A Fine Day for Digging in Someone Else’s Trash

The weather has been absolutely divine this week. We were side-swiped by a slow moving “tropical storm” last week, which didn’t do much more than knock some branches down, but somehow delivered this extremely unseasonably cool weather.

By cool, I mean in the 80s. But nights in the 60s! Oh my, delight cannot cease. It’s like an indian summer, in reverse. Just when I thought the heat would go on and on forever, a reprieve!

I’ve been dabbling in my garden, clearing weeds, planting seeds. And taking delicious morning walks. Which are always very fruitful for me. And I’m wondering, as per my Quiet Riot, do I get to subtract the weight of trash removed from other folks cans?

Cause, if I do, I’m golden.

Scavenger Crow

I am an insatiable scrounge. When I am out and about, my eyes are restless. They flit here and there, looking for Opportunities. I like to think it’s a carry-over from my woodsy foraging days. Always something out there, in the world. Waiting for me to discover it.

Trash day. Love it. I’m not ballsy or desperate enough to open random trash cans. But when I see some clue about possibly good contents, I have no qualms whatsoever. Broad daylight, kids in the stroller, me rummaging through someone’s trash.

Even as a purely recreational scrounge I have found some good shit down here. Suitcases and rugs galore, and other big stuff that doesn’t fit in the can itself. A few times someone purging for a move, bulging trash bags full of household goods next to the can. A feather down mattress pad, in pristine condition. Innumerable goodies really.

Back in Alaska, in small town life, I used to really dive. As in, grocery store dumpsters. As in, get in, down with the crates of eggs smashed on the bottom corner, cases of milk one day past date, box after box of perfectly ripe produce (did you know that they throw it away at peak ripeness? That’s the standard, because it’s supposed to last one week in your fridge at home…) and all the junk food you could ever hope to resist. I was always nervous at first, headlamp in the dark dumpster, someone watching for the cops. Always elated at the end as we packed hundreds of dollars worth of food into the car.

(I can’t resist giving you a link here to the very last post on my last-life blog, Subsist/Resist, with photos of the prototype for Dumpster Diver Barbie a friend and I made. Mattel spies be warned, I want the all the royalties!)

Here in one of the most dangerous cities in America, I have not summoned the courage to venture out after dark, to lurk behind darkened grocery stores. Seems a bad idea. Not to mention that here there are people with real need. I like to think they are exersizing full license on those laden dumpsters. I like to think, though I suspect I’m wrong, that there isn’t enough left for me.

What I have enjoyed here, in full light of day, without headlamps or black hats, is scavenging neighborhood fruit. I’ve scavenged lemons, grapefruit, kumquats, mandarinquats, satsumas, miniature pomegranates, and now…. mulberries! I’ve not gotten up the gumption to ask about trees I see through fences, dripping with fruit, that whole long list is street-side, or otherwise unclaimed. If I had the time to process tons of fruit, I could gather my wits to knock on some doors, and then I’d really be in ’em.

Most of those fruits I only harvested in small, tasting quantities. The mandarinquat days were glorious, but brief. It was a bush in an abandoned lot. I made many a deliciousness out of those little sour oranges. But then one day, I went to fill my bag and the lot had been razed to the ground. Construction started two days later. I almost cried.

The mulberries were a great tip-off from a friend. I had biked past the tree dozens of times, and just never noticed it. When I finally made it over last week to pick, it was a revelation. What a wonderful little berry! So, so sweet. Our hands were positively sticky with dark burgundy juices. No berry in Alaska makes your hands sticky. The mulberries taste dark, sweet, winey, like too much sun. The kids picked and ate off the (blessed) low branches for a full half an hour while a visiting friend and I cleaned the upper branches. We picked probably a gallon and a half. I was ecstatic! I put about half the load in the freezer (frozen on a tray, then into a bag, so that we could grab a handful at will), and jammed the other half.

Do you scavenge local fruits? If you are lucky enough to live in one of the areas covered by the awesome group Fallen Fruits, you can download one of their maps. They map all the fruits in or over public spaces. Unfortunately, although they’ve mapped several cities in California and Colorado, a couple of other random spots in the US, and quite a few in Europe, the rest of us have to slowly build our own local fruit maps.

Put the word out. Keep your eyes peeled. Get your crow on.

Then swallow your pride and grab a bucket.

Ruby Fruit Jungle

Just took my morning put-the-Babe-to-sleep walk. We peruse the neighborhoods looking for adventure, morning sun, and trash. I’ve found some good stuff lately, maybe people are doing closet clean-outs to prepare for the holiday’s influx of new junk. That’s fine. I’ll take their old junk.

Found a very nice large laundry hamper sized wicker basket this morning. When I pulled it out, I assumed there would be a broken spot, or at least the wicker pulling out somewhere. But no, it’s in perfect condition. Beautiful.

the morning's plunder
the morning's plunder

But what’s really got the fire going under my kettle is the grapefruit tree!

First I walked past the lemon tree on the corner, as I always do after windy weather, to check for fallen fruits. Counted five, but left them to pick up on the way back. Then I was thinking about the Satsuma tree at the end of the street, thinking I’d better go ask them about picking a bunch for juicing. I’m not terribly fond of the fruit as is, it’s too plainly sweet for me, but I love the juice when mixed with a smidge of lemon to spice it up.

I was thinking to myself as I walked, ‘Okay, local foraging so far– lemon tree? Check. Mandarin tree? Check. Hmmm… What I need now is a grapefruit tree…” And I kid you not, two minutes later, there it was! I have walked past it dozens of times and never seen it. But suddenly, like a beacon on a dark citrus sea, it shone bright to my eyes.

There were several fruits on the sidewalk beneath the overhanging branch. A few had split in the fall, and were buzzing with fruit flies, but three were whole and good. As I bent over to pick them up, I saw under the tree’s branches into the yard of it’s owner. Of course, a dozen more grapefruits under the tree on the other side of the fence. But also– a lemon tree. A banana tree. And a pitchfork stuck in the ground. I need to meet these people!

I’ve long had a soft spot for ruby red grapefruit, and I don’t think it’s just because of Rita Mae Brown’s book. The first time I loved a grapefruit I was 19 years old, on a mountianside in Iceland. My traveling partner and I had just discovered dumpster diving, and one of our treasures was a grapefruit, which we took on a hike with us up the mountain for our lunch. When we bit into that grapefruit, it was a revelation. It was so sweet! And sour and feisty and delicious. At the time I didn’t know why it was so much better than any grapefruit I’d ever had. But I’ve since realized that, before that day, I’d never eaten a ripe grapefruit. Being from Alaska, you pretty much can’t buy a ripe grapefruit. Because by the time they’re ripe, they feel soft and old, and the produce guy throws them into… you guessed it, the dumpster. The best grapefruits I’ve ever eaten in Alaska (or Iceland) were out of dumpsters.

So, I should let these beauties sit on the counter until they’re nice and soft. But you know I’m not going to be able to resist cracking at least one open for my brekky. Bon appetit!

Trash vs. Treasure

Spent my early morning scouting for trash. When I first went out to greet the day (and get this Baby back to sleep so I could enjoy a little blogging time) I heard a distant rumble, “Crap! The garbage truck!” I had been eyeing several bulging bags of leaves the last couple of days, and didn’t want to miss my opportunity, especially with the community garden plot looming large in my future.

I finished my coffee quick and unlocked my bike. Babe strapped on in my mei tai, trailer rolling behind, I pedaled a block over and picked up four huge bags. These were especially ironic. The bags were from a commercial shredded wood mulch that is impregnated with some chemical– the bag guarantees no weeds for 6 months. Rake up the leaves, spread out the petro-chemicals. Ha, ha… Ha… Hm.

Another two laps around the block yielded two more trailer loads. Yesterday I scavenged a big heap of cardboard ahead of the recycling truck. Garden mulch, here I come!

I’ve been watchful of trash cans ever since we got here. Found some decent odds and ends. Just last week found this brand new (tag still on) fancy yuppie bamboo cutting board for bread, cheese and olives. After bringing it home I realized it’s really not very useful. Too small and specific. Now it will just clutter up my kitchen until I finally take it to the Sally, so it can clutter up someone else’s kitchen… Scavenging’s downside is the accumulation of marginally useful stuff.

Also last week saw two little pumpkins in the top of someone’s overstuffed trash can. They looked like the real sugar-pie pumpkins, meant for cooking not carving (the carving variety pumpkins are a waste of time to try to eat, in my opinion. All water, no flavor). I was a little afraid they’d be just the carving variety engineered to be smaller, some kind of backwards mean trick. But after baking them and making a tasty creamy soup, I’d say- no mean trick. Perfectly good food. Out of the two little p’kins, I got one batch of soup, and enough for an as yet unmade p’kin pie, which I’ll save for Thanksgiving.

I’ve also scrounged a nice big shelf for our bedroom, scraps of lumber, a few pieces of windfall fruit.

And then there’s the monastery lemons. Which are brewing into marmalade as I write.

What I haven’t done at all since we got here is any true dumpster diving. I miss it, especially when I hand over $80 for groceries. I’ve never been a particularly brave dumpster diver, and it’s pretty intimidating here. Especially since you’re not really supposed to wander around after dark… I keep meaning to ask around at the farmer’s market to see if anyone would save me their “trash” produce. But having no chickens as an excuse, it just sounds like asking for free food. Probably, whenever I really do it, they’ll be cool about it. Most people (excepting the apparently soul-less big box grocery store owners) don’t like to see stuff wasted. This doesn’t mean they’ll go very far trying to stop the waste, but it does mean that they’ll likely be relieved if someone else does something about it.

Speaking of other people doing something about it, here’s a great mainstream media article about dumpster diving for food. Leave it to the Brits to tackle a subject Americans won’t touch with a ten foot pole. I thought they were the ones who were supposed to have a stick up their ass. Oh, that’s right, we are spawned from their most hard core prudes.

And here’s a photo gallery from the same article. They didn’t just write about it, they took and published pictures! For any of y’all who have never dived a grocery store dumpster, and never witnessed they unbelievable quantity and (oh yes) quality therein, you must look at these photos. And for those old hand DDers out there, for a good laugh, take a gander at the Dumpster Diver Barbie photos on my old blog. Product spies from Mattel be warned– I want all the royalties!

At some point in our tenure here, I hope I’ll get to do some real diving. But, until then, I’ll make do with my furtive trash can scoping.