Category Archives: Food

Tomato abundance

It’s probably time to can tomatoes.

Some are rotting on the vine in the greenhouse.  Many are hollowed out by the resident chicks, and still, the tomatoes are cascading down the vines.

My favorite way to can cherry and grape tomatoes is to jam them all in a jar whole, and pack them with water with a bit of vinegar and salt (proper canning procedures, blah blah).  They come out cool as refreshing as when they were picked, softened, with a hint of tang.  I can eat a pint of them straight. 

How to be a Dumpster Diving ninja

Wanna join the craze, feel the rush, get utterly depressed by the unavoidable awareness of this society’s pointless waste?

Dumpster Ninja Skills 101 – A Comprehensive Guide to the Cold Hard Precautions
Think like a ninja, dress like a ninja
1. Casing the joint

Case your local grocery stores, very sneakily.

First, outside in the daytime , find the garbage bin.  Does this store have a crusher?  Well, you’re done there.  Does it have a locked dumpster?  Some days those are filled too full to be closed and locked.  Sometimes employees get careless.  Many times it appears to be locked and isn’t (the padlock hang).

Are there loading hours posted on the dock?  Then you can expect there to be workers in the store at least an hour earlier than that.  Is there a bakery in the store?  Then the bakers are there in the very very early morning.

Are there security cameras?  Then you might go hardcore and wear balaclavas or headsocks like real robbers, and if you have vehicle assistance, make a good parking and loading plan so your vehicle doesn’t get ID’d.  Keep checking for cameras, btw, in case they install some after noticing that someone is sifting through their garbage.

Take a casual stroll by a couple times at night to sess the scene and plan your timing. Between 11 and 3 or 4am are probably the best hours, but that’s really up to your location.  Is your dumpster well lit?  That makes your work easier but gives less cover.  Are there cleaners working in the store?  Determine their days and hours.  Any security?  Note cars in the parking lot. What else is going on in the area?  What businesses are around?  Diving right when clubs are closing or getting going is not great.  Are there late night restaurants where employees, or cleaners, could come out the back doors to smoke and bust you?   And probably most important, is this open dumpster in a “bad” part of town where there’s a remote possibility of garbage other than the store’s getting tossed in there?  By that I mean sharps.  Don’t ever take a chance like that.

Why all the cloak and dagger?

Because if you find the motherlode of all dumpsters, it could feed you for months, and you won’t want to lose it.   I had one location produce insane amounts of food for over a year, then they got a crusher.  It was heartbreaking.  If you don’t take precautions, that wellspring could all be carelessly lost in one embarrassing evening.  If you get seen, but escape, you probably wont want to go back, and if you do, I bet there’ll be a padlock on that dumpster now.  So BE SNEAKY.

Trust me, it’s fun.  The whole thing is hilarious.

2. The gear you need:

Wear dark clothes that you won’t mind getting dirty, but also don’t “stick out” for approach and leaving the scene (dress like a normal ninja person, not crazy dumpster diving ninja person), and good shoes.  For jumping in.  Feet first;  dive is a figure of speech.    If you’re squeamish, bring work glovesHats or hoods cover your hair and face.  A flashlight is absolutely essential, bc even if the area’s lit, the depths of the bin will be shadowed. Ideally, a headlamp. Bring backpacks and/or fabric shopping bags on bike or foot missions.  There will be zillions of boxes around to use if you’re going by vehicle.

3.  Taking the plunge:

Going with someone else is way better than going alone.  Some things can be really heavy, you can keep watch for each other, and it helps with the paranoia.  It almost seems normal when you’re not alone.  And it’s definitely funny.  You want to share that.

Whisper to each other, keep rustling and banging to a minimum, keep eyes and ears open for anyone approaching.   Try to keep yourself in shadow, or tucked near the bin, or between bin and building.  Or in the bin, if you jump in, which is often necessary.    If strangers happen to pass by, don’t bolt, just crouch and freeze wherever you are, and chances are  they will pass right by and never know.  Remember, people usu. don’t expect to see people in dumpsters, and won’t be looking for you.  Do not stand tall atop the dumpster wading through and hollering about your discoveries.   They’ll notice that.

Do not ever start ripping open black garbage bags.  The really bad garbage is in garbage bags- bathrooms and deli garbage – you don’t even want to know.  The good garbage is usu. in boxes, sometimes closed, sometimes top open.  Sometimes tipped over, but that’s what washing is for.  Another reason to not rip bags is the Golden Rule -don’t make a mess.  This is for your sake.  You want to protect your interests in this gold mine.  Don’t make it obvious that you were there.  Especially if the area is all swept clean.  If you start strewing trash about at night, the poor sap who has to clean that up is going to gripe about it, and then they’re paying attention, and then you’re busted.  Employees are not likely to notice there are fewer carrots there this morning than they threw out last night, but they will notice if the whole bin has been torn apart.  And if you’re sharing a dumpster with other ninjas, then you know what they say about bad apples.

Move carefully and quietly.  Speed is less important than stealth. It takes some time to really maximize a dumpster visit, if there is a lot of food.  The best way is to pack boxes as you go through the buffet, then shuttle them quickly to a staging area, around the corner, ideally in shadow where you can drive up, load up in a minute, and take off.  If on foot, then go through it all and neatly set aside what you want to take.  If you make a return trip to pick up it’s a quick stop.

4. At home

When you get home with the bounty, wash your hands, hoot and exclaim how you can’t believe you just did that, (take pictures to share) and sort and assess all the happy food that you just gave a second life to.   Some of it might not be as good as it looked at the scene, and that’s part of the game.  Some food is perfect, some is spoiled.  Check over any packaging for cleanliness and signs of compromise.  Wash all the food  before you eat it, just in case.

Now you’re a pro…

Dumpster diving is a little addictive, because you never know what treasures might be there any given night, but going every night is near impossible.  Some nights just feel risky, or there’re cleaners or delivery trucks, besides, you’d be exhausted and soon have a full time job processing and preserving food and then trying to find people to give it away to.  It is nice to try out different days of the week though.  You’ll learn their dumping and delivering schedule and find some food comes in patterns.  Speaking of sharing your bounty, I operate on informed consent.  I can’t give someone food without telling them where I got it, so my beneficiaries are pretty tight (and amused) friends.  But that’s your call.

Dumpster diving will increase your household garbage a little with the packaging you’re carting home.  If you don’t have  compost, you might want to take more care examining food before you bring it home.  I drag it all home and then sort it out, bc I have a (flourishing) compost box.  On the bright side, if stuff goes bad bc you can’t eat or process it fast enough, well, it’s guilt free, because it was headed for the landfill anyways.  You saved it once already.  BTW, if you have pigs, then you pretty much can’t not dumpster dive, even if you’re squeamish about eating the food yourself, because it is free high quality pig feed.

And then, eat eat eat, for free, free, free.

Here’s some more tips from Rob Greenfield.  I like #4, master the fear.  Jumping at your own shadow is a real buzzkill.  This is some furtive ops, but not actually very risky.

the_sneaky_ninja_by_kirillee-d2m052r

 

Ninja art by Kirilee on Deviant Art.

 


This article first written in 2008.

Dumpster diving need not stop at food.  I was convinced that my future husband was for me when the two of us were regaling a table of “Oh I could never!” fascinated normal people with our Ultimate Score tales of Dumpsters Past.  HW thoughtfully offered that everything he was wearing was out of a dumpster.  A man at the table sputtered “What!? You look like a fucking REI model!”  It was all true.  HW looks like a fucking REI model (that’s MEC, for Canadians), and routinely dresses like one, and everything he was wearing was out of a dumpster, including the technical hiking shoes.

Dumpster diving: reports from the food waste front

I just found out about a 2014 movie, Just Eat It, investigating food waste in America.  It looks fantastic; I can’t wait to see it.  The premise as I grasp it, is following a couple as they search for food in dumpsters and explore the epidemic of North American food waste, living on only food that would otherwise be wasted.

Is this dirty, shameful, disgusting?  Those people are, gasp, eating garbage!?

It shouldn’t be.  Because even if you don’t want to get in it yourself, you should know what’s in the dumpster behind the store you shop at.

Why? Because the cost of that food that’s getting thrown out is part of the cost of the food that’s getting purchased, and there is a great deal more food thrown out in North America than should be.  As consumers, we should all care.

We’re not talking about finding a half eaten sandwich with a soggy napkin stuck on it or an apple core in a garbage can.  We’re talking about unopened bushel boxes of fruit, still banded (never opened since leaving the farm).  Frozen foods in complete packaging, still frozen. Boxes and boxes of mixed vegetables with tiny flaws, or no flaws.  Bags of apples, carrots, baked goods, onions, potatoes, still in their boxes and bags.  Bread by the giant clear garbage bag full.

This is the hidden cost of your food.

At least 10 cents from every dollar of yours spent on groceries is walking out the back door and getting thrown in the trash.  The “official number” is 11%.  I suspect the reality is higher, far higher.  That’s like throwing a tenner in the trash can on the way into the store every time you spend a hundred.  Food banks don’t do that well at Christmastime.  Speaking of food banks, grocery stores almost never give their waste food to food banks, because it’s a liability.  The most progressive stores compost, but for the majority, hundreds of pounds of edible food go to landfill.

When you see the produce boy sullenly picking peppers out of the display and putting them in the cardboard box on his cart, that box is going to be closed up and thrown into the compactor. Often, when you return something to customer service, say at Walmart or Canadian Tire, it goes straight in the dumpster, not back on the shelf.  When inventory expires, or won’t be stored ’til the next holiday-appropriate season, ditto.  When everyone looks behind the front row of milk for the better expiry date and there aren’t enough suckers to take the milk in the front, it goes into the dumpster when it hits the sell-by date.  A bag of dog food gets snagged by a shopping cart and torn a little, or a box of cereal falls from the top shelf and gets a corner crushed, it goes in the garbage. When the purchaser screws up and the replacement stock arrives prematurely or in too great a quantity, the excess goes straight to the dumpster.  Every time the truck comes with the new fruit before the old fruit sells, guess where the old fruit goes?  Sometimes food goes directly to the dumpster without passing within eyeshot of the consumer.  If there are too many bananas warehoused to ever get sold – into the bin.  I’ve been told that at times, distributors sell food in combination (if you want bananas you have to take these coconuts too), and the less popular food will go directly out back.

Shall I even mention the manipulation of marketing?  Lots of exotic food (starfruit, anyone?) is stocked in produce just to give the impression of variety and possibility.  The store never expects to sell all the pink striped lemons and pluots, but their presence evokes feelings of abundance, progressiveness, and cosmopolitan choice!  Plus they make the normal lemons look much more affordable.  Guess where all that unsold showy food (imported from a great distance) ends up?  I’ve noticed a higher percentage of organics in the bin than conventional.  I guess they cost more, so sell less, so… get chucked more.

Extrapolate this across over 36 000 grocery stores in the US, and the waste of food is in the millions of tonnes.  Eleven percent of saleable produce, wasted before it’s sold.  It’s an obscenity that this much food is being wasted.  Specifically, destroyed, compacted behind grocery stores while people go hungry all over the same cities (more stores have compactors than still have open dumpsters that can be filched from and reported upon). There doesn’t seem to be much talking about it, nor lobbying against it, probably because so few people really know about it.

Ask a dumpster diver, though, and they will go off about all the great stuff they’ve hauled out of a dumpster.   They may even start rambling rhapsodically about those ultimate scores.

Funny thing though, not so many people want to admit to eating out of the garbage.

I know all about what I’ve described here, firsthand, because I’ve seen it.

Once I pulled up to our usual dumpster with my partner, and another truck was already there (yes, a truck is appropriate for the quantity of food).  The pig farmer it belonged to was standing atop the dumpster with a hayfork, stabbing 1-3 plastic bags of potatoes at a time and pitching them into his pickup bed.  The dumpster was too full to shut, with five pound bags of Yukon Golds.  He filled his truck, then we took all we could imagine eating and giving away, and left the dumpster still far from empty.

One time a Walmart dumpster right after Easter was filled with individually bagged one pound solid milk chocolate bunnies.  I mean filled.  It looked like a wharf-side container brimful of fishes, only with chocolate bunnies.  We tired of scooping them with our hands into the truck and left to drop the first shipment and return with shovels.  Yep.  Shovels.  Those rabbits exceeded our chocolate “needs” for over two years.  Chocolate chunk cookies, chocolate fondue, shaved chocolate, chocolate cakes, chocolate trail mix… you’re picturing Forrest Gump now, right?  Ok, moving on…

One time the open dumpster was mounded high with banana bunches.  Perfect bananas, even slightly green.  The bananas were piled a good 3 feet above the lip of the dumpster, and littered liberally around on the ground, like a dump truck had dropped them into the dumpster and many had spilled.  It’s a strong possibility that a forklift did dump a palletful straight into the dumpster.  Inside the store, there were multitudinous bananas for sale  as well.  They were even greener.  What can a person do with that many bananas?  Banana bread, banana muffins, banana creme pie, banana…well, that’s about it.  I tried to dehydrate the bananas and unintentionally made banana jerky.  That is not as good as it sounds.

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A 100% dumpster salad

We’re still using extra virgin organic olive oil from Trader Joes, because one jar in a case of 12 obviously had broken, oiling the labels of the other 11 bottles in the box.  Unsaleable; into the dumpster, conveniently still in the box they were delivered in.

I’ve been in a lot of dumpsters, since the early 90’s.  I’ve been flabbergasted at the quantity of food I’ve found.

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One half of one night’s good haul (the frozen foods half). Must have been a freezer-cleaning day.  Food not expired, all still frozen.

Yes, I was introduced to the bounty of back alleys when I was a messed up homeless kid and needed to eat, but that was a long time ago.  My on and off dumpster diving adventures for the last 20 years have had little to do with not being able to afford what’s inside the front door,  and everything to do with curiosity and fascination with what’s out the back door.

It’s just too damn interesting and easy; it’s straight up fun, with a dash of social subversion!  Coming next: a piece I wrote in 2008 on how to be a dumpster diving ninja.

Let me say that I am effing fortunate to be able to brag that I don’t need to dumpster dive; I do it for kicks.  Many people do need to.  It’s a social crime that 1 in 10 people are hungry in this culture of bounty and perfection that throws out so much.  Hunger is a tragic aspect of this story.

A modest night's haul of fruit (packages opened for display)
A modest night’s haul of fruit

This story of food waste is a layer cake of problems.  We garbage food instead of sharing it with the needy, because it’s too legally risky. It’s inconvenient to separate waste on the commercial scale and compost.   We’ve made salvaging food from the garbage illegal (it’s theft or trespassing), and employees are forbidden to take the waste food.  We use fossil fuels to grow the food, then more fossil fuels to transport the food 100’s of miles to throw 11% of it in the garbage, and then burn more fossil fuels driving it to the landfill where it creates more carbon emissions rotting.  Food prices are high, and rising, while a thick slice of the percentage of food produced is garbaged!  The expectation of food waste is built into the planning of the grocery store so that the shopper can have a certain experience – how is this ok???   How did we get here?

And this is just the post-retail waste.  Waste happens at the harvest point, in transportation, and if it is sold, is also wasted by the consumer, spoiling in the fridge and going uneaten.  With all the tiers of food waste, it’s possible 40% of edible food is wasted in North America.  I’m not even touching the extravagant waste that happens before food even reaches the grocery store, and after, when I talk about dumpster diving.  The film covers that(My numbers are old.  It’s closer to 50% )

Every time I’ve furtively approached a dumpster, opened the heavy lid with a metallic creak, and gasped with delight and shock when I look in at a mountain of food treasure, I’ve simultaneously felt a heart-sinking sense of the tragic imbalance of things.  This should not be!  Our culture is seriously sick, to have arrived here, where beautiful, fresh, edible food is discarded for no legitimate reason.

A typical box of "culls"- flawed veggies picked out of the displays
A typical box of “culls”- flawed veggies picked out of the displays.  Sometimes the flaws are hard to discern.

 

What to do?

I’ll be the first to admit that dumpster diving is not for everyone.  That’s why those who do should report from the front.  What (else) is there to do about food waste? Talk to your grocery store and ask what they do with food waste.  Ask for a percentage.  Pester the stock boy and the grocery manager.  Do they give their produce waste to pig farmers?  I was once told No never, store policy.  Why?  Because of all the pesticides on the produce (What?  But what about the people eating the food?).   Just like fair trade policies and worker benefits on the food production end, retail stores should brag about their low waste percentages, food bank donations (Maranatha does it), composting programs, and discounting past due date foods, because we should care about these things!

Here in Nova Scotia now, I’m thrilled to see the practice of reducing food at it’s due date by 50%.  This is unusual.  Pink 50% off stickers pop up all over the Atlantic Superstores, from produce to dairy to deli to bakery to natural foods.  That is all food that I’ve seen in dumpsters elsewhere in these two countries.  Good job Superstore.

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If I didn’t know better, I’d be confused. Is this food ready to shelve, or ready to throw out?

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About this article.  After writing most of it in 2012, and then editing it in 2015, inspired at the time by the discussion popping up in the media and the Just Eat It movie, I somehow continued to fail to post it despite friends begging for it and the importance of the subject.  Until now.   I’ve lost many of my “great score” pictures due to hard drive breakdown and still have not recovered them, but am posting anyway.

I’ve seen Just Eat It.  It’s fantastic.  It’s super fun to watch new dumpster divers learn the tricks, and they totally capture the delight of discovery, comingled with the stomach sinking disgust that this is what our society has come to, that can only be experienced standing on the brim of a dumpster filled with clean, packaged, edible food.  They also discuss the other tiers of food waste, and present some happily encouraging alternative types of food handling.  I beyond recommend it!

The movie:  Just Eat It.

Rob Greenfield says all that I just said here, only better and faster.

Flawed fruit and veggies for sale – what a notion!

wastedfood.com

utne reader on dumpstering

Tristram Stuart

 

Honey part two

The Eastern Seaboard of North America is getting snowed on tonight.  Mostly it’s a question of how much snow are we getting? In our particular spot the forecast is “not as much as some”.   It started about five hours ago here, and a thick blanket has already settled on the world.   Outside the light flakes are floating straight down and piling up with determination, and are predicted to keep at it for another 12 hours.  So on this snowy night, let’s visit some stored sunshine from earlier this year:

————-

After the honey extraction comes filtration.  Have to get out all the bee wings, wax caps and bits of leaves.

See my super high-tech filtration system.

Wow, it takes a long time!  The honey has to be warm enough to flow, but not too warm, then it’s not raw any more.

The wax is something else.  It acts like glue gumming up everything, especially your filter fabric, but if you can leave it set long enough, it almost hardens into a block sitting on top of the liquid honey that settles out from it.  I have about a one pound chunk of wax, sticky with honey and kind of dirty, from my first year’s honey operation.

My fancy setup worked, but it was pretty clearly less than ideal! Embroidery hoop, sewing pins, nylon mesh, and rigid styrofoam blocks.

Next time (there’s always a mythical next time when everything will be better), I’m going to have all the honey out of the extractor in one large vessel, and filter/fill it into gift/sale ready jars in one step.

Aha!  I just figured it out! A bucket with a tap at the bottom.  The wax will float to the top.  Decant the honey from the bottom, and there will be little wax to deal with;  the minor other detritus will filter out easily.

 

2016 Canned food tally

I think I’m finished with canning for the year.  I think!

I have to make a habit of tracking my annual canning.  I’m curious to know what the ideal #s are for two people for one year.

  • 6 pts Plumsauce
  • 24 pts “V8”, or, attempted tomato sauce that came out as juice, and after that much work, I canned it anyway.  We drink a fair amount of V8, so that’s a few we won’t purchase
  • 24 pts Tomato sauce (that did work)
  • 21 pts Grape or Cherry tomatoes
  • 6 pts Pickles
  • 21 pts Pears
  • 36 pts Applesauce
  • 78 pts Peaches
  • 6 halfpts pickled garlic
  • 41 qts Tomato “soup” – just the tomato part of the soup, aka tomatoes between juice and sauce – they will make many good (tomato basil, cream of tomato, chili, did I mention tomato basil?) soups and stews.
  • 46 more pts Applesauce

I hoped to do more “convenience foods”, like ready to eat soups.  I also hoped to have most of a month to focus on preserving, but it turned out  the opposite.   It was a very busy Sep/Oct: I had to fit preserving in at the end of workdays and it was a weary, onerous task.

That’s a total of 309 jars; 42 canner batches (! – now I’m kind of impressing myself).

I canned no pumpkin this year, because somehow I have quite a bit left over from 2015, and I think I did far fewer apples, because it was an awful apple year.  Edit-I purchased apples, and canned two more bushels.

Trash the rack!

This is the canning game-changer of the year – a silicone canning mat.  Not only does it make everything quieter (no rattling), wayyyy less frustrating (those wire lifting racks are simply awful), but the water stays clear (no rusty lifting rack rusting into the water), AND nine pints fit in the canner with this mat, as opposed to seven!

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Available at Lee Valley Tools

2015 Canning inventory

Since I thought I should make a habit of documenting how much I can every year, I looked back into 2015, which was Year One for canning serious quantities.

I found my list alright, but for the big ones – peaches and apples – the number is left blank!  Argggh!  So, I have to estimate, based on 2016.  I canned two bushels of peaches each year, but I did more apples than I did peaches, sooo….

  • 15 pts beets
  • 2 pts plumsauce
  • 3 pts blue plums
  • 3 pts red plums
  • 3L pickles
  • 3 pts pickles
  • 14 pts pears
  • 5 pts pineapple (grocery store sale!)
  • 5 pts cherry tomatoes (whole,  with a Tbsp of vinegar and pinch of salt – SO good)
  • 7L peaches
  • 60 pts peaches (approx)
  • 70 pts applesauce (approx)
  • 7 pts pie-ready pumpkin
  • 28 pts pumpkin
  • 4 half pints peach honey (not really canned, just jarred)
  • 18 half pints pesto (ditto, jarred, and frozen)

So that’s (approx) 30 canner loads, including 6 double loads in the pressure canner for the beets and pumpkin.