You’re walking down the street getting some fresh air and mileage in your pins and suddenly you come across a box full of lemons sitting on the top of someone’s mailbox. Do you assume it’s free for the taking and if so, how many do you take?
On our recent family walk, we came across two houses in our neighbourhood with boxes of free fruit. One box had ‘Please take’ clearly written on it and was filled with lemons while the other was blank and had several large chokos (type of squash). My 4-year-old son asked Mummy, can we take the whole box?’
Funnily enough, my brother asked me the same question when we told him what we discovered on our walk. Why didn’t you just take the whole thing? In retrospect, I should have asked my brother why he thought we should have done so because then I’d have a better understanding of the logic behind my 4-year-old’s thinking… kidding!
In answering my son’s question, I posed some of my own to him. Did we need all those lemons? What about other people? How would he feel if someone took everything and didn’t leave any for him? He agreed it would be a jerk move (his words, not mine!) and so he and his sister took one lemon and one choko each. It became a valuable exercise in teaching them restraint, thinking of others and only taking what was needed.
My mother wasn’t too pleased to hear we had taken food ‘left on the street’. She was worried about contamination with germs/poison/needles/coronavirus and didn’t think we should risk it. I could understand why she was concerned.
A few years ago, there was a national recall on strawberries after consumers injured themselves by eating strawberries contaminated with sewing needles. Apparently, a former disgruntled strawberry farm employee intent on revenge had placed needles into strawberries before they were packed for distribution in supermarkets. What followed was a spate of copycat incidences and hoaxes that left people nervous to buy strawberries. Situations like these have made my mother even less trusting of humankind and so she refuses to take free food.
BUT, fruit or vegetables hanging over a fence? That’s another story. My mother would have no qualms taking them then. Which leads to my next question, is it cool to pick fruit or vegetables if it’s hanging over a fence and on public walkways? It makes me think of hard rubbish days, where junk left on the front of nature strips is considered fair game to passerby, despite it technically being illegal to take. If the hard rubbish is destined to be binned, is it reasonable to take?
I’m conflicted on this. I would rather someone take my hard rubbish if they can get use out of it, as long as they don’t make a mess in their rummaging. As for the overhanging fruit, I think it’s better to seek permission from the owners first.
Why do I think that? Well, years ago, as my daughter and I went for a walk around our neighbourhood, we came across a big feijoa tree that was hanging half across the pavement. I got greedy and picked two hand fulls but was too embarrassed by my actions to carry them. So, I strongly encouraged my daughter hold the bottom of her jumper up to store the stolen goods and transport them home. She was mortified and to this day, still berates me for making her an accomplice to theft.
Then there was that one time I tried picking a lemon hanging over someone’s fence and a branch fell and bonked me on the head. The Ol’ Universe pulled out the big guns to teach me a lesson that day because I haven’t picked anyone’s trees since.
Let’s take this discussion one step further. What about olive trees on the nature strips? In Australia, councils own nature strips and not the homeowner. As homeowners we pay tax to the council, so really, by default we have a tiny percentage ownership. Does that mean we can pick them? I mean, birds pay no tax and look at them picking fruit like it’s their given right. Should I tempt fate and pick some olives? I could start my own cold compress olive oil brand and sell it at the trash n’ treasure markets. What’s the bet good Ol’ Universe will have a thing or two to say about that?
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