Monday, February 20, 2012

Embracing the Freegan Ethic

  Awhile back The Manimal's friend started a little restaurant on the town square.  You would think one more restaurant is the last thing this town would need, but this one is doing well.  It is a soup restaurant, they have several freshly made soups each day, along with hearty breads. They've cleverly located their shop smack in the middle of downtown where a lot of people work and where most all the restaurants are spendy out-to-dinner places. Working people are happy to get a hearty lunch at a reasonable price, or a warm and comforting supper before they make the long trek home.
    Straight away The Manimal thought making all those large pots of soup each day with all fresh ingredients would result in a certain amount of onion skins, potato peels, carrot root ends and such.
    Knowing his friend lived in town and had no place to keep a compost bin, and knowing the two of us don't produce much veg waste, and knowing our large and ever-increasing garden could happily absorb as much compost as we can produce or procure for it, The Manimal offered to carry away the restaurant's veg scraps as an ongoing project.  The friend happily agreed. In our hippified college town anyone who does not compost at least has the good grace to feel guilty about it. The chefs were actually delighted to have us take on composting their trimmings.

    We have come to call it his SoupWalla job.  We supply clean five-gallon buckets with tight lids. Each day on his return from work The Manimal stops by the restaurant to give them clean buckets and carry away the full ones. On a slow day this will be a bucket not quite full of scraps. On a busy day it has generally been 2 completely full buckets, often it is 3. Fifteen gallons.
     Our compost bin quickly filled up. Then a second compost bin. We now need to build larger bins. Much Larger.  Our laying hens have benefitted from especially good bits in the buckets. They don't care for onions, garlic, or mushrooms, but they're pretty keen on carrot tops, kale, lettuces, and they just love tomatoes.

     It could not long escape our notice that the buckets we haul home contain food as fresh and clean as we would get at the supermarket.  This is not garbage folks, it is not plate scrapings or the stuff from the sink strainer.  This is lovely, colorful, fresh food.  Occasionally it seems a potato or tomato will roll off the countertop and land in the bucket as well, I can think of no other explanation for the random appearance of whole unblemished vegetables in the buckets. They're a welcome find.

     The chefs at the restaurant are in a hurry. Rather than spend a lot of time scrubbing they lop off the lower 3-4 inches or so of  the root end of celery where the grit would collect.  They also lop off about 5 inches of the tops where the leafy branchy bits are. This means their soups have the straightest most easily rinsed center of the celery, which makes lovely uniform slices.
     It also means our buckets receive nearly half of every stalk of celery. Not being a chef, and not being in a hurry, it is no problem for me to trim the root end and rinse the good old fashioned garden dirt off the celery.  We like the leafy and branchy tips in our soups and stir-frys as well.
    The chefs cut off the tips and root ends of the carrots in a similarly generous manner.  I would say wasteful, but since we're benefitting from it I'd be foolish to suggest the chefs trim more carefully wouldn't I?
    Onions. They use huge onions, bigger than my fist. They seem to prefer the center third, perhaps to make rings of a uniform size? We get an inch or more from both tapered rounded ends of each and every onion.  They use only the green leaves of scallions so we get the bulbs. 

 Last night the Manimal planted some, having read they'll take root and grow more greens. The rest I put in the stockpot. We've realized it's a sin to waste food this fresh by just chucking it on the compost heap. Both of us love soup, and we make it at least weekly, sometimes more often. So when we brought our buckets home last night I sorted and trimmed veg and put two big stockpots on the woodstove to slowly simmer.  The smell is heavenly.
     Often I've read of the old-fashioned tradition of keeping a stockpot on the back of the stove and tossing the odd bits of veg into it, producing an ongoing ever-ready flavorful base for soups and stews. I never thought I'd be rich enough in vegetables to have such a thing.

   Not far from the soup restaurant is a grocery store we call Ghetto Kroger. This is to differentiate it from Fancy Kroger on the South side of town, Very Fancy Kroger on the far West side, and La-Di-Da Kroger on the East side. Ghetto Kroger is the oldest of the four by many years and is in my old neighborhood downtown (which is not a ghetto, but is an old neighborhood where residents must survive the stringencies of only one bathroom per house and no garages). Many poor grad students live there.
   The best thing about Ghetto Kroger is the dumpster out back. Unlike other grocery stores in town the dunpster behind Ghetto Kroger  is not fenced in. The grocers there hate waste, and they are well aware of the bin diving contingency of this town.  They do have health law mandated rules they must abide by, but they are user friendly.  If an orange is bruised or punctured in a bag of oranges law forbids the grocer from opening the bag and removing the damaged fruit. The whole bag must be thrown out. If even a single  berry in a box of berries has gone bad the whole box must be tossed out. If a watermelon gets dented it is illegal to do anything other than throw it away.   Although it is not said aloud, (for reasons of insurance I suspect) the persons in charge of taking things out to the dumpster do it with panache. Loaves of day old bread are stacked neatly beside the cooking oil receptical. Dented bakery items will be laid carefully on the lid in plain sight.  Boxes and bags of fruit and veg are often stacked rather than just dumped in. The Ghetto Kroger dumpster is a grand source of swag.

This weekend the Ghetto Kroger swag involved huge apple boxes filled with many bags of clememtines, one bruised or damaged fruit per bag, And also nine or ten bags of limes, and an more avacados than we've ever had in the house at one time before.


The hens turn their grain, the veg we bring them and the bugs and things they scratch up  while free-ranging into the most lovely eggs with wonderful flavor and deep orange yolks.  They make grocery-store boughten eggs look insipid.

 It is the oddest thing that the more I search for a job, the more I study the enmployment ads, and update my resume and send out job applications, the more things present themself for The Manimal and myself  to do
that prosper us and benefit us (and others) that Do NOT involve me having a jobby job in town.  The more I fret that I'm not doing my part around here because I'm not bringing in cash money the more ways I am blessed with to save us money, to make the homestead better, and so on. Perhaps I need to dislodge from my head the idea that Making A Living = Making Dollars and Cents, and re-aquaint myself with the nearly pre-historic concept of spending time making a life,rather than spending money trying to buy a life.

I'm not willing to claim that it is The Mandate of Heaven that I remain forever unemployed for some etherial Higher Purpose.  But I am beginning to suspect  that the agenda my education so thoroughly drummed into me is perhaps not the agenda that matters in the greater scheme of things.

I came into this life just a bit to late for the Back To The Land Movement of the 60's.  But I'm back here now, and trying to learn what to make of it. 

1 comment:

  1. This is WONDERFUL!!! Go, you! Oh, well done! Don't forget to save your pee for the compost to add extra nitrates and rot it down quicker :0)


If you disagree with me try to keep it clean, or I'll wash your mouth out with homemade soap.