Is there such a thing as a free lunch?

We investigate

25th May 2018

Milton Friedman famously said that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and many people would consider this to be true — particularly in the age of mass consumerism and late-capitalism, of £40 for a charcoal-activated croissant and deconstructed-something-or-other, probably served on a garden trowel.

But does it have to be this way? Was the American economist right? Or is there such thing as a free lunch? Forever posing the most pertinent of questions and pursuing them without respite, a few of The Overtake’s staff each selected a specific method by which to try and ascertain some sans-cash sustenance and ventured out into the world, stomachs empty of all but hope.

Award-nominated journalist, editor-in-chief and founder of The Overtake (and now, bin-dipper?) Robyn tried her hand at so-called freeganism, or as it’s better known, taking the stuff that supermarkets throw away.

Associate editor Ben took a wander down the high-street, armed with just his phone and the white-lie that it was his birthday, in the hopes of getting some freebies.

Special projects editor Rik harnessed the power of friendship, putting out the call on social-media for someone, anyone, to please just buy him something to eat.

Other associate editor Ethan headed out into the wilderness, or more accurately, a bit of woods five minutes from the city centre, to hopefully forage up a feast.

Suffice to say, some fared better than others.

Ben Sledge — Apps

Most people, or at least most O2 users, have at least had a browse of the O2 Priorities app for a £1 meal deal or a free bar of chocolate. Hoping for a similar deal, I volunteered to grab my free lunch via apps.

There are actually lists of apps that offer rewards when you make purchases or give you freebies on your birthday, and I thought I was in the money. Having signed up with a fake birthday to the multiple apps and reward schemes, I was expecting birthday gifts of a welcome hot drink and birthday doughnut from Greggs, two more doughnuts via the Krispy Kreme app and a birthday burrito from the Barburrito rewards scheme. I was also promised a cookie from Subway but this failed to appear anywhere on the app so perhaps it was a bonus with a purchase or something.

My saviour came in the form of KFC

However, disaster struck. The week before our challenge, we moved offices from the city centre to the quieter suburb of Headingley, and the lack of chain restaurants there really put a spanner in the app plan. The lack of Krispy Kreme ruined my ideas of dessert, but the absence of a Barburrito ruined my entire meal.

I headed to Greggs for two free drinks and a doughnut, which was not really a nutritious meal but hey, it was free. I came back to the office with my stomach still rumbling, researching other apps for nearby chains.

My saviour came in the form of KFC and I quickly downloaded its app and signed up for its rewards scheme. Armed with a free large chips for simply downloading the app, I was excited to finally line my stomach with something savoury. However, there were problems in-store with their system updating and they couldn’t process app payments.

I ended my challenge hungry and disappointed, and my final verdict on getting a free lunch via apps is that it’s only a valid option once a year on your birthday (or “birthday”), and even then they are unreliable.

Rating (out of 5 burgers): 🍔🍔

Ethan Shone — Foraging

Last time we did one of these office challenges I think it’s fair to stay I drew the short straw. Or more accurately, the smelly, greasy and ultimately pointless straw. So, when it was suggested we do something similar for British Food Week, I was keen not to let that happen again. Foraging seemed like a relatively safe bet, I used to watch Ray Mears; piece of piss, right?

That was my first thought, but then I also thought “isn’t Ray Mears a professional with years of experience and training? And doesn’t he even cheat sometimes?” and started to panic. After typing a few variations of “which plants taste like halloumi” into Google and yielding no workable results, I was really fearing the worst but then I came across Craig Worrall’s site, Edible Leeds.

A professional forager with years of experience cooking up meals from stuff that he’s picked and prepared himself, Worrall offers guided foraging walks and caters events with his hyper-fresh, hyper-local cuisine. What’s more, he was only around the corner.

I met up with him at Oxley Hall, 5-10 minutes from Leeds City Centre. We walked around a small area, not far from the path, with grasslands and little outcrops of woodland, for two hours or so. In that time we (Worrall) managed to half-fill a wicker-basket with leaves, flowers, roots, tubers and more. Some of the things we gathered were plants that we’re all probably aware of, whereas others we might not know by name, but all are fairly common and can be found pretty easily, so long as you know what you’re looking for.

We’d barely left the car park when Worrall beckoned me over to what looked like a garden-variety plant. A weed, even.

I took a bite and tasted something similar to rhubarb, which was juicy and didn’t seem to be poisonous

“This is common sorrel,” he said, picking a couple from the ground and eating one, then offering me the other. I’d been expecting to have to really get into the woods to find anything decent, and momentarily wondered if Worrall wasn’t so much adept at finding tasty food in the wild as he was just being able to stomach literally any old plant. I took a bite and tasted something similar to rhubarb, which was juicy and didn’t seem to be poisonous. Success!

Almost everything we picked was palatable enough raw, just plucked from the ground and munched, post bug-check. Some were tastier than others; the common sorrel was maybe the nicest, but sweet cicely, dock heart and wild garlic could all be considered “nice” by any objective measure.

After we’d foraged up some ingredients Craig set up a makeshift kitchen in the park and prepared our meal

But this nibble-while-you-walk thing was just the beginning, with the real feast still to come, and the difference between the two was comparable to eating a few grapes as you walk around the supermarket versus actually preparing a meal. After about an hour and a half, we’d got enough for lunch for two. We found a nice spot with a few benches, sheltered from the wind and in the bright May sunshine and Worrall went about cooking up our meal.

The term foraging conjures up an image of muddied hands and knees, snuffling around in the undergrowth like some kind of wild boar, all for the sake of a handful of twigs, leaves and berries. But, the reality was entirely different — for a start, I didn’t touch any mud at all and, in terms of what we actually ended up with, well…

Boiled sea kale leaves and sea beet tops. Stir fried wild garlic flower and leaf stems with St Georges mushroom soy. Mixed wild salad, with at least 12 freshly picked ingredients
Cocktail: Botanist gin, roasted Japanese quince vodka with an edible sweet cicely straw

Served with a surprisingly boozy cocktail, too! Not bad at all, this foraging stuff.

It was good — not just good considering it was a free and not just good considering we’d literally found it all in the woods and prepared it on two camp stoves on a park bench. It was really good, in fact. The amount I ate before feeling full seemed like a lot less than if I were to eat a shop-bought salad, for instance, and the fullness seemed to last longer, too. More than this, though, it felt genuinely satisfying to take such an active role in making the meal — to not just be a consumer of a food product but to understand and know, really know, everything that went into it.

And most importantly, it was totally free. Mother Nature picked up the tab. Mission accomplished. Redemption.

Rating: 🍔🍔🍔🍔🍔

Robyn Vinter — Freeganism

The first thing you need to know about freeganism (rummaging in shop bins to find perfectly edible food that’s been thrown away) is that it’s not something you can just dip into.

Inspired by loads of YouTube videos of freegans’ amazing hauls, I had visions of nipping round the back of Sainsbury’s, grabbing a quick egg and cress out of the Biffa and returning to my desk 20 minutes later with a full stomach and wallet.

How wrong I was.

It came as a shock to me to realise my 5ft 3 frame was going to have to climb inside the bins on a weekday afternoon

Firstly, when doing a bit of background research, I learned that there were some tools of the trade that I should invest in. A pair of rubber gloves helps avoid getting bin juice on your hands, while some bins are locked and need to be opened with one of those triangular keys you have for the gas meter.

Most of the bins were locked. Retailers were on to me

I decided to go without a key because I felt like it was crossing a line. Bin raiding is illegal — anything in a company’s bins still belongs to them — and it does feel like there’s a difference between opening bins that are unlocked and unlocking bins that a company has specifically locked to stop people getting into.

So, armed with rubber gloves and a hunger for out-of-date produce, I set about procuring my lunch. The first thing I noticed is that a lot of the bins are indeed locked. The 15-20 bins behind the high street back on to a student halls of residence so that’s hardly surprising. I should have picked a better spot.

After a few minutes, I did find one that was open, though. The problem was, it was only about a quarter full. At this point, I’d done a fair bit of research but it still came as a shock to me to realise my 5ft 3 frame was going to have to climb inside the bins on a weekday afternoon. This ended up being a deal-breaker, actually.

Knowing that I was going back to the office afterwards and I didn’t want to smell of bins for the rest of the day, plus there was a significant chance I would get spotted climbing in or out or get stuck completely, I abandoned the challenge.

I tried a few more bins on my walk of shame back to the office but there were no black bags in reach of my rubber gloves.

The dream of bin-fresh egg and cress was over, and I would have gone hungry if it wasn’t for the spoils of Ethan’s successful foraging.

Rating: 🍔 (I awarded the one burger because I feel like it was mostly my own fault that I didn’t come back with anything)

Rik Worth — Friends

A pang of fear came over me when The Overtake free food challenge was proposed to the editorial team. I kept my head down as ideas on how to get free food were discussed. It’s not that I’m a fussy eater — far from it. It’s that I have a problem swallowing my pride.

Freeganism felt shameful and potentially disgusting, whilst flirting my way into a meal would certainly end in death, either by starvation or fiancé. Foraging seemed the noblest choice, but Ethan — the utter bastard — had already claimed it. 

My friends could help? Facebook could help? I quickly fired out a post asking if anyone would take pity on me and send me free food. This was less embarrassing than my alternatives but only because these people already know all about my shady past. My prayers were answered by my old friend Ste, and I was happy that I wouldn’t be eating someone’s mouldy old Greggs. But the shame continued.

When the day of the challenge rolled around the editorial team were already claiming free food, heading out on hikes to find wild ingredients and scoping out good spots to strike for waste food, all in the name of journalism. I just asked a buddy to get me a JustEat of his choice. I was a fraud of the highest calibre.

To make things worse, I remembered that Ste was a bit of a prankster in our youth. He illustrated the first comic I ever wrote — a satirical swipe at the posh neighbours across the road — and, after I had gone home, posted it through their door. He also would speak in made-up languages at length in an attempt to convince you that you had lost your mind. What food would he send? A twelve-foot butty I’d shamefully have to eat? A buttock-clenchingly hot curry? One of those chocolate pizzas designed for deeply damaged people?

My friends failed me but I succeeded

 

The hours passed and nothing came. I became hungry. Maybe the bin was acceptable? Then it dawned on me. This was his prank. I’d been outmanoeuvred. The promise of food would stop me from eating and keep me hungry. It was too late in the day to arrange anything else and the mild pang of hunger was unbearable.

It’s so minging, even the promotional team wear gloves to handle it

But, all hope was not lost. I remembered that work was being done after hours at my part-time job. The store was being refitted. Truthfully, I fully intended to avoid this overtime but there had been a promise of sustenance. Also, I remembered that the staff fridge had a case of the disgusting Red Bull knockoff Carabao. We’d been given it by some street marketers who literally couldn’t give the stuff away. Except they could and did, obviously. 

I arrived at work and within an hour, I was asked what pizza I wanted. A whole pizza, I bashfully picked the first thing I saw on my bosses phone and pretended that I didn’t really want it. I did. Not only to crush my hunger but to settle the troubles the Carabao had caused in my stomach. It really is vile.

So, that’s how I got free food. My friends failed me but I succeeded. All a free meal cost me was years of dedicated service, a couple of hours of manual labour, caffeine shakes and a furious fiancé who was wondering where I had been all evening. So it wasn’t really free. But was it worth it? Fuck yeah, that pizza was exceptionally delicious.

Rating: 🍔🍔🍔🍔

25th May 2018