Looking into the fridge last night, I realized I was really low on food. The soup I had made last week was all out; what I had left by way of vegetables was a couple eggplants and a head of broccoli that were both turning a bit brown. Otherwise, I had nothing but bagels. This wasn't exactly enough to prepare a meal for the week.
I sliced the eggplants and added them to boiling water, turning the heat down. I'd make some soup, but first I needed more ingredients.
Up until just a couple months ago, getting a few more ingredients would be a grand ordeal. I'd grab my plastic bags and take the subway from Washington Heights (168 or 175 street) down to Morningside Heights (96 or 116 st) to forage the trash bags at Absolute Bagels, Dunkin Donuts, Health Nuts, and a few others. The locale with the best yield was usually Morton Williams at 115th street, so I'd head down there at least once a week.
On several occasions I was harassed by their security guard until he finally resolved to call NYPD. The officers coolly responded "there's nothing illegal about this" and allowed me to continue foraging the trash bags
I was vindicated and I intended to continue rescuing there.
One day I brought a roommate with me. He was interested in my food acquisition methods and wanted to see how I did it. We went down to the Dunkin Donuts around 100 street, rescuing dozens of donuts of all varieties. He was stunned. We stopped at Morton Williams as well and grabbed what there was to find there. Then we made our way back uptown on the 1 train, getting off at 157 street, a few blocks from our Washington Heights apartment. We nearly walked right past the Associated grocery store on Broadway, but my roommate was on top of things. He pointed out the small dumpster bins on the curbside.
I had never walked past this grocery store, so I was not aware of its existence, much less the contents of their garbage. The bins had a sign reading ORGANIC WASTE. Could it be? Garbage bins full of organic waste only? Fruits and veggies? I popped the trash can open with pleasant surprise. I'd have to come back here.
A few days later I returned to Associated, only a block and a half from my apartment, and rescued a bunch of produce. I then walked down another block for some Dunkin Donuts. Then across Broadway and back uptown. I spotted similar organic waste bins outside of a grocery store on 163rd street called Liberato. I peeked into their three bins, again procuring several fruits and vegetables. This store is just across Broadway from my apartment building - indeed, I had just picked up nearly a week's worth of groceries without having to walk more than three blocks from my own apartment!
That was maybe a month and a half ago. I've rescued food several times since then, but the last two occasions have been particularly fruitful, and not just in a literal sense.
Last week I went on a food rescue mission to my usual destinations. When I walked up to Liberato's, I saw three men sitting and chatting outside the store. I had seen them there before and I'm certain that at least one of them works there - I always see him wearing a white coat, like a chef's or butcher's garment. The men had certainly seen me foraging there before but had not said anything to me. I poked into one of the bins which had a thick layer of leafy greens on top. I was about to dig deeper when I heard a whistle. Shrugging it off, I peeled off a layer of greens. Then I heard the whistle again. Looking up, I saw the man in the white coat standing behind another of the trash bins. He pointed down to it silently, like revealing a secret hiding place. I cautiously moved toward him and opened the trash bin to find a dozen green plantains and oranges and mangoes, among other fruits and veggies.
This was a big deal. Not so much that I'd found these items, but that this employee of the store was actually helping me to find what I was looking for! I suddenly felt a great sense of solidarity with this man. Overjoyed, I walked home with my night's findings.
By last night, those items were nearly all gone. I had a couple eggplants simmering on the stove, but I'd need to find some more ingredients for this week's meal. I headed down to Associated, where I found lots of zucchini, potatoes, peppers and onions. Then a block down for donuts and back up to Liberato's.
As I passed Associated on the upswing, I noticed an older woman - in her 60's, I'd say - rummaging through the trash bags and bins there. I passed quietly, hoping to avoid contact. My conscience got the best of me as I walked away - after all, I'd already taken most of the good produce in the organic waste bin. She might need it more than me and it's a freegan principle to share. Besides, it might behoove me to meet other food rescuers in the Heights! So I turned back to meet her.
I began speaking to her in English but she quickly interrupted, "No e-speaky Spanish." I tried Spanish next and we connected. I told her that I had passed a few minutes earlier and taken a lot of the fruits and veggies; she was welcome to take some of mine if she wished. She was reluctant, but I told her it was fine, that I'd taken more than I could really handle. She grabbed a few pieces of fruit as we talked about the various items she has found in the bags next to the bins (there's always a pile of bags there, but I'd never bothered checking them out myself). We talked for a while and she was very sweet. She explained that, as a Dominican, she hates seeing so much food go to waste; the importance of untying and tying bags at the knot rather than ripping them open; finally, she offered to bring some goods and leave them outside the store for me (I'll have to retrieve them tonight).
A teenaged girl walked past as we said our goodbyes and "mucho gusto". She must have realized that the two of us had met while rescuing food. She laughed audibly. Perhaps not at us. More with us, I think. I was still rather stunned to have met another food rescuer in the neighborhood myself! The woman's reaction to the teenaged girl was a comment on the crazy people that roam these streets in the Heights.
"you think they're crazy?" I replied in Spanish, "We're the ones getting our food from these trash cans!"
We laughed and parted. I look forward to bumping into her again.
I headed up to Liberato to have a look. More onions. I was peeking into another bin when the man with the white coat approached me again. This time he had a bag of bananas in hand, presumably a bag that he was about to toss in the trash can. He handed it to me.
This is a whole 'nother level of complicity, haha!
I brought my findings home and cleaned all the produce in the kitchen sink. I chopped an onion and half of a jalapeno to add to the eggplant stew still simmering on the stove. The rest went in the fridge.
I've noticed on the various freegan list servs that there's interest in more organized food rescue in the Heights. I'll be taking steps toward making this happen - group rescue missions, meetup, an uptown chapter of Food Not Bombs, and who-knows-what-else! If there are any freegans or prospectives in uptown Manhattan, from Morningside Heights to Inwood, or even in the nearby Bronx neighborhoods, please get in touch with me and I'll let you know what we're up to... I could also use your help!
I’ve had a rough past couple days #ontheroad, which I’ll soon expound upon at my personal blog site
. But a large part of the trouble yesterday was with attacks from close friends (via facebook, ugh) on my character, worldview, and lifestyle – especially my views and praxis regarding freeganism, my sense of self-worth, and the value I place on my own art.
Caught off guard by certain harsh critiques, I posted the following on Twitter: I've this strange feeling that some friends are ashamed of me. Not for what I've done but for who I am. Not really friends? What say you?
To this one of my dearest and closest friends, infamous for his lack of tact and internet manners, replied: “Real friends expect something better. Being broke and poor is not a fashion. It's a state of mind #riseabovemediocrity.”
In the following interchange he also said: “Bitching about everything that is wrong with the world while sucking on its teat… You have basically made the choice to eat scraps of others labor and call them evil for living this way because the life you chosen for yourself is so much more fulfilling then theirs. Goddamn you are being so blind to your own bullshit. You've made your crusty bed that you made with sweatshop labor hand me downs now lie in it and dream of a revolution of beggars and complainers. #be@peace with your own hypocrisy.
[sic]When you work a 9-5 40hr a week job and buy the things that you need to get you buy, then you can judge rightly the truth that you so desperately believe
As you can imagine, I felt the need to defend myself from all of the above attacks. My defense produced some great blurbs explaining my views on freeganism, art, and evaluating self-worth. Find them here compiled and edited together for coherence.
Are you suggesting that I choose poverty because I think it's fashionable? Are you also suggesting that just because a person has more money (we both know is worthless), nicer clothes (made in sweatshops), a home, or any other modern luxury, that they are inherently better than the person who has little possessions?
I may be materially poor but I am existentially, spiritually, creatively, relationally, communally (etc) rich
. And no lack of (virtually worthless) money could change that.
I don't lead a life that results in dumpster diving for sustenance because of financial necessity or desperation. I'm not homeless or a vagrant and my state of mind is the furthest thing from poverty. I'm not a charity case, I work hard, I'm proud of my work, I'm happy with my life and my contribution to society, and I ask for nothing from anyone that I'm not willing or able to reciprocate in kind. My life is far richer than most of my supposed friends apparently understand.
Should I work some BS job that makes me unhappy and siphons my time and energy into an exploitative, consumption-driven economy solely so that I can have enough money to pay for things I don't really need?
Look, I'm all for supporting local and ethical business, farming, etc. Except that 1) it's expensive. 2) There's plenty of food to be rescued from the waste stream that 3) I don't want to end up on top of some landfill in a low-income neighborhood in Jersey while 4) thousands of people are dying of starvation and 5) so much money, man power, water, oil, and other resources have already gone into the production and transportation of said wasted goods. With these considerations in mind, nearly all the food that I eat and the clothes that I wear were either found or given to me by people who no longer wanted or needed it for whatever reason.
So if I did
have the money to buy food or clothes I would still
rescue it from the trash and probably give the money to ______ [insert non-profit organization working toward peace and justice here].
You can think what you want about the food I eat. I know that it's just as nutritious, beautiful, magical, and love-filled as yours when it's shared in community. As far as what goes into/out of my mouth: "it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person." Matt 15:11
[Which brings me to music, art, and expression.]
I don't necessarily believe that my music is solely mine. There's inspiration there - whether God, muse, community, other, or some combination. But as messenger I do consider my music, my craft, as being priceless. So I don't put a price tag on it. As you know, I put a lot of work into my music and craft and I have no qualms with offering it for free (or donations)
Be careful not to conflate your "compensation" so much over my "tips". Tips and donations are the opposite of obligation. People give me money because they want
to give (whatever their motivation), not because they have
to. And I want them to be able to listen to my music, whether they can afford a $5 donation or not. I made it for them.
Maybe that's not you. Then do you!
I was happy to pay $15 for your album. I didn't complain, ask questions, or make excuses even though it was very difficult for me to do so. Because I knew that it was worth so much more to you.
Because I love you.
Perhaps I'll buy your next album for $15 $20 or whatever. It will still
be priceless to me.
So you see: I'm not militant about this stuff and I'm not judging you or anyone else who is making their life in a noble way - especially creative people who live off their craft. We work our asses off. We're proud of our work. We're happy. And we are living the lives that we wish to live, not merely existing. We just have different means to achieving these ends. And no one need be ashamed of that.
Thus you also have no right to judge whether I am “living” or [merely] “surviving,” you have no idea the abundance of joy, peace, community, and wealth that I have. So it's not measured in dollars and cents? Big deal, you don't get to keep any of that when you're 6 feet under. And the economy is likely to collapse much sooner than that anyway. Then you'll be bartering just like I am.
I live this way because I believe that it is noble and right. Not better than anyone else, but best
. My acknowledgement need not come from mere humans and my compensation need not be measured in dollar signs. I know what I'm worth and what my work is worth and I need no other to validate it besides God herself. And S/He does.
Then other friends sent me the following encouraging messages, mostly unawares of the heated discussions occurring elsewhere on the interweb:
Gio, I think you're awesome. It is hard work to stand up against the things you think are wrong and still have as much cheer, joy, and love as you do. Keep on persevering. God has such huge plans for you, and I am inspired by your commitment to working out your salvation with fear & trembling and to cultivating your calling and gifts with diligence. I am so excited to see how He will direct your steps. Peace, bro! I'll say it again- you are awesome. You are a blessing to have on this earth!
You’re a rolling stone. Wherever you lay your hat, that’s your home.
You are like Pocahontas living with the wind and shit.
As I mentioned in a February entry, I've been living rent-free in NYC since November last year. A like-minded friend and activist offered for me to stay with him at his Inwood apartment, in exchange for about 14 hours of work around his apartment.
Though he probably would not call himself a freegan, we certainly shared many tenets in our respective worldviews and lifestyles:
- extraordinary respect for the environment and human labor
- disinterest in consumerism and needless spending
- abhorrence of waste
- compulsion to reduce and reuse consumer goods (then, at the last straw, to recycle), and to compost food waste
- commitment to and participation in our neighborhood and broader "upstate Manhattan" community - supporting local businesses, merchants, artists, and farmers
And though he may not identify as a freegan himself, I found that there were many aspects of his views and praxis that resembled Freeganism in key ways, and which I may have much to learn from. I am no longer staying at his place, but I would like to share one of the last tasks he assigned, since it was such a great example of reducing/reusing in a creative and sustainable way.
How To Make Standing Files
What you'll need:
Smaller boxes, perhaps originally for cookies or crackers, are a great size for envelopes or folded sheets of paper
Cereal boxes are generally a good size for regular 8.5/11" sheets
Measure the width of the box. For example, let's assume 6".
Holding your ruler to the side of the box (where the ingredients typically are), measure that length from the top of the box. Mark it or just take note. In our example, the 6" mark is right at the bottom of the white ingredients rectangle.
Cut that same side down both edges to the spot noted in step 2.
Fold the side back, into the box, so that it reinforces itself. Make a hard crease so that it doesn't bounce up.
Fold the front and back panels of the box into itself, reinforcing the insides. After folding, both top flaps of the box should be flush along the inside of the side panel that you did NOT cut.
Fill your new standing files with papers, notes, memos, or anything else that needs organizing.