Monday, March 6, 2017

Enough Philosophy and Back to the Bacon

Both mornings of this past weekend, I had some absolutely delicious bacon for breakfast. How much did I pay for it? $0. How did I do that? Well, I found it, you see. In the greater Washington DC area (and many other places), perfectly good or even great things are out there for the taking. I am beginning to learn that I can live well while spending little money. I just have to follow some guidelines, like not being picky, taking a bit of social disapproval, being patient, and having a strong support network.

Urban foraging elicits many raised eyebrows, reactions, and questions. I can't do much about the eyebrows and reactions, but I will try to answer some of the questions. First, why do I want to avoid spending money? Quite simply, I've found that I have to do things I don't actually want to do to get money. In many cases, I have to compromise my values. I have to help keep industrial society on life support as it continues to squash ecosystems. I used to look at job postings, paying close attention to the dollar sign, and then say, “Yeah, this could be a pretty good fit.” Then, after getting into the job, I’d realize quickly that it was quite far from a good fit. I inevitably seem to become a cog of a system that I do not believe in, and have to work within that framework to keep my job.

I do not want to live this way for much longer. Recognizing that I do want to make some money, I am taking the arbitrary motive of ever higher payment out of the driver's seat. Besides using the magical stock market to turn my money into more money, I want to do the things I already love to make the money I want. Things I love include learning about and living within ecosystems, and teaching others about them. The jobs that exist in this type of work, or ones that I could create myself, do not pay nearly as much as many office jobs I could have. Luckily, I’m finding ways to reduce the amount of money I spend and increase my level of satisfaction. Every dollar that I do not spend boosts my feelings of freedom. Instead of buying things, I am buying my ability to determine what I do each day.

So, enough philosophy and back to the bacon. I found the bacon in a grocery store dumpster. Sounds disgusting, right? Wrong, it was delicious! Uncured, applewood smoked, no nitrates or nitrites added. It smelled great when I opened the package, and smelled even better when it was cooked. In the same winter-refrigerated metal box (dumpster) I found kale, yogurt, pizza dough, dried banana, shredded wheat, salted truffle almonds, red onions, and the list goes on. Why were all of these things wasted? I don’t know. I could speculate that it was because some items were near their expiration date, but some were far from them. Having done a lot of microbiology work, I know that harmful or deadly things can grow on food. Thankfully I've been around food my whole life (as all of you have also been!) and can use my senses to know what’s good or bad. There is nothing magic about expiration dates; microbes don’t use clocks or calendars.

A recent haul

Along my food recovery journey, something curious has happened: people started to give me food. I think they do so because they know I’ll eat it and that I accept it with gratitude. Often they give me foods that they have in surplus, that are near their expiration dates, or that they simply don’t like. Maybe they think I'm broke. Whatever the reason, people give me food, I thank them, and then I eat it!

Moving beyond food now, sort of: my friend and I are going to start growing Shiitake mushrooms with some starter materials we got from another generous friend. We needed logs, preferably oak, to inject the mushroom spores into. Instead of calling the tree store to deliver oak of the perfect size and shape, we asked friends and checked free Craigslist. Within one hour, we found two different groups down the street cutting down oak trees, and were able to get much of what we needed. The good feelings I get from all of this salvaging is astounding. I connect with people, learn a lot, and don’t have to compromise as much to turn my time into money and then money into things I need. I can simply do what I need to do.

Clothing is also covered under the finding stuff method. It appears that people are just dying to get rid of perfectly good stuff and get the latest fashion. I went out on Saturday night wearing my fly bright blue jeans and orange shoes, both found. The orange shoes were found by Joseph - he is a more dedicated clothing hunter than I. I’m fortunate to have had a lot of clothing gifted to me over the years, so I don't think about clothing much. I often say that I don’t need to buy clothing for the rest of my life; with the exception of shoes and stuff to keep me warm, I might be right.

Found: blue pants and orange shoes 

There are many problems in the world, a great number of which are unsolvable. Waste is rampant, and industrial society runs on it. Many people with high paying jobs are writing on pieces of paper or Word documents trying to 'solve' the waste problem. We can always do our part by salvaging and scavenging. We can all grab a friend and empower ourselves! We don't need permission or authorization. While I continue in the urban environment for a bit longer, I’ll keep looking for the things I need before buying them. When I get out to healthier ecosystems, I will ramp up healthier ways to acquire my needs - gathering, hunting, and growing. For now, urban foraging is an empowering supplement.

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