As we departed the Arctic Circle and entered Sweden through mountains freshly dusted in the first snowfall of autumn we were pretty sure of one thing. It was late September, and with nighttime temperatures consistently below zero, Scandinavia’s six month snow season was set to begin any day now. Surely we would be the only fools to cycle here at this time of year?
Wrong. Meet Christopher. He had cycled from his home in northern Germany up to the North Cape of Norway on his heavily loaded Danish 3-wheel bike, pimped with his own carpentry (some practical shelving and a hand crafted 3-part portable toilet). With the bike weighing 30 kilograms without luggage, and with limited gears and a front-heavy load that can take up to 100 kilograms, the bike is designed for city use, not long expeditions.
But Christopher was not deterred, and like us he was pedaling south as fast as possible as winter closed in behind us. We shared a similar pace, and enjoyed each others company for the following days. Before long we found out about his new found passion for “containering”. Sometimes known as dumpster diving, containering involves searching through the bins at the back of supermarkets for food that has been thrown out but is still ok to eat.
“It’s a hole in the system” he told us. “It is becoming more and more popular, not so much among the very poor in Europe, but especially among students.” With his money running low he had been surviving primarily from his containering work from town to town. “It is mostly industry food and not what I would normally eat, but now I base my meals around what I find in the containers. One time I found a bag of 12 croissants with marmalade that were still good but were slightly overcooked. I ate two with my coffee every afternoon for the next 6 days.”
As we sat around a lakeside campfire that night he pulled out the spoils of his recent treasure hunting. Some old potatoes, cream cheese, several 1L containers of yoghurt, and a dented tin of pineapples. He was disappointed not to have found more vegetables, his most consistent food source. I asked him if he had ever been caught? “Sometimes. They don’t like it… they say that it is their trash and want me to leave. I wear my orange safety vest so I look more like a city worker. That helps a bit.”
When asked whether he had ever been ill from eating ‘container food’ he contemplated. “That’s an interesting question.” He looked down on a plastic tub of cream cheese next to him and noticed his spoon was resting on it. “I haven’t washed this tub so there is potential for bad bacteria to spread. When I am collecting the food from the bins I have a special knife that I only use to cut open bags. I do have my standards though. I never climb into the bins. I only reach what I can from the outside.” He paused, then admitted with a grin on his face, “You know though if you see a big box of vegetables in the corner of the bin you are going to get in.”