Would you like some free food? We’re often asked “how can I save money on food?” so why not try some foraging while you’re on a walk in the country?
Foraging is simply wandering around in the countryside and collecting anything edible that’s growing wild. It’s great food at its cheapest! In the UK, there are seasonal fruits, nuts, edible flowers and seafood available to pick, and we’ll show you where and how to find them! We even have ideas and recipes, so read on for everything you need to know.
If foraging isn’t your style, or you’re city-bound – never fear! We’ve got lots of ideas to help you find free and cheap food in the city, too.
- Free apps that get you free food from restaurants
- Find free food in the hedgerows
- Tools to help you get free food
- Get free food as a Freegan
- Grow your own free food
- Volunteer your time for food
- Not free but very cheap
There are some particularly handy apps around now that will help you get free food from your locality.
Too Good to Go
Too Good to Go enables you to get very cheap food from shops and restaurants near to closing time when produce is about to be thrown out.
You can get top quality food for just £2 to £3.80 a time. It’s not available in every part of the UK, but is gradually moving to the major cities.
Olio puts you in touch with neighbours and cafes that have surplus food. As it says on the website, the app helps us all share food that would otherwise be totally wasted. Another brilliant idea!
Of course, when it comes to immediate neighbours, friends and family, we don’t need an app to share food, just a quick word. So, if you’re going on holiday, see if your neighbours would like what’s in your fridge that could go off. Maybe have a ‘food swap’ session once every few months too so that you can swap tins, packets and jars of food that you know you’re not going to use. If you grow fruit and veg you could swap some of that too.
After all, it’s good for all of us if we can avoid wasting food. Last year, it was estimated that businesses, organisations and supermarkets were throwing away 10.2 million tonnes of food and drink each year!
Falling Fruit maps wild growing plants around cities. So you can find plums, apples, herbs, strawberries and all sorts available for anyone to pick. It also shows you where there are often skips with edible food which you might be able to dive into for a spot of freeganism (see below).
There are loads of places you can go to pick up tasty free food. Try foraging in hedgerows, woods and on the seashore. It’s good to have an understanding of what you’re looking for, and there are a number of books out there to help you identify everything from nuts, herbs and fruits to leafy vegetables and shellfish.
Richard Mabey’s book Food for Free, which has been around for 40 years, is a great source of information, but there are many others out there just as helpful, as well as a wide variety that include recipes.
There are thousands of different varieties of berries, mushrooms and flowers. However some varieties, especially fungi, can be poisonous. So despite what your guidebook says – if you’re not sure, don’t eat it.
When picking, have a look around the area to make sure it’s not an old industrial estate or road verge; the area may have been sprayed with pesticides or be contaminated by oil or ash.
Although it’s OK to eat berries while you’re picking them from berry farms, out in the open is a different matter. Don’t eat unhealthy-looking fruit or plants and don’t let children pick or eat wild foods without supervision. Make sure you take your harvest home and wash it thoroughly. It goes without saying: always eat your harvest as fresh as possible.
It’s a good idea to take a small knife with you when you go foraging. You can use it to cut mushrooms off their stalks, thereby allowing new ones to grow in their place and pry away anything else you can’t pull out with your bare hands. It’s also good to have a basket to collect your bounty in.
The law gives people the right to roam on foot to access open countryside in England, Wales, and Scotland. This includes mountains, moors, heath, registered commons and land that’s been opened up voluntarily by landowners. Legally, a person may take away foliage, fruit or parts of the plant without committing an offence, unless it is done with the intention of selling them or for any other reward.
Picking berries by hand is a long and tiresome process. You can buy a device that separates the berry from the stem in one quick motion, and it even stores the berries for you as you pick.
Not only does it make it quicker and easier to pick the berries (all sorts of berries) but it means you get fewer prickles and scratches on your hands and arms!
The Forager Handbook
Want even more information about Britain’s edible wild plants? The Forager Handbook has everything you need to know about foraging – from information about plant habitats to foraging tips for different seasons. There are even recipes co-written from some of Britain’s top chefs.
Also, Food for Free is a little book you could put in your pocket that shows you, with colour pictures, what free foods you could be picking where you’re walking now. Handy!
Be a ‘freegan’ and rummage in shop bins for food that’s actually pretty good but they don’t think is fit to sell.
It may sound odd, but every day supermarkets throw out enormous quantities of food that have gone past their sell-by dates (and so cannot be legally sold) but are still good to eat and often in top-notch condition. They throw them into the big bins behind the supermarket where they’re fair game for foragers – or ‘freegans’ as they’re known.
is freeganism legal?
It’s a sad fact, but legally, even if someone – or a company – has thrown something out into their bins, it’s still their property and anyone taking it out without express permission from the owner is actually stealing.
In fact, this poor couple was taken to court for taking food from a Tesco bin, although the judge took pity on them.
…some supermarkets, and quite a few small, independent shops, turn a blind eye to freegans or ‘dumpster-divers’ and there’s a free map here where people in different countries have put in places where you could potentially find a few good bits by rummaging in the bins.
What could you find while dumpster-diving?
You might be hesitant to take vegetables or fresh fish and meat but if they’re in packaging and have clearly-marked use-by dates then after a good scrub they should be fine to eat.
Freegans often find ready meals with the plastic packaging intact but no outer cardboard packaging. There are often also full jars and tinned items, and even ice-cream, all with sell-by dates far in the future, but the packaging is dented or tarnished in some way.
Eggs are common finds for Freegans; if one egg in the box is broken, supermarkets will often find it easier to throw away the whole box rather than simply reduce the price and sell the other five.
Some quick tips for freegans:
- Take gloves and a torch
- Don’t pass a ‘No trespassing’ sign
- Use discretion when choosing what to eat. If in doubt, throw it out
- Always leave the bin as clean as you found it
- If the bag is ripped or any goods are exposed, just leave them behind
- Just because a bin is no good one day, doesn’t mean it will be like that every day
- In general, small-to-medium shops are probably best. Larger chains have their bins locked away
- Wash all the items you find before consuming
For more information about freeganism have a look at Freegan.info and FareShare.
Once you cover the set-up costs of owning a plot of land or growing in your own garden, there’s great personal and monetary satisfaction in growing your own fruit and vegetables.
With fruit trees you’re growing for the future; years of a good harvest can save you hundreds, even thousands, of pounds.
You can re-use the seeds from vegetables like potatoes and pumpkins, and swap other seeds and cuttings with friends.
From a tomato plant on the balcony to a herb garden on your windowsill, savings can be immense.
For more information on growing your own, take a look at our article growing your own fruit and vegetables. It’s got tips on how to grow vegetables even if you’ve only got a windowsill, and tells you the kind of veg that is best for different spaces. It will also tell you exactly what tools and seeds you’ll need and some places to get great gardening bargains so you save even more.
Have you thought about volunteering your time for food and drink? ‘Pay as you feel’ cafes offer just that. You have some food and then you give up some of your time by doing the washing up, helping out on the counter, or serving and dishing up the food. It’s a great way to get a meal where don’t need to pay a penny.
The Real Junk Food Project run these types of cafes around the UK, including Ripon, North Yorkshire, Coventry and Brighton. They tend to run on a pop-up basis, so it’s best checking with them directly if you want to go.
Don’t fancy washing up? Well, you can always pay what you feel the meal was worth. Give as little or as much as you like.
Alternatively, the Magic Hat Cafe also is ‘pay as you feel’, and that’s based in Byker, just outside Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The same rules apply and they even encourage volunteering rather than paying.
They even run a ‘pay as you feel’ supermarket too. That’s open every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Instead of grocery stores throwing away produce that’s reached its ‘best before’ date, they donate it to the ‘pay as you feel’ supermarket who then sell it on at whatever price you want to pay. I’m sure if you wanted to volunteer your time, they would take that as well.
This one’s similar to the ‘pay as you feel’ supermarket. Approved Foods sell items which are near or just passed their ‘best before’ date. They’re perfectly good to consume but the supermarkets have to throw them away.
And with over 2,000 products – including many big brands – there’s plenty to choose from. You can get 4 bottles of 7Up for just £1 for instance.
Do you have other ways of getting free food?
Have you been a Freegan or a Dumpster-diver? Give us your tips in the comments below!