Thursday, April 23, 2009

"Wait, you're in what?" I stopped. Brandon, my younger brother, a 6'10'' lanky giant with an artistic penchant and personality - the kind that can only be cultivated in Santa Cruz - is one of the few people in the world who, even though I know to expect odd things from, can stop me cold. Stop me, and cause me to just shake me head in dumbfoundry.

"I'm in a dumpster behind the grocery store."

"May I ask why, you're in a garbage bin?" At the current moment I am walking down Market in San Francisco, my friends have now stopped their conversation about who-done-what-drama and are now curious as to who I know would be wallowing in refuse on a Sunday.

"Well, they throw away a bunch of food that's still good. Only, like, a day after the expiration date or just baked the other day. We just got an entire sack of pastries from the garbage bin behind Starbucks."

Now, I was aware of the Starbucks. Back in high school he would raid their garbage as they had to throw out their pastries after 24 hours even though they were still good. However government regulations state they have to be tossed for consumer health. (Sanctioned American waste strikes again!) So he would go into their garbage bins and raid them so he could distribute the pastries to the homeless living by the railroad tracks. The pastries were all wrapped together in clean trash bags, so the food was fine (please don't have images of crullers stewing in coffee grounds and gum wads, indeed this isn't the case).

"Why not just grocery shop? I know you have a farmers market up where you live," I asked disparagingly. I knew the answer due to that same mystic ability you get by growing up with someone, even someone who is vastly different from you in nearly every way.

"Because it's free," as a matter of fact. Simply stated. Not a joke. He had become a freegan like so many other poor college students before him, myself included. I recall a few lunches in college created out of what I could pick from various fruit trees I knew of throughout downtown Davis. Oranges, persimmons, tangerines, even rhubarb is available if you know where to find it and don't mind the risk getting caught of sneaking onto someone's yard. Heck dandelions and arugula grew everywhere, so a salad was never out of reach on campus. Even today I raid loquats and kumquats from CSUS. Still, I never ventured into taking meat and dairy from behind the Safeway.

"Okay, well, be sure you cook it well. Don't take any dairy that's too warm. Check any eggs first to see if they're cracked. Avoid any veggies that aren't firm. Don't take any meat."

"No meat, got it."

"And Brandon, rice and radishes are cheap. Call me later we'll figure out a shopping plan for you," I said getting back into stride as my friends had begun to walk on without me. My brain had also got back into stride. Luckily his antics, for the most part, have trained me to be able to take any news without becoming shocked. Or if I am, only for a second.

"It's okay!" he chirped back.

"Whatever. Talk to you later."


"What is it?" I said.

"How do you make pasta sauce in a microwave?"

"Preferably, you don't. Call me back later, I'll try to guide you through something that should work." And I snapped the phone shut. I would need more patience to deal with that issue later.


  1. My friends have another meaning for Freegan - vegan, unless its free. If they're buying it, they choose vegan. If its just going to go to waste and its not vegan, they'll eat it anyway.

    I'm a dumpster diver, but I don't usually take anything from a grocery that isn't dry goods. I'm more into furniture and art supplies . . .

  2. I encountered the term freegan in a second year course on food and international trade as an undergrad, but never actually met anyone who actually partook. An alternative meaning is someone who is vegan, except for when the meat is free and already cooked - i.e. would go to waste and therefore worse than not eating it.

  3. My sister and her roommate are Freegans. Of the traditional, dumpster diving, variety. Even with stable jobs and good educations behind them they hit the bagel shop after hours.

    It seems there's one in every family.

  4. Well, no dumpster diving for me, but I do shop cheap. In our area, we have several grocery outlets, mostly run by the Amish (a very frugal group, without a doubt). These stores sell all manner of canned goods, cereal, baking supplies, etc. at ridiculously low prices. I get large cans of San Marzano and Glen Muir tomatoes for $0.59 a can, bulk spices that are far superior to those in grocery stores for next to nothing (10 whole nutmegs around $1.50, cinnamon for $2.50/lb., etc.). Generally, the cans are dented, but still perfectly good, the cereals are maybe a week past sell date, etc. I'm always careful; no fresh dairy (except milk, which is never stocked if past sell date), and no broken packages. I send all of my daughter's college friends to these stores since it saves them so much money.


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