Meet Marie: a pesto-making, opera-going 40-something lady from France who’s getting by on $5,000 a year—in New York City (specifically, Brooklyn)—thanks to dumpster diving.

Reports The Guardian:

Eight years ago Marie arrived in the US, where she decided to remain [as an “illegal immigrant,” says The Guardian]. She has been staying for five years with her friend Greg, a real estate agent. They met in upstate New York in 2010 at a permaculture internship in which Marie spent a month learning how to farm sustainably. She needed a place to stay, he had a vacant room, so she became his home keeper, cleaning, gardening and bringing dumpster-dived food in lieu of rent.

Like many people who dumpster dive in this manner, she doesn’t do it strictly out of financial need—she previously worked as an accountant and still collects rent money on a house she owns in France, plus she picks up the odd babysitting and cleaning job here and there. Rather, she believes in the sustainability of “freeganism,” pointing out the amount of wasted food left to rot by grocery stores, restaurants and households every day.

Three or four times a week in warmer months, Marie bicycles through Park Slope. She knows supermarkets put out trash between 8-9pm. Food Train, at 7th Avenue and 11th Street, is “good for fresh fruits”, and Union Market throws away unexpired, sealed Tuscan bean soups, fresh cheese raviolis and raw kale salads every day – they clean the shelves for newer ones, she explains.

[Kalish] brings many of her finds to the food pantry where she volunteers. “I still work a lot. It’s just not for money,” she says. Kalish argues freegans will exist as long as there will be food waste. (The United Nations Environment Programme reports that 40% of food supplies goes to the trash every year in the US – that’s 20lb of food per person every month.)

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Marie’s life is still rich in culture and is not entirely separated from the middle-class culture she left behind in France (“I had buried my head in the sand, convincing myself that was life. But that just wasn’t what I wanted, counting others’ money. I’m still not sure what I want,” she said): she goes to the opera when tickets are cheap, and she’s on Greg’s family shared mobile phone plan.

Despite having made what sounds like an enjoyable, if unconventional life for herself in New York, Marie is still very aware of her undocumented status, and plans to return to France next month, where she’ll simply arrive at the airport and ask to be deported. As a result, she won’t be able to return to the United States for a decade.

But that doesn’t seem to bother Marie.

Marie doesn’t know what she will do back in France, only that she won’t stop dumpster diving. Friends who own a farm could hire her, or she could go work on a barge on the Bourgogne canal. She’s dreaming of walking the Route to Santiago de Compostela this summer.

“Pilgrims lived a very modest life and were offered hospitality on the road,” Marie said. “Somehow I’m the same.”

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Image via Getty