Scavenger Army Digs in Paris Trash
Times on Line
Adam Sage
Paris, France



Despite welfare payments of just 90 (£78) a month, Pierrick Goujon enjoys a rich and balanced diet. “My problem is over-eating,” he said. “I get indigestion from time to time.” His trick? Mr Goujon, 26, is a scavenger who feeds himself by looking in supermarket dustbins for products thrown away as unfit for sale.

“It's amazing what you can find - meat, fruit, vegetables, cakes, tinned food, rice, pasta and all sorts of other things. I go twice a week and I come back with enough for myself and for my friends and neighbours.” He is not alone. According to a report published by the French Government, an increasing number of people are eating what mainstream society considers to be rubbish as the economic crisis bites into their income.

It is a modern version of an ancestral French custom. From the Middle Ages, the poor had an official right of glanage (literally, gleaning), which involved scouring farmers' fields for wheat or other crops left after the harvest.

Today they search markets for left-over fruit and vegetables and look in the bins of shops, according to the report commissioned by Martin Hirsch, France's High Commissioner for Active Solidarity Against Poverty.

“Who would not be shocked by this?” said Mr Hirsch, who added that the spread of the practice came amid growing poverty as France enters a recession. He called on supermarkets to make their unsold food products available to the needy rather than dumping them in bins. “It is better to donate them than to throw them away or to douse them in bleach.”

The report said les glaneurs represented a broad spectrum of the poorer echelons of French society. Some were unemployed and homeless. Others were students, pensioners or mothers with insufficient income to pay for food for their children. Many were ashamed at having to scavenge for food in le pays de la gastronomie. Some of them, though, were open about what they saw as a political statement against commercial wastefulness.

Mr Goujon, a traveller who lives in a lorry, says that he began hunting through pizza parlour bins when he was destitute at the age of 20. “Then I discovered how much you can get from supermarket bins - meat that's got two days to go before the sell-by date or tins that have just got a slight dent in them.” He says that he has adopted the philosophy of the Freegans, an American movement which promotes the idea of eating thrown-away food in protest at consumerism.

“I've found I can eat perfectly well like this,” said Mr Goujon, who describes himself as a récupée rateur. “I've never been ill because I've eaten something rotten. It's all perfectly good food. But you need to know which supermarkets to go to. Some of them destroy their unsold food rather than putting it into bins.”

Le glanage is also gaining ground in markets around Paris, according to the report ordered by Mr Hirsch.

Take, for instance, Marie, 70, who scavenges in Barbès market in the north of the capital. “All these fruit and vegetables which are sacrificed are very helpful to me,” she said, brandishing a leek which she had recovered from a bin. “I was a concierge and I've got a pension of €700 a month and my husband of €900 a month. We pay rent of €900 a month and our two children still live at home even though they're both more than 30.

“Life's difficult for us, and rather than being kicked out of our flat because we can't afford the rent, I prefer to get by this way.”