Freegan option for in-flight meals?

OK, I'm a little punchy after a redeye flight with a small baby, but I just wanted to share this air-travel brainstorm I had over the Atlantic. You know how airlines often have a gigantic list of exotic meals you can special order (Vegan, Hindu, Asian Vegetarian, Low Sodium, Lacto-Ovo, Kosher, etc)?

How about a Freegan option?

Here's how it would work: after they cleared the dishes in all the cabins (including the posh nosh in First Class), people who took the Freegan option would get a chance to go to the galley and check out what's left over and edible. Some flights, you'd get fillet mignon; some flights, you'd get small, sickly bags of carrot batons.

The airlines would have less food wastage, and they'd get to serve an entirely new dietary niche for free!

You read it here first, kids. Combine this with my plan for Ninja Airlines and you'd have a profitable business on your hands. Or at least you'd have an entertaining business on your hands.

Well, it'd entertain me, anyway.


  1. or you’d have a communicable diseases lawsuit on your hands. IANAL but, i don’t think any department of health would ever knowingly allow that. that being said… go for it. i’d choose it.

  2. Hopefully the Freegan option catches on with my local supermarkets. I’ve tried this with McDonalds but they say company policy prevents them from handing out the days leftover burgers.

  3. It could work, except for the visiting the galley part. Way too small and crowded (and with potential liability issues) for that. More like you may be able to ask for whatever is leftover. I think it would be at least several years before this would be a mainstream option, but eventually it could be. You can already do this informally, with mixed results.

  4. after they cleared the dishes … go to the galley and check out what’s left over

    Last time I flew, my wife was sick. She had to take some pills and needed water. I got up and went to the galley and asked for some water. They said they didn’t want to give out any water outside the “scheduled drink” cart, or “everyone” would come back and ask for water.

    I explained my wife needed to take some prescription meds and needed water for the pills. They gave me some water in a little cup and asked me to keep it covered so the rest of the passengers wouldn’t see it and get any “ideas”.

    I can just imagine how thrilled they’d be in dealing with folks coming back and pawing through the left overs.

    Oh, and passenger 6E had a nasty case of the flu. Did we pull his leftovers out of the pile so no one would eat them?

  5. Actually this could work… for the prepackaged food. I’ve seen more than my share of prepackaged cookies/butter/crackers/juice get tossed into the trash while my tummy grumbles away. There’s no real difference (other than shame) of this slightly modified freegan option and just walking over to the passenger and asking for the food.

  6. The Freegan option is available at Reed College, tho’ they are called scroungers. These folk wait by the tray depot in the cafeteria and take some of the leftover food.

    The culture was strong when I was a student there 15+ years ago; according to this blog article it is still going strong.

  7. Bingo! A Freegan is never going to be on a flight…unless planes now pick up hitchhikers on the runway.

  8. Flight personnel are always eating freegan. On a long flight, when the lights are dimmed and everyone is asleep or watching the in-flight movie, make your way over to the galley and check up on the personnel… They’re in the middle of clearing the unconsummed food.

  9. As the site points out, “The word freegan is compounded from ‘free’ and “vegan,'” so I don’t think that fillet mignon (or most anything from Mcdonalds) would qualify. Maybe you could start a freenivoire movement or some such.

    Even if I did eat meat, the raised potential for food contamination from all the germs on airliners would freak me out. I’ll just sit outside Cinnabon before liftoff and inhale some aerosolized sugar; that should be enough.

  10. Here in DC, we have many “freegans” – but they are know as “bums” in the regional dialect…

  11. I thought the point of the freegan diet was to minimize the ecologic impact of your nourishment. If you’re worried about the ecologic impact of an extra tray of airplane food while you’re on a transcontinental flight, you’ve completely missed the forest for the compost.

  12. @Jahknow
    Freegans are generally vegan except they will eat meat that is otherwise going to waste, ie, they won’t pay for meat (thus financially supporting it). The OP used the term correctly.

    Re: Liability/illness concerns
    My understanding of how this would (potentially) work is with perishable food that has been turned down unopened/food for passengers that did not show. Offering food that has been served to a passenger and was uneaten is illegal/a big liability.

  13. I think it is a cool idea.

    If you take the Freegan option, they should give you a $10.00 discount on airfare to offset the meal.

  14. I like it. Perhaps to handle the issues with crowding in the galley, they could walk up and down the aisles with a cart – think dim sum or mobile buffet. Each freegan row (you could put us all together) gets say 30-60 seconds, then the cart moves on.

    The fun would happen when you start gaming the system, say spreading rumors as you’re waiting for the flight that the chicken is pretty bad to up your chances there will be more leftovers.

  15. I’ve tried this with McDonalds but they say company policy prevents them from handing out the days leftover burgers.

    Policy or not, I’d guess this has more with the staff wanting to keep the wasteage for themselves. Says me who worked minimum-wage grillmonkey at a not-McDonalds fast food joint many years ago and somehow occasionally ended up with waste onion rings or a burger at the end of the night.

  16. Thanks for the info, #10 Christovir. I’ve never actually met a self-declared freegan, although long before I heard the term, I did know a (highly educated communist) Manhattan resident who on occasion dumpster-dove for food, squatted, and made other more sustainable living choices. Plus, she had an interesting story about pouring a bucket of poop on herself when NYPD came to (violently) toss them out of the squathouse.

  17. but if you give away the extra first class meals, what will the flight attendants eat?

  18. Santa’s Knee, you’re not being a very happy mutant.

    Cory, I think this has already been tried by Southwest Airlines, because my friend Tim Kyger was once on a late-night flight of theirs where the snack consisted of little bowls of stewed okra.

    His story has puzzled me for years, but now I see an explanation: they were doing the freegan thing, and someone found a couple of institutional-size cans of okra.

  19. I’ve tried this with McDonalds but they say company policy prevents them from handing out the days leftover burgers.

    Just so you know, it is possible to get McDonalds to donate their leftover food, I know people who’ve gotten them to donate it to homeless people and day-laborers at the end of the day.

    However, restaurants and grocery stores are grumpy, unsympathetic places, and the manager and employees are most likely to throw up multiple roadblocks in an attempt to get you to leave them alone (such as the “company policy” line you got) After all, what you’re asking for is non-standard, and will probably result in more work for them. Why should they bother?

    Basically, you need to social engineer it a bit, pitch your story to the workers, not the manager (who will usually be more of a tightass). Try to win sympathy, and make it as easy as possible for them to help. Make it obvious that you’re not just going to be brushed off, because if they can, they will.

    Asking for freegan food donations for a good cause, like feeding the homeless, usually goes over better than just asking for some free burgers. Some employees will go out of the way to help if it’s for a cause they care about.

  20. I tried a different tactic. I was drunk and decided to wait until the McDonalds closed by resting my eyes behind some high bushes. I fell asleep and when I came around the McDonalds was closed and my shirt had early signs of morning frost. I looked into the dumpster, and just like Christmas morning, there was a present, but this in the form of a bag of hamburgers. I took them back to the dorm for my roommate and I to enjoy. I never did tell him I pulled them from the dumpster. It’s better he didn’t know.

  21. Leftovers? Doesn’t that exist already? It’s called “last two rows in coach”. Chicken? Oh sorry, I just gave the last one to the nice lady with the psychotic toddler over there. Beef? Ah, unfortunately the gentleman who blocked your view to the screen for 15 minutes whilst waiting for the restroom to open got the final portion. But we still have some wonderful mashed potatoes with cauliflower sauce that nobody else wanted. Enjoy!

  22. You know, I have no problem with the idea of rescuing packaged foods that have been for whatever reason thrown out (like 1 day past the sale date or something). In fact we had a guy at work whose wife was the manager of the bakery at a grocery store, and he’d bring in the stuff that was going to be thrown out for us to pick through. But eating something that someone else has already taken a bite of…that’s just nasty, not to mention unhealthy.

    Better to direct your energy toward educating people about portion control so that we waste less food in the first place.

  23. Oh, and those of you who are in the position to do so (i.e. fast food workers, etc.), it’s not that hard to smuggle out the day’s waste (e.g. fully cooked hamburgers that were never served) and feed a homeless person or two. My ex girlfriend used to give away unclaimed pizzas from a large pizza chain. I would occasionally do it at the burger place I worked at ages ago. Sure it’s against company policy, but it’s one that can pretty easily be gotten around. Especially if you’re not advertising “free food for homeless people from McDonalds!” or something like that.

  24. I’ve many many stories of university dumpster diving, including once, while completely drunk, somehow convincing a security guard to call the cops back, and tell them not to come.

    But as long as were discussing cutting overhead, why not pirate travel? Charge for a vessel–buy a confiscated drug runner at auction–and a common destination, and it would be up to the passengers to work out how the vessel works and get there. If it takes them twenty years of sailing the Atlantic and they resort to pillaging commercial ships to survive, so be it. No laws apply in international waters. Drink up me hearties, yo ho!

  25. What is this, the frickin’ dark ages? This is disgusting. I’d like my half-eaten baked potato with a dollop of sweating sickness please.

    #15 Four12: $10? You should think that figure through, an in-flight meal probably costs $2. Let’s not pay these dirty jerks to spread germs around even more.

  26. Are you suggesting they let people eat our garbage on the flight, or allow them to choose from whatever intact meals are left in the refrigerator?

    Even if you meant the latter, airlines typically don’t keep big stocks of food on board the planes. There probably wouldn’t be enough spares to feed these airborne hobos you’re talking about.

    Eating garbage, meanwhile, is just out of the question. There’s too great a risk for contracting diseases.

    Either option sounds terribly undignified, as well. I would expect to see such a sorry bum finish his garbage, then start walking the aisles and panhandling. I’d never fly on that airline again.

  27. Since I once actually was excited to find food in the dumpster while in school, I think this is a much more sanitary option. I say let’s push for it.

  28. awww, this makes me miss my alma mater an incredible amount. we had real freegans when i was there, and they seemed to do just fine.

  29. Charge for a vessel–buy a confiscated drug runner at auction–and a common destination, and it would be up to the passengers to work out how the vessel works and get there.

    That’s actually a good idea. I’ll bring it up at the next Anarchists organizational meeting.

  30. Damn, Teresa, stewed okra? Tim has all the luck.

    (Did he ever tell you about ordering a cheese enchilada at a Dairy Queen one time, and having it delivered with a slice of Velveeta on top?)

    (The really odd thing was that this happened in Gallup, New Mexico. One would think that even at a Dairy Queen, Velveeta in an enchilada would be a hanging offense in New Mexico.)

  31. They still serve meals on airlines?

    The last few times I’ve flown, it’s been half a ginger ale in a plastic cup and a tiny bag of those crappy over-salted peanuts.

  32. #36:

    Can’t bring liquids anymore…. They need to be saltier so you retain some fluids.

  33. Yeah, another “Eating Garbage will Save the World” thread!

    I seriously need to stop reading this site during lunch. Yuck.

  34. I wouldn’t be up for it unless the food was packaged.

    I’m not against eating leftovers, though- yesterday at camp, we all sat down with our MREs and followed the usual procedure- open, sift, throw whatever you don’t want towards the center, barter for the drink you want, heat your meal with cookies on top of the setup to warm them up. Guard your seasoning with your life. Trade. Eat. Decide you can’t eat the whole Death!BarbecueMysterymeatchunks, pass to the next person.

    Sally’s Chicken Noodle Soup met five different people and their spoons before being finished by Nick and I. Nothing goes to waste, leftover packaged items get tucked away, the raisins get held to provide to sugar-crashers.

    This isn’t just a camp thing for my friends and I. Breakfast lunch and dinner. Sometimes someone will bring up their leftovers from McDonald’s/Applebee’s/homecooked dinner the night before.

  35. My daily calorie intake has probably been 40-50% dumpstered and/or taken from people’s half-eaten plates at restaurants for over a year now. Never been healthier.

    After working in posh restaurant kitchens for the better part of a decade, I can assure you that you should be more worried about the germs that enter your food back there, than any minuscule amount of saliva left on the edge of a half-eaten piece of french toast.

  36. Did he ever tell you about ordering a cheese enchilada at a Dairy Queen one time, and having it delivered with a slice of Velveeta on top?

    Desperate for a break from Nepali food, I ordered a chicken enchilada in Kathmandu. It was chicken curry on a chapati.

  37. This article makes me angry at nothing in particular.

    That’s a significant aspect of the human condition.

  38. Obviously they can’t give away food that has been opened/partially eaten, but certainly anything that is individually wrapped could be saved. In addition to pre-packaged items such as cheese and crackers, many things come in a sealed container where it would be evident that it had been opened.

    On my last flight, I was extremely dismayed by how much food was thrown out. Especially the sandwiches (wrapped in plastic and secured with tape) served at breakfast, when many of the passengers were asleep or just not hungry yet. It was an international flight, so everyone got meals with their ticket, but they could have offered leftovers to other passengers who were still hungry.

    Of course, one of the biggest issues here is that separating out food that can be saved would create extra work for the attendants.

    I suppose the practical suggestion is to just go ahead and ask if it looks like someone isn’t going to eat something that you would like to have.

  39. Who puts okra in cans? What an awful idea – that’s almost as bad as canning mushrooms.

  40. The fact that so many people are irrationally grossed out by things that other people have taken bites from, or things located in garbage receptacles is why freeganism is possible – they’re willing to leave that stuff to the small segment of the population who want to eat it.

    Think of it as living off the superstitions of society.

    So, while I think it’s silly that people are so uptight about germs, and it’s sometimes insulting when people look down on me for being freegan, deep down I’m glad they feel this way, because it means I get to eat for free all the time!

  41. The “gigantic list of exotic meals you can special order (Vegan, Hindu, Asian Vegetarian, Low Sodium, Lacto-Ovo, Kosher, etc)” is largely a myth. On most airlines this is simply the same dairy-free, salt-free, pork-free, shellfish-free, low fat container of steamed veggies. Though having dined vegetarian on several airlines, the prize decidedly went to Air New Zealand.

  42. In the 70s we had a family friend who was a part-time handyman at a chain of McDonalds. They’d save up bags of “old” (made in anticipation of a lunch rush but not sold) burgers and pancake mix for him. He’d give us some: Bags and bags of frozen burgers and filet ‘o fish sandwiches.

    This was great, except for one problem. How do you heat up a frozen burger? One whose bun is glued on with cold cheeze and Special Sauce? This was before microwaves. I came up with all sorts of weird-ass techniques involving steaming, toasting, and baking.

    The pancake mix was great.

  43. By the way, anyone who is interested in keeping good food from going to waste should check out America’s Second Harvest at They are a charity that “rescues” food that would otherwise go to waste, and distributes it to the hungry.

  44. At present I live on the campus of a higher-end boarding school, and I benefit by familial association that I can eat for free in the school cafeteria. Usually I show up right after the meal and scavenge the remains of the meals just served; there’s almost always more than enough leftover. But if I should arrive too late, oftentimes they’ve already scraped all the food into the trash. I mean, we’re talking pan after pan of food, trash bags full. It’s such a waste of perfectly viable food, even more of an insult now with growing food shortages worldwide; on a more localized scope, think of the gasoline expended to bring that food to the school. The kitchen is well aware of the waste and the use to others, and they claim they do donate some to homeless programs, but I’ve yet to see any evidence of that.

    With all of the other factors contributing to our weakened economy, you’d think organizations would be learning to be more frugal. Will we need to wait until people are dying in the streets by the droves from starvation before we address these excesses?

  45. i work for a supermarket and get people poking through our bins from time to time.

    the state of our bins man…. one sniff and you wouldnt want to come near those nasty things let alone eat anything rescued from it.

  46. Freegans? Really? That’s kind of a self-defeating system. If enough people become freegans there won’t be anything left to eat for free. It’s like a lifestyle pyramid scheme.

    “Hitchhiking fills up room in a car that would have been unused otherwise and therefore it does not add to the overall consumption of cars and gasoline.”

    Yeah it and also doesn’t add to your own personal burden of having to be responsible for your own livelihood. Just let the poor sap who picked you up pay for the gas and shoulder the environmental guilt. You’re just in the back seat so you’re doing your part for Mother Earth.

  47. Not enough people will ever be freegans to make it a self-defeating system.

    I bum a ride if I’m going in the same direction. I chip in for gas if I’ve got the cash but the environmental guilt is a little less because I’m not doubling it by driving my own car. What is wrong with that?

Comments are closed.