Food for thought: Helsinki woman survives on salvaged food for 20 years

Initially disgusted by the idea of noshing on discarded food, Jessica Suni said she quickly realised that ditched plastic-wrapped items were safe to eat. 

Image: Sanni Harmanen / Yle

Helsinki resident Jessica Suni has been a ’freegan’ for 20 years, surviving on salvaged food. A portmanteau of ’free’ and ’vegan’, ’freegans’ rescue vegetarian food from dumpsters.

”The food was of similar quality to what you would find on the supermarket shelf. The sell by date may have expired but it was still edible,” she explained of her initial foray into food scavenging.

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Image: Liisa Kallio/Yle

Suni said she wants to minimise her ecological footprint and that 'freeganism' is about more than saving grocery money. Dumpster divers are motivated by ethical consumption, according to Suni.

”I can’t even remember the last time I bought new clothes,” she said, adding that she has found neatly ironed and folded clothing in bins.

On average, Finnish residents throw away 24 kilos of food annually.

Reclaiming waste

”I would always find bananas and bread when foraging. There’s seasonal variation. After Christmas, stores throw out a lot of ham and chocolate,” Suni described of her loot.

Today Suni doesn’t engage in a lot of after-hours dumpster diving. Instead, she has made deals with local stores to give her food that’s on the way out.

”This accounts for about half the food I eat,” she explained.

Suni adheres to a vegan lifestyle but said she keeps animal products she comes across. ”My dog is over the moon when it gets a cheese or meat treat that we would never buy.”

But Suni said raking through supermarkets’ trash for useful items is becoming increasingly difficult as many shops now lock their dumpsters.

”I never used to come back home empty-handed, but this is how it is now,” she explained, saying she hoped stores were donating leftover food.

Deals for those who dare

The best time to investigate trash is in the evening, according to Suni. ”If you want to be discrete, it’s best to do it at night,” she said.

In all her years of reclaiming food, Suni said she has never fallen ill. ”If I pick something up that has gone off, I just chuck it in my biowaste.”