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Scavenging food to survive

María Sánchez scavenges for food in the improvised dumpsters outside Mexico City's Central de Abasto
Eating out of the garbage -Photo: Iván Stephens/EL UNIVERSAL
Pedro Villa y Caña
Mexico City
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"You have to dig, here. I learned from my chickens that if you do not scavenge, you do not eat," says María Sánchez while she keeps looking for garlic and red tomatoes for the sauce she will cook on Christmas night.

The 40-year-old woman, who sells flowers in the Magdalena Contreras borough, does not pick out fruits and vegetables at grocery stores or at the supermarket, but rather at the improvised dumpsters outside Mexico City's Central de Abasto (Supply Center), the largest market in the world.

"Look, these little red tomatoes are good to go. Just one wash, remove the bruised bits and they will be ready to be cooked," she says, while a greengrocer throws a red bucket full of nopales (prickly pears) away and into the dumpster. The grocer won't be selling those “ugly” nopales and María and several ladies rushed to make hay while the sun shines right away.

"I haven't been to the supermarket in ages. What for? Here, I get everything I need for my husband and me to eat. Sometimes, I even get my daughter some food. But they don't know that I scavenge. They call and ask where I am, and I say that I'm at the supermarket,” she confesses as her hands touch an overripe watermelon that she found buried under food scraps.

In this dumpster, piles of bruised papayas, dry sugar canes, black and brownish bananas, overripe fruits and vegetables floating over a sea of food scraps surround María, who assures "I kill two birds with one stone. I come and buy my flowers and then I dumpster dive for food and I have my groceries. I only spend MXN$15 for the kid helping me to carry the load and that's it. Free food."

"For several years now, I haven't bought food, well, only meat. I buy it at the butcher shop, but I pick out everything else here. I do my groceries for free!" María gladly says and smiles as another greengrocer throws away several kilos of sprouted potatoes.

"This Christmas I'll make hot ribs. I scavenged for tomatoes, peppers, nopales, and cauliflower as the side dish. I don't have money, but I know where to get food to eat, and for free!" she says as she points to her three plastic bags filled with scavenged foods.


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