I scavenged leftovers from restaurant tables to highlight food waste

I have no shame.

Did you know that each year, approximately four million tonnes of food ends up as landfill around the world?

Don’t even get me started on what that’s doing for global warming. 

People in rich countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of a sub-Saharan Africa…

… and despite Australia’s developed status, two million people still rely on food relief with kids constantly going to bed hungry.

That’s ridiculous.

Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 15.42.43Source: Ozharvest

I was fortunate enough to have been brought up as a bit of an eco warrior. In my house we kicked the butts of people who dared put plastic bottles in the general rubbish bin and went to town on those who had long showers in our precious rain water. Food waste was an outright crime; if something was pretty unreasonable to expect a human to eat, like a teabag or an orange peel, it went straight into the chook bucket… or the compost if it was a chook skeleton.

Or maybe we did send chicken bones to the chickens? Wouldn’t surprise me to be honest.

Motivated by this hilarious article written by a friend – about swiping unguarded drinks out of desperation when you’re a bit strapped for cash – and inspired by Ozharvest’s food-rescue efforts, I decided it would be interesting, and rather uncomfortable, to head out in Sydney to dine on people’s leftovers. What they call “scraps”, which would have otherwise been put in the bin.

I brought along one of the only people I know who would partake in the activity with me; Jordan, my 21-year-old brother who has about as much shame as our dog, Daisy, who delights in kangaroo carcasses.

Because it was a Tuesday night, we had been a little concerned that there may not be enough of a crowd for us to be able swipe the food discreetly. But Jordan made the call to go to Circular Quay because “there’s more outdoor areas and it’s usually full of tourists who get big seafood platters and never finish them”.

We got to Opera Bar, one of Sydney’s finer establishments, and bought ourselves an expensive drink to sit with while we scoped the place out. It was only 7pm and we could already see full hamburgers, plates of chips, pizzas, salads, seafood platters – you name it – all being abandoned.

But even though we were (purposefully) hungry, we were still hesitant at first. The idea of getting noticed by diners or sprung by management was horrendously nerve-wracking. It would be utterly embarrassing, right? We did, however, learn pretty quickly that our nerves were only going to serve as missed opportunities, because the wait staff were like hawks to un-cleared tables.

We had a few different strike tactics throughout the evening, but agreed the best thing to do was wait for our targets to leave their seats before beelining to their table, taking their cutlery out of the polite, I’ve-finished position and sitting down to pretend it was our food all along.

We did this with pizza, someone’s hot chips, a hotdog… And after losing out on a full hamburger earlier in the evening, I went in for what looked like a full steak sandwich, only to discover the lady had eaten the steak out of it.

Every strike started to become more casual, less drenched in adrenaline and embarrassment, though still riddled with fits of laughter and suspicious loitering. We started to realise that nobody was actually paying attention because no one expects two siblings to be on a night out scavenging to save the planet do they.

At one point we found someone’s delicious leftover bubbly, and we competed with a seagull for some cake. On our way back to the car it was pretty late and most people had finished eating at restaurants, so we thought we’d stop in for one last scavenge at McDonald’s. There, Jordan found a single chip and a half-eaten soft serve to tuck into, and then we skedaddled.

Now, some might think that what we did was disgusting or just plain-jane strange, but I’m speaking for me and on behalf of brother Jordan in saying we don’t give two hoots of a lamb’s tail. Food waste is a big bad issue across the globe and I think that more people need to be conscious of the way they purchase, consume and distribute food. There are people desperately in need across the world; in your country; in your postcode. So try to think of them when you don’t finish your broccoli. Or think of them when you consider dining on someone’s leftovers instead of buying your own.

I leave you with this sneaky video we made on the night. Do let me know your thoughts in the comments below.



  1. Hahah!! This is too amazing. Soo glad you did what me and my bf ALWAYS talk about doing. It’s appalling how much food people leave behind on their plates when they go out. What are they even doing buying it in the first place? I wonder if our fat-shaming culture plays into it – people have to keep up their image, and so don’t eat a lot when they go out, lest they be called out for it. Maybe? Last week, we saw a group of about 8 leave almost entire large basket of fries behind – nice, homemade, delicious fries (we had ordered them too). 8 people couldn’t finish off fries?? Pssh. We did see the lady at the table next to them zoom up and swipe a handful, but we were too shy to do the same. Next time – you’ve inspired me!!

  2. It would have been rather embarrassing if people came back to their table having all taken a visit to the bathroom t the same time! Or did you watch them leave before pouncing on their food?

  3. So does that mean no more fridge nazi? And goods that are abitraraliy stamped with a “Best Before” date by a manufacturer so that people look at the date and go “Oh I can’t eat that it is out of date” rush back to the supermarket and buy more of said product thereby contributing to the waste you speak of. The public have been brainwashed by manufacturers much like the shampoo con of many years ago.
    A marketing team was asked how to increase sales and they came up with the brilliant “Rinse and Repeat” doubled sales overnight!

What do you think?

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