We raided the Whole Foods dumpster up north!
Shop Locally, Dumpster Indiscriminately
If you live in an urban food desert (which we sort of do), and have access to a car that can handle a little slime (which we do), it might be worth your time to drive to a richer part of town; in our experience, there tends to be more food waste, and more variety. It’s unlikely that we would have found fresh mushrooms or heirloom tomatoes behind the liquor store a block away, let alone exotic finds such as kohlrabi or artichoke. Plus, that way you can circumvent competition with dumpster divers in your area — don’t believe the hype, yuppies aren’t dumpstering in droves (yet).
Here was our final tally:
Artichoke, okra, daikon, kohlrabi, zuccini, apples, oranges, red/green grapes, potatoes, shallots, red/white/spring onions, sweet potato, romaine lettuce, bell peppers, radishes, heirloom tomatoes, eggplant, peaches, nectarines, plums, serrano peppers, asparagus, pineapple, papaya, avocado, mango, plant food (granular and spray), live pepper plants, live geraniums, asian pears, red pears, king oyster mushrooms, broccoli, strawberry figs, button mushrooms, coconut (with milk!), and bananas!!!
The only issue is that we took more than we could handle! We gathered about eight boxes of produce, enough to fill the entire kitchen. This is a more common problem than you might expect. Luckily, there are a myriad of food storage techniques at your disposal. For instance…
1. Celebratory smoothies! Jamba Juice can take a hike; our smoothies are self-congratulatory meals made from the fruit that is extra ripe and delicious, and thus on the brink of spoilage. Celebrate the proverbial harvest in your kitchen the same night the proverbial scythe hits the proverbial stalk!
2. Preserves. Dumpster fruit is perfect for spreads, which is especially useful because freegan households tend to have a lot of extra bread on hand (expect a post exclusively on bread soon). For example, after smoothies, the first thing we did was slice up the tomatoes and boil them down into a tomato sauce base for bruschetta, pizza, etc. It not only prevents spoilage, but it saves space by reducing the volume as well!
3. Freezing. Most veggies and fruit can be frozen, though some take a bit of preparation, and because the cellulose breaks down, the texture is often pretty different after you thaw it all out (e.g. strawberries, which aren’t very tasty when thawed unless they’re baked into a pie or blended into a smoothie). Bananas are excellent candidates for the freezer, along with other fatty vegetables such as coconut, because they can be blended into a vegan sorbet dish, no extra ingredients necessary. Other veggies need a bit of work. Eggplant, for instance, should be peeled, sliced into big chunks, and blanched for a few minutes before they are dried, bagged, and tossed in the freezer.
4. Pickling. This is a very different process from ‘normal’ preserving, but every bit as useful. I’ve pickled everything from okra to mango to watermelon rinds, and unlike most processing methods, pickling ADDS flavor and nutritional content rather than eliminating it. Keep an eye out for cookbooks on pickling, as they’re far more useful at inspiring creativity than one might intuitively predict. My personal favorites are The Joy of Pickling and Wild Fermentation. Both are excellent reference guides for beginners, but are so rich with history that fermentation wizards will likely be charmed.
5. Brewing — it’s simpler than you think. Wine, beer, and other spirits are commonly thought of as arcane, esoteric artforms inaccessible to curious amateurs, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Try experimenting with the different fruits that you find — squish ‘em up (without washing all of them — most of the necessary bacteria is on the skin), put ‘em in a jug, cover with some cheesecloth or other fabric, and let it sit for a while, tasting it occasionally to check up on it’s progress. Many fruits (apples, grapes, pears, plums, etc) don’t even need any fancy brewers’ yeast to ferment. It’s a delicious and cheap alternative to those who don’t want to put up with the exploitation usually involved with cheap wine at the supermarket.
… and on and on and on! We’ll cover these preservation techniques and more as time passes, along with rudimentary recipes for the meals we make with the chow we rake in. In the meantime, start making a mental map of the supermarkets and restaurants in your area as you travel through town. Is their trash accessible from the outside? Is it locked? Is it easily seen by employees or passers-by? What kind of leftover food do you think you’d find there? Keep note of all of this info for the time being, and make sure to wave when you see us behind the Safeway!