I had a Mothership Moment in Marks & Spencer. There was a dude putting yellow stickers on a trolley of goods. Lettuces, salads, over-packaged potato products. My heart skipped a beat… could this be… a CHUCK-OUT BIN?
The Chuck Out Bin is what Mum called the bit where supermarkets put all the aging yogurts and the nearly-stale bread. I’ve often written about my childhood mortification as she pawed through the goods: "To her an expiration date is not a recommendation but a challenge".
I once vowed never to follow in her footsteps, but this was M&S! I’d never seen M&S do a bargain bin before. They’ve been infamous for simply tossing their near-expired food, making them extremely popular with bin-raking freegans. Also, now I’m older and madly saving for a house deposit and/or a visit to Australia. Therefore I could justify stalking the aisles and lurking behind the posh crisps; waiting for the dude to finish sticking his stickers.
In the end I took the direct Mothership approach and marched on over.
"Hellooooo! Are these on special?"
(They tend to say "On Offer" in the UK but the whole bargain hunt experience transported me to Oz.)
"Yes!" he rolled his eyes, "Happy digging!"
I got a wee tub of three bean salad for £1. You have to be careful with these things as cheap can be dear, "because it tempts us to buy what we need not." But I told myself I really needed something for lunch the next day, and you couldn’t buy the ingredients for a pound! Well you probably could. And you’d get a few servings too, then you could recycle the bean tin instead of clogging the earth with another plastic container. But that wee surge of adrenaline and triumph made it feel like a bargain, especially with the shiny yellow sticker.
On Sunday I was thinking about the relationship between food and thrift and the planet. This week’s Food Programme on Radio 4 was about commercial food waste. Around 24 million tonnes of food is dumped into landfill every year by restaurants, food manufacturers, supermarkets and airline caterers. Crikey! Apparently the methane generated by all this food has a great impact on the environment.
And just before that I’d been listening to 86-year-old actress Liz Smith on Desert Island Discs, cheerfully talking about her 1930s childhood with bugger all money and her frocks clobbered together from random scraps of fabric.
I thought of these shows later on when doing the weekly online grocery shop. Normally I have a vague menu in my head then go madly clicking through the virtual aisles, throwing in anything and everything. Then I freak out at the subtotal and remove half the items from the basket until it looks respectable. But with money and waste on the brain, I decided to do a proper stocktake of the kitchen cupboards.
Turns out I already had plenty of tins of beans that would have made a great salad. D’oh! And then there were a dozen half-empty packets of various grains and seeds and pulses. Oodles of experimental sauces and spices. Abandoned bags of frozen veggies. I came up with a week’s meals there and then; all I needed was bread and milk and some more fresh stuff. Ka-ching!
Among the scoffings this week:
- Vegetable lasagna – using the leftover lasagna sheets that have annoyed me for months, a stray ball of mozzarella and three tins of brown lentils which I can almost convince myself taste like beef. O, the plight of the vegetarian’s wife.
- Lentil Dahl – as featured in the Farting Out The Window incident in the DG book! Starring dregs of yellow and red lentils and a bag of frozen spinach I’ve tried to ignore since October.
- Smiley Bill’s Muesli Bars – a.k.a. granola bars (US) or cereal bars (UK). A healthy-ish Bill Granger recipe with oats, dates, sunflower seeds, pecans, honey and a dod of sunflower oil. Finally got rid of all them seedy scraps and they taste BLOODY BEAUTIFUL!
I think green and frugal kind of go hand in hand. Less about sticking a bloody wind turbine on your roof and more about being thoughtful with your consumption. Of course, if you truly wanted to minimise your impact on the environment, you’d need to sit very still and very naked and not touch anything… and just wait to die. This is the only way I can see that one could avoid leaving carbon footprints and exploiting children in clothing factories and scoffing ill-treated chickens/ depleted fishes/ bananas from distant lands. Although you’d still be hogging oxygen and stuff.
But here in reality, methinks you can only do your best to not be an obnoxious resource vulture. That way you get to save money and be smug all at the same time.