Food that other people won’t buy

One of the last customers to arrive at the weekly street market is a woman of about 60 pulling a metal shopping trolley, but she isn’t interested in the last-minute special offers being hawked by the vendors. She stares down, her eyes raking the road surface for pieces of fruit or vegetables that have fallen off the carts or been thrown away. She bends to pick up a peach and turns into the crowd. «You should see what happens when I throw away a crate of grapes,» said Michalis, a vendor at the Kallipoli market in Piraeus who is looking on. «They descend like flies.» He says that every afternoon «they» arrive at the same time. «They are usually pensioners or foreigners. They take anything. At the end of the day, they even look among the garbage. Last week, I had 70 kilos of aubergines going for 15 cents a kilo and couldn’t sell them. As soon as I threw them out, they disappeared.» Later on, when the vendors have all but gone, 53-year-old Iro arrives, a familiar figure in the market. Ignoring the curious stares, she starts to look for the better tomatoes in a crate that has just been discarded. Most were rotten. «I have a large family,» she says. «I work as a cleaner but I can’t afford to shop in the supermarket, not even in the street market. At least I can make a sauce with these tomatoes.» The president of the Fourth Street Market Vendors’ Division of Athens, Christos Moulas had this to say: «These are desperately poor people. They pick up things off the ground that we wouldn’t even look at. Sometimes they even fight over things, and this leads to problems. They open the garbage bags, scattering stuff everywhere and then we get blamed for not cleaning up after we leave,» he said. «All they have to do is ask and we’d give them things,» said another vendor as he dismantled his stall in Kallipoli. «In the old days, we’d gather up the leftover goods in bags and give them to people in need. But now they’ve become spoiled. Some people have learned to eat for nothing,» he said. «A lot of people are desperate,» said the next vendor. «If a peach falls off my stand, a customer will put it into her bag without a second thought rather than put it back.»

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