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.)

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. I was just thinking you should consider politics...that was impressive. It took a lot of self-assurance, especially in a second language.

    1. Lol I was involved in politics kind of for a little while. I don't have the emotional energy for it anymore. I prefer to make a change in the world via blog posts and classes and less in the political arena.
      Thank you!

  2. My husband and I have been dumpster diving for a couple of years now. Perfectly good, edible, clean food inside packaging which inside a bag or box just sitting there. Why not take it? Why pay for it when we can get it free? I do try to avoid confrontation though while my husband doesn't care. LOL

    1. If I could find clean stuff inside packaging i'd consider it, but since I don't find things in packaging, I do tend to avoid the actual dumpster. 100% agree, why pay for something you can get free...
      My husband is the one of us who hates confrontation...

  3. Penny, were the beef/chicken labeled so you knew where/how they were slaughtered as is common in your country? Or were they just loose the way they're pictures?

    1. The chicken I got directly handed to me from the butcher, so yes, I knew exactly the details about them and their slaughter. The beef I knew which stall it was from, and asked them about it.

  4. I don't generally have the opportunity for free food, however, I do get flack for many of my frugal practices. But that is why I have no debt (except my house) and most people I know are over their heads in debt. I am happy to take some crap for financial security.

    1. Agreed. I'd rather deal with the flack and have financial stability than get no flack and be in financial trouble.

  5. Don't let people get you down Penny. You reach more than you know. The rest, maybe they just take longer to get it. You led the horse to water, right?
    So many people throw out so much food that could be used. They are terrorized by "expiration dates".
    I completely agree that it is immoral to waste parts of an animal killed for food.
    As for the trash guys...Today, I would do just what you did. Twenty years ago, when I was actually broke, I would have scampered off as soon as I was confronted. Not everything about getting old sucks!

  6. I probably wouldn't do what you did unless I was desperate, but I admire you for sticking to your guns. I don't like obnoxious people who go out of their way to be mean. I think you do show that people can survive with very little money spent, if they are willing to work for it. And you have worked--first to get the food, and then to deal with it.

  7. It is embarrassing to be yelled at. For me it's the lack of respect workers show for people who are willing to take the unwanted food. Throwing out, you're violating this rule and that code then hearing, I'm the boss, would make me wonder if they truly know the laws.

  8. To watch good food be put into a dumpster, when there are people that need it, is shameful. They have issues with you taking it because of fear of being sued if you get sick, but its a stupid way of doing things. When it comes to feeding my family, pride is not a issue and neither is bowing to the pitiful way society seems to think that if a food isn't perfect, its not fit to eat.. its shameful, just shameful to let good food be wasted. Hurray for u! for standing up for what you believe in. You deserve a pat on the back and a "way to go mom!"

  9. Waste not, want not was the rule growing up. You do your thing and get those freebies and be happy cos you just saved some money.

  10. Great job Penny! I think you receive so much free food because you expect to get them, and the Law of Attraction works on getting you what you want :-)

  11. Oh dear... I 100% get this. I hate confrontation, but I might have followed the guy to the dumpster if I wanted the food bad enough.

    Stares, however, don't phase me a bit. People can stare if they want. I don't mind digging out of a free box or picking something out of the ditch or whatever. It's more money in MY pocket!

    The thing that drives me crazy- and I assume it drives you crazy, too- is the "you're so lucky" phrase that people use. I think people are looking for any kind of excuse they can find to get out of doing the hard work required to get and/or preserve free food. Excuses include things like having a job, having kids, only eating organic/special diet, or not knowing how to _______. When they can't find an excuse, they say that you are just "lucky".

    Funny thing is, the "luck" doesn't stop at free food. It extends to no debt, nicer stuff, savings. Kudos to you for sharing the "luck" on your blog.

  12. Awesome Penny! I've been a dumpster diver and forager for several years now and I get nasty looks and people yelling at me too. It's absurd that people have a problem with keeping things out of the landfill; that I will never understand. In my community (in the Midwest of the US) we have a huge trash day twice a year that people put out all of their unwanted things (trash or not) to get picked up and many people in the community go around with trucks picking up things to recycle, re-purpose, or resell. Everyone looks the other way that week as more and more trash gets put out and the piles start dwindling from the pickers, the rest of the year they take issue with it. I've had people threaten to call the police (even though I remind them that my city does not have any regulations against dumpster diving and what I'm doing is perfectly legal), child protective services (WHAT???), and the store owners all to get me to stop picking up trash. It's mind boggling that just because someone is uncomfortable with doing something themselves that they will try to prevent others from doing it as well, even though it actually helps their community in the long run! I need to start being more bold and asking shops for meat scraps and bones like you do, they are the hardest to find for sure! Keep up the good work! Your wallet and the earth thank you, as do I! :)

  13. You made it sound like you got a lot of beef and chicken, when what you actually got was mostly bones and skin, with a little meat stuck to them.

  14. For my country, I think grocers are very hesitant to give free produce or allow people to dumpster dive due to past litigation involving people who ate the items and said they got sick. I probably would do it but I don't have a very high tolerance for getting yelled at. You've got such a resilient spirit, Penny. Keep getting all those yummy freebies!

  15. In our local market I have observed that the worker who "takes out" the garbage is quite often the one who takes home the garbage. I'm impressed with your level of financial responsibility, good for you!

  16. Kendra, kendra, you disappoint me. Was that really the nastiest thing you could come up with? You've had much more scathing comments in the past, why are you slacking today?
    For someone who is obsessed as you are with reading my blog to find things to mock, you seem to have missed the point that I do have a job, I do have ways to make money, quite a few of them really, and I get free things as a choice, not because I couldn't afford to buy food.

  17. Kendra, why do you think she doesn't have a job? Because she cares about things not getting wasted? She's economical? This may be news to you, but you can have a job AND care about saving money and letting food go to waste. That's actually a very productive and efficient life, as opposed to trolling a blog all day long.

  18. You make it sound so simple to just "get a job". Newsflash, it's not. My husband thankfully works from home, and makes more money an hour than I ever could because he programs. Before he had a regular salary, and was just contracting basically, I had a part time job to help supplement. Either he needed to take off hours or we needed to pay for childcare, so we eventually decided it was more worth it for me to stay home.

    Penny is raising and educating her children, making them nutritious delicious food, and working at something she loves. If only we could all be so lucky!

    Out of curiosity, what do you do for a living? Other than reading blogs and commenting just to spread negativity, I mean.

  19. I have a well-paying full-time job, as does my husband. We are blessed to have no debts, own our own home and still manage to put money away every month. Despite all that, I read Penny's blog with great interest, especially the foraging posts, because being educated about the world around you just makes life more interesting, and by extension makes you a more interesting person. Unlike trolling blogs of people whose lifestyles you fundamentally disagree with, which just makes you a troll.

  20. Definitely not easy to just 'get a job'. My husband has been unemployed for well over a year now since being laid off from his last employer, where he worked for over 4 years. He's attending a trade school currently, paid for by the previous employer but isn't learning much since that employer laid off about 2000 employees, so his class is WAY overcrowded! I'm a Registered Nurse and I make a decent salary with excellent benefits.

    Penny has a job. This blog for one. Writing a book for another. Educating her children too!

    Her foraging is reducing the carbon footprint of her family by not allowing things to be wasted. Those chicken bones she got have some small pieces of chicken on them, which after it's picked off can be made into many different recipes..then the bones can be simmered to make chicken broth that can be frozen and used for later use. Same with the meat bones, simmer for beef broth. NOTHING better than homemade stuff because you KNOW exactly what you're getting as opposed to the cartons of broth you buy in the grocery store!

    So, tell us Kendra? What do YOU do to make society a better, less polluted place besides polluting Penny's blog with your rude remarks?

  21. I found Penny's blog about 7 years ago when I was looking for ways to reduce my spending and saving money due to my husband being laid off (again) at the time. I was struggling with massive debt I researched ways to save money and that's how I came across Penny's blog! AND I've had the opportunity to meet her in person and she's fascinating!

    Just because people do things differently from you doesn't make it wrong. Amy Dacyczyn who wrote The Tightwad Gazette in the 90's actually DID Dumpster Dive to get things out of the trash. She was able to retire debt free and is living a great life in rural Maine! People have interviewed her now-adult children and they've all said they never felt deprived because of how they were raised and I'll bet Penny's kids will say the same!

    The kids you should feel sorry for are the ones who have parents that are addicted to drugs & don't give two cares about them...only that they're a meal ticket for them, then they sell their meal ticket for money to buy more drugs! And the kids are starving, only eating at school. Not having the proper clothing for the weather or supplies for school, let alone parents to help them succeed at school. So trust me when I say that Penny's kids are FAR from neglected!

  22. Kendra. Maybe take your own advice and do something better with your life than spend all your time obsessively following all the posts of a blogger you claim to dislike and writing nasty comments.

  23. I loved reading this, and I have no problem with getting stares. My husband and I both make very good incomes, but we live very far below our means, partly so we can give generously, and partly so that we'll have financial freedom. We have gotten all kinds of great things from the garbage, like a jogging stroller that just needed to have the mold cleaned off of it. We also did without heat (I'm not joking) one winter, and lived off our wood stove - it was kind of comical, because after we got the house ready and warm, we'd put on suits and go to our office jobs. This post made me think I should inquire at our local store about when there are "throw out" days, and how I might get in on that.

  24. Thank you for "rescuing" prefectly good food. I admire this not just for the cost savings, which I think is wonderful, but the ethical and environmental and aspects as well. Well done and keep up the good work!

  25. my daughter will toss out anything that is past the "best before date" ; it infuriates me. rescuing food is a noble act; i admire you.

  26. my daughter throws out anything that is past the "best before date"; it infuriates me. rescuing food is a noble act; i admire you.

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