With trained hands and expert eyes, Limpia Benítez and Gladys Meza pull kilos and kilos of discarded fruit and vegetables out of the large bins at the Central Market in Buenos Aires. The duo have found gems among the lettuce, beetroots and tangerines that vendors have thrown out.
Neighbours on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, these two women have been travelling 20 kilometres by train and bus every week for the past two years with their shopping trolley and two bags each. It’s a tiresome task, but it's the only way they have to make ends meet in a country with runaway inflation, which has accumulated 114 percent in the last 12 months.
"I used to buy two tomatoes for 500 pesos and here I get two or three kilos for free, for one or two weeks," Benítez, a 59-year-old domestic worker, said in an interview
Along with a few others, they sift through chard, picking out the leaves that are still in good condition one by one from the market's rubbish bins. They then pick out the tomatoes that are barely bruised, or whole oranges that are barely soiled with dirt.
"I don't see it as rubbish. I thank God I have this. My husband works but it's not enough. They are vegetables wrapped in other vegetables," Benítez explains.
Each one takes about 20 kilos of produce. It will be served up on their tables at home and shared with their other neighbours. Some will be used to feed chickens and rabbits, or to fertilise the garden.
"This fills my fridge. It's more than we can buy at the kiosk," explained Meza, a 41-year-old housewife.
By her reckoning, what she brings home from the Central Market saves her about 8,000 pesos (US$30) a week.
These reclaimed vegetables and fruits complete her food basket. Products such as flour, milk and rice are given out at the nearest soup kitchen, which receives state subsidies. Meat is bought with their partner’s salaries.
Argentina has one of the highest inflation rates in the world and food is one the worst hit, rising 117 percent from June 2022 to May 2023, according to official data.
Around 40 percent of the population lives in poverty.