Spring Fever & Feeding the Fam on Found Foods

Yesterday I looked outside to see my neighbor in the building next door curled up on her chaise lounge beneath a blanket. She was taking a nap right on her deck. In the few seconds that I stood there watching her, I could feel my body relaxing and my mind going into “sleepy” mode. I wanted to grab my own blanket and take a nap outside too.

Almost every morning when I open the window of my bedroom/office, I see this neighbor on her deck with a cup of coffee (or maybe tea), reading a book. She’s one of the few folks that live here that actually uses the deck for more than just a staging area for patio furniture. Come to think of it, she’s one of the few folks in this entire town that uses her outdoor space. We drive by all of these beautifully decorated patios and decks all the time – spring, summer, fall and winter – and no one is ever out there using them.

Inspired by my napping neighbor, we spent several hours cleaning up our patio and getting our planters ready for the container garden we’re planning to start this spring. We had been on the lookout for large flower pots for a while…and by on the lookout, I mean we were trying to find ones that people had discarded. We succeeded in scoring 2 good size ones from recycling and 2 really huge ones (quite by accident) for a dime at Lowe’s. The 2 pots from Lowe’s were marked down to $1 each due to some minor damage. Because they wouldn’t ring up properly (and because the associate-in-training was not that nice about it), the manager gave us one for a dime and the other for free. When we get back from our vacation in March, I plan to start some seedlings inside and transfer some to the pots and some to our 8′ x 8′ garden spot at my mom’s house.

Inside our apartment, we’re prepping for spring as well by trying to finish off last year’s veggies from the freezer. We have 3 quarts of tomatoes, 2 quarts of blackberries, a handful of peppers, some pears, and a bag of pecans left. In recent weeks we’ve added a couple packs of apples and 6 cups of pureed bananas to the freezer from our “food finding” walks. (I thought that moniker sounded a little less icky than dumpster diving). The pureed bananas make a great substitute for oil in baking dense cakes, muffins, or as Angie found out this weekend, oatmeal cookies.

Speaking of food finding walks, we continue to be in shock and awe at the amount of food our neighboring grocer is still tossing out. It’s been a little more than 2 weeks since we discovered this secret and here’s just a sample of the good food we’ve rescued.

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We’re still sharing our bounty with friends but we also hosted our first “dumpster dinner” on Valentine’s Day. While not all of the ingredients were free, the majority were rescued from becoming food waste. The few items we purchased were all from the “last chance” rack at various grocery stores. We prepared a 2 pound Nature’s Place pork roast (marked down to $2.90); a succotash made with rescued corn, broccoli, and asparagus; rice; yeast rolls (marked down to $1); and miniature cheesecakes for dessert (marked down from $5.99 to $1.50). The dinner was a smashing success. My uncle, who is visiting with my mom from NC, ate like he was starving – even after saying that he didn’t really like broccoli.

veggiecrateA few days later, Angie was sitting outside painting a veggie crate that we’re going to use as storage for our garden shoes, gloves, etc., when my uncle asked her where we got the crate. “Dumpster,” she answered; to which he replied by telling us a story about a time in his life when he and his then-girlfriend used to salvage furniture and household goods from the dumpster and sell them to pay the rent. This particular uncle now owns several businesses and touts his wealth almost as much as our current President so I was completely surprised at this admission. He ended his story by saying, “but I’ve never eaten out of the dumpster”. Angie and I looked at each other and almost burst out laughing. It was all I could do not to say, “oh but yes you have!”.

I figure, a little humor at my uncle’s expense is okay. He’s been picking on me most of my life. In fact, he still calls me Egghead – a name he tagged me with when I was a child because my head was buried in a book all the time. Which doesn’t sound like such a bad idea right now. It’s 75 degrees outside so perhaps it’s time to grab a cup of tea, a blanket, and the great book I just bought about food and foraging (called The Feast Nearby) and head to the patio. I might also grab a handful of Angie’s sugar-free oatmeal raisin cookies on the way out – the ones made with 50% found ingredients.

Weekly Progress to Happiness Goals Report (week ending 2/18)

    • No Spend Days = 4
      YTD = 27/200
    • Meatless Days = 3
      YTD = 21.5/144
    • Miles Walked/Hiked = 0/0
      YTD = 87.4/1,000 and 3.6/100
    • Decluttered Items = 0
      YTD = 217/2017
    • Side Hustle Income = $10.95
      YTD = $189.08/$1,825

A Meltdown Over Cheese

Change is good. That’s what you hear anyway. Just Google “change quotes” and you’ll get a veritable plethora of adages on changing your life, your mind, your hairstyle, and more. Change is good, I don’t disagree, but sometimes change has some pretty undesirable consequences. Like moldy cheese.

On Monday, I had a meltdown…over cheese. I opened our little refrigerator and pulled out our deli ham and sliced cheese, only to find it covered in green mold. The same thing was true for the mozzarella. In just a little over a week, we’ve had to toss out a half gallon of milk, half a cantaloupe, a bowl of fresh peaches, 2 slices of ham, and a good 6 oz. of cheese! Now this might seem like nothing to the average person but to me, it was beyond awful.

Two years ago, I took a free class through Coursera called Sustainability of Food Systems. It was eye-opening…especially seeing the excerpts from Hungry Planet that show how much food families in countries all over the world consume in a week and the cost of that food. What most folks spend on just pre-packaged, processed snacks (like cookies and chips) each week here in America, will feed an entire family of 4 in Ecuador for a week. And the kicker – on $31.55 per week, the Equadorian family eats BETTER than we do. So does the Nicaraguan family at $75.70 per week. Just look at this picture and tell me that doesn’t look delicious.

Peter Menzel, from the book, "Hungry Planet: What the World Eats.
Peter Menzel, from the book, “Hungry Planet: What the World Eats.

In America, 40% of our edible food is wasted. That’s not spoiled, moldy cheese…that’s good food that we just don’t feel like eating anymore. Yes, food waste is my pet peeve. After taking the Food Systems class, Angie and I took a pledge at Transition Sarasota to reduce our food waste to 10% or less. In our suburban apartment, that was an easy promise to keep. We learned to shop with intent, buying only foods that we knew we would eat. We had a monthly grocery list of stock items and a menu plan that revolved around those items. We bought fresh fruit, veggies, cheese, and eggs from the Amish market each week and turned them into all sorts of healthy meals. Never was there a time that something went to the garbage just because we were tired of eating it and very few, if any, items ever spoiled.

Tossing those deli meats and cheeses out made me consider tossing in the towel on this adventure. After all, it’s not just about seeing America. Our journey is one of sustainability, and sustainability means utilizing your resources and living on less – not running to Walmart every day for convenience foods that won’t go bad before you eat them. When we made this transition to camper life, the goal was greater simplicity but the inadvertent result has been a complication to our food system.

In a way, this food challenge has helped me better understand why it is often difficult for people to adapt to change, especially when the change goes against something they believe strongly in. We are a society that could care less about tossing half eaten meals into the garbage before heading off in search of dessert. But I strongly believe in good stewardship of all of our resources – food included. 1 out of every 6 Americans faces hunger and yet we throw away 40% of what we buy at the grocery store. You’ll never be able to convince me that’s okay. Maybe I really am too simplistic to think that one family – my family – can make any difference by choosing to eat with intent. But what if we all did??

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can cut back on wasted food, here’s a great article I found today that can help you get started: http://biobokashi.com/2013/09/18/whats-up-with-all-the-food-waste/.