The Universe Gave Us Garbage (and We Like It!)

Call me silly, but I have this belief that if you want something and you’re meant to have it, all you have to do is “put it out to the Universe” and 99% of the time, you’ll find it. I have done this so many times that I know there’s some truth to it, and from what I’ve seen, other folks find it true too.

I’m a huge fan of Anne-Marie at Zero Waste Chef and always marvel at the things she finds on her walks around the neighborhood. Just the other day, she needed an iron for a class she was teaching and poof! an iron appeared on the sidewalk. A few years back, she found a cast iron dutch oven.

Over the past month, we’ve had a few things on our wish list – things that we didn’t want to buy new but definitely had a use for. The biggest thing on our wish list was canning jars. With all our canning this summer, we ran out of jars! And if you’ve ever priced them in the store, you can’t help but wonder – when did food preservation turn into a hobby?? And an expensive one at that!

For weeks, Angie diligently scoured Marketplace almost every day for a good deal on jars, while also rummaging through the recycling bins on Mondays. This landed us 33 awesome Ball canning jars – most of which had been used as candle holders in a wedding. We paid $10 for 30 and found the other 3. The bonus on these jars was that they still had the candles inside and jute twine wrapped around their tops. We rolled the twine into a ball to use in the garden next summer.

On Saturday, on a whim, we decided to stop at a yard sale on our way home from my mom’s house. It was getting late in the afternoon and we only had $2 in our pocket (and a handful of change in the cup holder of our car) but we thought, what the heck, it can’t hurt to look. Thank goodness we did, because we hit the jar lottery! The lady hosting the sale had 2 boxes of jelly jars, pints, and quarts for $1 a box. She also had a sweet little Fire King 8” pie plate (another item on my wish list) for a quarter.

I can clearly see a pumpkin pie in our future.

When we got home, we found that not only had we had bought 36 canning jars for $2, but some of them were vintage.

Now I realize, the Universe did not provide all these jars free of charge, at least not directly, but I did find the quarter that I used to purchase the pie plate in the parking lot at Aldi that very same day. What the Universe did provide though was the 16 pounds of red, ripe strawberries that we used to make jam in those jars.

We found these in the dumpster, of course, and out of the 16 cartons, only 7 strawberries were bad.

We had a similar score with sweet potatoes a few days before. All of us (my mom included) had been hungry for a sweet potato (being Fall and all) but the Farmer’s Market has been slim on them this year. I’m pretty sure there’s about 20 pounds of sweet potatoes in this photo. Courtesy of the Universe (via the dumpster).

For anyone new here, you may at this point, be appalled, either by the fact that so much good food gets tossed in the dumpster or that we go in after it. Rest assured, we stand firmly with you on the first one and encourage you to read this and this for more info on the second one.

Another item on our wish list was “something to put our indoor planters on”. One afternoon, as I was heading out, I saw a blue-topped console table just sitting by the dumpster in our apartment complex. It was just the right shape and size for our small apartment, so we cleaned it and tightened it up, and now this “garbage” has new life as a plant stand.

And those planters that you see – they are made from milk cartons – from the recycling bin.

This one too.

We found it and another just like it, sitting by recycling. The price tags were still on them and no dirt had ever touched them. (By the way, I had also asked the Universe for a terra cotta pot to try making a grill sometime prior to this find. The grill is still a work in progress.)

Of course, every gift we receive this way is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, we are completely grateful to find something that saves us money or provides for a need that we (or others close to us) may have. But on the other hand, it doesn’t go unnoticed that these things were in the trash and if we hadn’t come along, that’s where they would still be. We can’t rescue everything. Even with our mini army of fellow dumpster divers, tons and tons of good stuff goes to landfill every single day.

Though I do encourage you to try asking the Universe for things you might need, the bigger thing that I want to encourage you to do today is to be a good steward of our environment and a helping hand to others. Buy only what you need. Donate your unwanted items to a non-profit thrift store or homeless shelter. Our shelter even takes food that is still in date and hasn’t been opened (and fresh produce from the garden). Check with friends, family, and neighbors before tossing something out, post it for free on Marketplace or FreeCycle, or in a pinch, sit in by the curb with a sign that says free (or course, if no one picks it up, please remove it in a timely fashion).

And if you want something – particularly things that are prone to being trashed, like furniture, household goods, plastic totes, containers, flower pots, and more – don’t be afraid to do a little curbside shopping first before hitting the retail stores.

Overwhelmed with Food [Waste]

At the time, I thought I was doing the right thing…

I’m sure you know how that statement is going to end. Often in life we endeavor to do something we think is good or right, only to have it end up backfiring on us. That’s what happened to me this week with food.

My uncle and his kids are in town. Still bored, in case you were wondering – even though they went to the Grand Ole Opry and the Wilson County Fair. But before I fall down that rabbit hole, let me get back to the subject at hand – food.

As my relatives were coming into town on Thursday, they stopped at a BBQ restaurant to pick up a family meal to bring over for lunch. The meal consisted of a whole chicken, several sides, and bread. When I arrived that afternoon, my mom had packed up the remnants of the meal for me to take home. She knows how I feel about food waste and had at some point told my uncle if there was anything they weren’t going to eat, save it for me.

Now, as a general rule, we don’t eat meat. On occasion, we make an exception, when not doing so would hurt someone’s feelings (particularly my mom, who has a very hard time standing at the stove and every effort she makes to cook, is done with love) or when the meat is raised by someone we know. However, I thought – no harm in taking this leftover chicken. I can make a pot pie and freeze it for the next time our niece comes over. So, I put the chicken in the fridge to deal with later.

The next day, I came home with half of a leftover pizza – with meat and enough cheese to cover 10 of our homemade pizzas!

The following day, a handful of pizza rolls and chicken tenders, a spoonful of mac ‘n cheese, 2 sausage patties, 3 stale donuts, a cup of fresh corn and ¾ of a canary melon.

And yesterday, a seriously half-eaten ham sandwich, slathering in mayo. What on Earth am I supposed to do with that?

For a while, our refrigerator looked like a dumpster. I wish I’d had the forethought to take a picture, but I was too busy agonizing over what to do with all the food.

One the one hand – I didn’t want to waste it. There’s already enough food in our landfills creating ozone-depleting gases and I certainly don’t want to add to it. On the other hand, if I were to eat this stuff, I’d be sick – physically sick and sick with myself for putting things into my body that aren’t good for me. It took nearly 3 years to embrace a mostly plant-based diet and frankly, I don’t want to go back. Call me crazy – most of my family does – but I don’t want to eat processed foods or fast foods that sap me of my energy, clog my arteries, and fill my body with chemicals.

I even tried to find a happy medium. I pulled the meat off the pizza and heated some of it in the oven for lunch one day. The grease bubbled up like lava and yet I tried to choke back a few bites, but I just couldn’t do it. You may think this is silly, but I literally felt my heart sink as I tossed the pizza in the trash – along with its Styrofoam container (which could be a whole other blog post in itself).

In the end, I decided that this was not my waste. I did not buy it. I did not create it. I cannot feel responsible for it. It doesn’t matter that these folks are my family, it’s no different than a stranger handing me half of a Big Mac. I wouldn’t even hesitate before throwing that away. It’s ridiculous to think that the solution to ending food waste is to simply have someone else eat all the things that other people don’t want. Yet, that’s kind of what I was doing…

I ate the corn and since I’m not a fan of canary melons, I made a video on what I did with it (which will be posted to our YouTube channel later today). I threw away the rest of the food – even the chicken. And I have no regrets.

The way to end food waste is to take responsibility for our own actions – to not buy things that we aren’t going to eat, to practice portion control, and plan meals. We can educate others, but we can’t take responsibility for their choices.