Sunday, March 26, 2017
No Shame, a Little Guts, and a Lot of Free Food
Today I went to the market to meet with my friend Juli, who was coming with her kids, and she wanted me to show her around the market. My fridge was already full from the last time I was there and got so much food for very little money, but I did need some fruit, because all I had was citrus fruit. So I went with the goal of getting other non citrus fruit, and if I found anything free, then why not...
In the end, in the above picture, I got all that for free. And yes, you've got that right- that isn't just produce.
In fact, I would say today was one of my better hauls of free stuff, lots of "high brow" foods- chicken, beef, and produce that is generally sold very expensively. Specifically I got an extremely large amount of chicken skin and chicken frames, chicken bones (from drumsticks), beef bones, a very large amount of cardoons, en entire box of pink lady apples, and a few clementines, a tomato, a pepper, and an eggplant.
People see/hear that I got all this for free, and I generally get one of a few reactions.
"Oh, you're so lucky" which seems to imply that its this luck that I have that allows me to get things for free, but everyone else, who has less luck, can do what I do and end up paying much more than I do, because I just have this luck.
"Oh wow, teach me to do that!" So I tell them I have blog posts teaching people how I do it, and I teach classes at the market, and they say they have no time for classes or reading posts, but want me to teach them (I'm not sure how? telepathy?), and when they go and don't manage to get the free things or great deals I do, they seem to imply that I'm holding back on them, or back to the first- that I'm just lucky...
But then there are the people who are genuinely curious, who do want to learn my ways, and try to do the same to save money on groceries.
To them I say that it is possible, but it won't always be easy. Sometimes it is, and you get free food literally thrown into your shopping cart. Other times it takes a little more out of you, because you have to "lower yourself" to take things free while other people look at you, who knows what they're thinking about you, maybe they're thinking "Is that lady too poor to buy food? Aww, shame..." Or maybe they're thinking "That lady looks like she can afford to buy food, why is she taking free things and 'stealing' from the paupers." Or maybe they're thinking "Ugh, that is so nasty, I would never stoop so low as to get free food how she's doing it; I'd sooner ask for charity/take out a loan than eat food that other people are tossing." More on that in a moment.
And then there are the times like today where I get a whole lot of free food, but I really had to work for it, and in a way that most people probably wouldn't be willing to do, and honestly, I'm not even sure if most times I'd be willing to do what I did today.
While in the market, the way I usually get my free produce and other things is from the trash wagons. There are stalls along the different alleys and roads in the market, and in the middle of the alleys and roads there are these massive trash wagons, where the vendors place their scraps. Predominantly the trash wagon is piled high with empty boxes, but sometimes vendors place their excess produce that they don't think they can sell, or occasional other garbage, onto the wagons. When I go to the market, I see what is in that wagon, and sometimes find perfectly good produce there, and sometimes find grade b produce, but I don't mind if its imperfect if its free, and that's how I get my free things. When it comes to perishables like meat or fish that's more tricky, which is why I usually get those immediately as the vendor is placing it on the wagon, so I know its fresh and fine.
Once the wagons are filled, there are the trash wagon drivers (I have really no idea what their official title is) that come and drive them over to the dumpsters/trash compactors outside the market.
Today, when I saw a vendor placing a box filled with beef bones onto one of the trash wagons, I went to take it, and the trash wagon driver started yelling at me, telling me I'm not allowed to do that. that its forbidden to take anything off the trash wagon. Literally I rolled my eyes. Forbidden? I've been doing this for years. Give me a break. I started arguing with him, telling him come on, whats the big deal, why is he insisting on throwing something in the trash instead of letting me take it- no one is getting hurt, and all the vendors nearby were sticking up for me, telling the guy to just let me take it, why does he care? But he insisted that it was against the city's laws/codes for me to take it, and if he let me take it, he'd get fired, and if I really wanted it, I could get it from the dumpster.
You see, here's the thing. I may do free food, I may forage, I may even get food from the trash wagon, and I may even dumpster dive for a variety of things, but I am not willing to go into the dumpster to get actual food (maybe closed packages in a clean dumpster would be a different story), so I didn't understand what this guy's issue was, why he said only from the dumpster. I argued with him, and said why from inside the dumpster? And he said I could get it from the wagon only once he reached the dumpster.
Ridiculous as it was, I followed him to the dumpter and got the big box of beef bones from him there.
And as I arrived at the dumpster, another trash wagon arrived, piled really high with cardoons.
Cardoons are in the thistle and artichoke family, and they look like giant bunches of celery, but there's small thorns along the edges of each stalk. I bought cardoons once in my life, to try them, but not again, since they are very expensive locally- what I'd consider highbrow food, not something this frugalista spends money on more than once- and I made it in this recipe, honeyed with pine nuts, which was absolutely divine. (One time after that I got a free bunch.)
I picked up as many cardoons as I could fit into my wagon, meanwhile getting yelled at by the guy with the cardoons, because "you're not allowed to take those, this has to go into the dumpster" and "these things are for the garbage, they're probably diseased, why would you take those?" to which I again rolled my eyes (notice how I was doing a lot of eye rolling today?) because these weren't being tossed because of disease, but because they were slightly imperfect- some were a little wilted, others had a soft spot, and since these are expensive vegetables bought by highbrow people, they wouldn't be buying it if it didn't look tiptop.
And as for whether I was allowed to take it or not, the trash wagon driver guy's supervisor was there and said "yea, she can take it, no problem", so I got these cardoons, which I can't wait to experiment with in the kitchen. Of course I'll try the honeyed cardoons, but now I have enough to try a few different recipes.
After that, I went to a certain butcher shop there that I'd seen earlier, and asked them if they had any scraps, and they told me to come back in an hour. They then gave me this massive box of chicken scraps- equal amounts chicken skin and chicken frames (the backbone, wishbone, ribs, etc... that still have some meat on them) and some drumstick bones.
Right after that, I saw there was a massive box of Pink Lady apples, my absolutely favorite kind, on the trash wagon. I went to take it, and the supervisor that I'd seen earlier near the dumpster, who I'd thought was nice, started telling me off, that I wasn't allowed to take it, and I asked him politely what the problem was with me taking a whole box of apples- it wasn't like I was making any mess, etc... and he started screaming at me, that he confiscated that, that he is the boss, he makes the rules, and I'm not allowed to take it from the wagon, and if I want to get those apples, I have to get them from the dumpster. Oh wow, here we go again...
But I did.
And I got those Pink Lady apples, not in perfect condition, obviously, or they wouldn't have been getting tossed, but rather, they all have some soft spots on them that need to be cut out, but if things are free, I don't mind doing a little bit extra work and tossing a little bit.
We also got 2 free dragon fruit, a few clementines, an eggplant, a pepper, and a tomato for free, this time without being yelled at.
I'll be honest- I don't expect most people to do what I did today. When someone starts yelling at you not to take something, it can be really annoying and frustrating, even if you think they're being totally ridiculous and are completely in the wrong, and you don't understand what their issue is, and why they have a hard time being accommodating. But today I had a little guts so that when they screamed at me, I didn't just cower in fear from their screams and acquiesce even if I thought they were wrong, but in the end stood up and got what I wanted, even if it meant the stupidity of following the wagon for a good few hundred feet to get something that I could have just as easily gotten without following them for a few hundred feet.
Partly what bugged me more was because I always get these things free from the wagon and I don't get why now they started being all possessive of their trash... (In the past, I've had trash wagon drivers be a little annoyed because they were worried I'd mess up the pile of boxes, but once I reassured them that I wasn't making them any more work, they chilled out...) But another thing is especially with that meat, I have big issues with people throwing out animal products. I may not be a vegan, but at least I believe animal's lives should be respected, and if an animal was killed for food, the very least people could do is actually eat the entire animal and not throw parts out. So for a man to insist that he had to throw that perfectly good beef in the garbage made me want to fight because it felt immoral.
I came home today with a massive amount of stuff, but that also meant a large amount of work. I immediately went and rendered all the chicken skin to make cracking and chicken fat- some on the stove top and some in oven trays, and have a really large amount of chicken fat available to use.
I also boiled up the chicken frames/bones in one massive pot, and the beef bones in another massive pot, to make a delicious and concentrated bone both, which I'm freezing in smaller containers to use as the base for a variety of dishes and soups. I am freezing the chicken bones with meat on them too, and when I have a little more time I'll separate the meat off the bones, to use the meat in a variety of dishes.
I haven't gotten around to dealing with the apples yet, but I'll probably make some into fruit leather, some I'll chop and freeze for use in desserts, and some I'll keep to eat fresh.
As for the cardoons, I haven't either done anything with them, but I'm open to suggestions.
I know many people probably wouldn't do what I did in terms of free food, but some would. Would you take free food if it meant you might get some stares? Do stares make you uncomfortable enough to not do such a thing, or do you, like me, have no shame?
If getting free things while getting looks doesn't bother you, if someone started a confrontation with you over those free things, and you felt they were in the wrong, would you have the guts to tell them off/fight for that, or not really? (I actually, of all this, was most proud of myself for being able to stand my ground and hold up my end of the argument in a language that is not my mother tongue, and against someone from a culture that is much more aggressive and argumentative than mine.)