Tag Archives: foraging

Dumpster Diving Part Two

Dumpster Chair

Dear Reader:

As promised, here is my one and only literal dumpster find–my office chair.

I’ve done a quick bit of research regarding the price of a new wood + cushion armchair (okay, I looked at three websites) and found THIS example. Regularly priced at a little over $400, it is on sale for $309.80. My wood + cushion office armchair cost me much less, however–nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada. I picked it up outside a dumpster eight years ago, a cast-off from some apartment in the married-housing development at the University of Maine at Orono. Its 1970’s gold and rust-colored crocheted cushions caught my eye, and when I walked over to investigate (seeing if the arms wobbled, the legs fell off, etc.) I was delighted by the chair’s sturdiness. Yes, the cushions were butt-ugly, but I could easily re-cover them. I really, really liked the shape of the thing, and it was being thrown away. Could I possibly take something from the trash? Yup. Looking furtively around me, I dragged the chair across the street to our apartment and tucked it inside. It was my first (and, okay, last) dumpster dive.

I never did re-cover the cushions. Instead, I’ve thrown a blanket over the top and stuck the chair in the corner of my office where it is the perfect, and I mean perfect, chair for reading. Why? Flat arms. I can set my coffee cup close at hand while slouching against the cushioned back. The chair is low enough that my shortish legs bend at just the right angle. The seat is wide enough that if I want to curl my legs beneath me or sit cross-legged, I can do so with ease.

Snagging this chair saved me three to four-hundred dollars, and I reduced the amount of waste going into the landfill at the same time. Brilliant!

Apparently, I am part of of a trend called Freeganism. The term is derived from “veganism,” the type of vegetarian eating that nixes all animal products from the diet. The New York Times published an article about the trend in 2007, interviewing various Freegans, including a former communication director for Barnes & Noble who gave up her corporate job, bought a one-room apartment, and began foraging for a living. Click HERE for the article.

Although Freeganism seems to have begun as a DIETARY lifestyle (dumpster diving at restaurants, bakeries, etc. for free food), it seems to have morphed into broader lifestyle philosophy–one branch of the anti-consumerist tree. While I have my doubts that I would ever, except in the most extreme necessity, dig in the trash for food, I have no qualms about using someone’s cast-off non-food items. The money I save on a chair produced in China, for instance, can be spent on a locally-produced item instead.

Not only that, I’ve patriotically reduced the embarrassing amount of trash generated by Americans every year.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Between 1960 and 2008 the amount of waste each person creates has almost doubled from 2.7 to 4.5 pounds per day. The most effective way to stop this trend is by preventing waste in the first place. Click HERE to read the entire article.

The way I see it, the best way to prevent waste in the first place is to stop buying so much! The less you buy, the less you have to throw out. Simple. And if you need something, why not use something someone else has thrown away? Not only are you reducing the cost of raw materials, packaging, and shipping of a new product, you are keeping waste out of the dump, the landfill, and the ocean.

Think garbage doesn’t end up in the ocean, or if it does, it simply biodegrades and disappears? Think again. There are at least two “islands” of broken-down plastic floating in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. These tiny bits of plastic ride in on currents and get caught in a sort of vortex, accumulating into a giant “garbage patch.” Read THIS article from the National Geographic Magazine to learn more. Recycling our plastics–better yet, refraining from buying it in the first place–would at least help prevent the patches from growing and spreading and further messing up the ecosystem of our oceans.

First Edition!

So, what if you just can’t bring yourself to use used stuff? Do not fear. You can still take part in the Freegan phenomenon–as a contributor. Instead of throwing your old chair away, take it to your local Goodwill store or another local charity. Inquire at your local dump to see if there is a swap area . . . and if not, start one! Check out the Freecycle organization.

Donate used items to second-hand stores. Mom’s groups, churches, and other community organizations often host Swap Parties. Participate in a community or charity yard sale. Now that spring has finally arrived, it may be time to clean out the basement and the closets. Remember, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Your used items could find new homes and new uses rather than add to the average American waste statistic.

This weekend I checked out the local Swap Shack and was amazed to see how empty it was. Apparently, I’m not the only one who likes free stuff. Ironically, on the rather bare bookshelves, I came across two textbooks: THE ECONOMIC WAY OF THINKING and MANAGEMENT ACCOUNTING. Now I can learn all about economics while practicing economical, sustainable, local living. Thank you, to whoever brought them in! When I’m finished, I’ll bring them back in so someone else can read them.

I WON’T, however, be bringing back the Anne Rice book pictured above. It’s a hardcover first edition by an author I adore. It will reside safely on my bookshelves . . . just above my dumpster chair and the Swap Shack reading lamp.

Ah, life is good.

NOT Your Grandmother’s Dandelion Greens

0162Dear Reader:

When I was young, I’d watch my grandmother head outside with her little, sharp knife and a bowl to dig dandelion greens for our noon “dinner.” Served alongside boiled potatoes, some green beans canned the previous summer, and some sort of meat, the dandelions would be forked up into individual bowls, slathered with butter, doused in apple-cider vinegar, and sprinkled with salt and pepper.

As a kid, I didn’t really care about dandelion greens one way or another. I’d been taught to eat my vegetables and to clean my plate. I do remember the inevitable crunching grittiness between my teeth when a sly bit of sand managed to cling to some furled bit of greenery despite a vigorous soaking and rinsing. Sometimes the greens were bitter. Sometimes not so much. Now I know it probably depended on how far along in the season we were. The newer, the more tender and sweet. The older, the tougher and more bitter.

Dandelions were part of the world of my grandparents–right along with the compost pile beside the garden, the raspberry patch out back, my grandfather’s old John Deere coverups hanging on the hallway coatrack, ice cream for dessert, and my grandmother’s office area cluttered with the paraphenalia of her freelance newspaper reporting gig.

So, the other day when I went out to inspect the perennial beds, I noticed these pretty little dandelion plants growing nearby. In a fit of nostalgia (and thinking about all the great nutrients in these naturally-grown, non-chemicalized, FREE greens) I ran inside for a sharp, little knife and cut a couple of bunches to cook up for my lunch. Since I was just recovering from a bout of upset stomach, the thought of butter and vinegar didn’t do it for me, so I came up with my own recipe for a healthy noon dinner.

First, I put the greens into a large bowl, filled the bowl with water, and let the greens soak. While they were in their bath, I boiled some rice pasta and drained it. I lifted the greens out of the bowl and poured the water and grit out, rinsed the greens with running water from the tap, and put them into a flat skillet with just a little bit of water to boil/steam them.

009In another skillet, I poured about two tablespoons of olive oil and put it on low heat. I peeled a large clove of garlic, cut it into three pieces and cooked the garlic in the oil for a few minutes to infuse the oil with flavor, taking care not to burn the garlic. I removed the garlic with a spoon, leaving just the oil, and then I drained the greens which were then tender and bright green. I chopped the greens into bite-sized pieces on a cutting board, threw the pasta and dandelions into the oil, and tossed everything together with a little bit of sea salt. Voila! NOT my grandmother’s dandelion greens!

010The flavor of this dish was very mild. I may try it again with chopped garlic I will leave in the oil, maybe some grape tomatoes cut into halves, even a few muchrooms perhaps. It would be good with parmesan cheese sprinkled on top, I imagine.

Or, I may just boil up a mess-a-dandelions and pour on the old vinegar. Sometimes you just can’t improve on perfection.

In any case, foraging for food is as old as humanity itself. There is nothing more local than gathering a bunch of wild greens. (Of course, if you have sprayed your lawn with chemical fertilizers and/or herbicides or have any other reason to think your dandelions might not be completely safe . . . do not eat them! If you have any question, contact your cooperative extension or other knowledgeable person in your area. Just because I eat weeds, doesn’t mean you have to!)

It seems to me that people used to know how to do this, to go out into the wild and find nutritious food to eat. Wild berries, the bark of certain trees for medicinal purposes, mushrooms, greens, and who knows what else! I’m certain my grandparents retained some of this knowledge. But something happened from that Depression-era generation and the next. I guess food became industrialized and convenient (though it’s hard to imagine anything more convenient than cutting dandelions out of your front lawn at noontime.) Maybe it was just the idea of modernity, of progress. There were those Kennedy years, those space-travel years that gave the world Tang to drink!

I like what is happening now. I see signs of a return to the old ways. Books are published about preserving food without canning or freezing, incorporating old-fashioned lacto-fermentation methods. (PRESERVING FOOD WITHOUT CANNING OR FREEZING by The Gardeners & Farmers of Terre Vivante, Chelsea Green Publishing Company, White River Junction, Vermont. ISBN: 1-890132-10-1.

There is the Slow Food movement. There is the Permaculture movement. Every week it seems there is an article in a newspaper or a story on the news about a farmer’s market opening up, or a community garden going in, or a go-local movement afoot. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to search out some pre-WWII cookbooks, perhaps, or ferret some old-fashioned cooking/preserving tools at antique stores and ask the elders how to use them. I’m searching for one of those heavy metal meat grinders that screw onto the edge of your table, for example.

We can have a slower-paced life with a more personal connection to the food we eat. We can find like-minded people in our communities and share our discoveries, successes, and failures. We need to stop for a minute and imagine what we want our world to look like, to feel like, and then we need to chose those ways that will best bring our vision to reality. We won’t always agree, and that’s okay. But a little respectful debate is much healthier than simply accepting what the powers-that-be shove on us. At least, that’s what I’m thinking . . . Outside the Box.