useful there. Doing so meant I could take home beautiful produce. That was good for a period; however, I got bored of country living and moved to Sydney, where dumpster diving was (and still is) very small time and yet hugely viable. My first experience of dumpster diving in Europe wasn’t exactly conscious action of my morals. It was mainly because I was living off a pittance—between two and five euros per day. Most of that would go towards beers or a joint, and when I was peckish, a felafel would usually suffice.

Nowadays, I express my actions as an extension of my moral beliefs. The main one applicable for me on this planet is fuck wastage. Everything comes from somewhere, a special place, and it’s up to us as conscious beings to make the most of these offerings in the most nourishing, life-enhancing ways possible.