After more than a few years of bouncing around and surviving by my wits, I’ve learned a thing or two. I’ve tried to put them into a few different formats, but somehow the formatting always tends to get screwy. I’ve had more than a few adventures too and can spin out a yarn or tale with the best of them.
So what does that leave me with? Well it leaves me with some tips and tales and a ton of files, some that have been published and some that haven’t. In any event, I figure it’s time to put em somewhere and here will do…
Like Henry Miller and George Orwell, I found myself obsessed with getting my next meal when I went in for the houseless life…looking at it now, I realize that it was an obsession, the fact that fully 1/3 of Rough Living had to do with food should have told me something. As usual, be sure to go to http://www.vagobond.com http://www.facebook.com/vagodamitio or http://gplus.to/vago for more of this kind of thing….
Food: How to get the grinds
There are plenty of ways to get food if you need it. This is especially true in the United States and other ‘Western’ countries. Unless you are living in a desperately poor third world country, there isn’t much of an excuse to starve. You just have to use the brain you were born with, a little common sense, and maybe even a little bit of muscle and or wit. The following are a few ways to fill your belly. Some of them are services, some of them are scams, and some of them are street smarts. However you do it, you’re not going to starve in a Western country.
The foodbank is a free service that is privately funded in most communities to provide food to those who need it. Most of the food comes from grocery stores that would throw it away if the food bank didn’t take it. Produce that isn’t beautiful enough to buy, dented canned goods, dairy products that reach their expiration date but are still good for a week or so, and also stuff donated by local people and business. The corporate stores rarely participate. Once a month the government provides “commodities,” usually sub par, unhealthy foods like powdered milk, canned beef, and surplus applesauce. Foodbanks are a great way to eat if you don’t have money. The best thing about them is that if people don’t use them, the food goes to waste, so you’re doing a good thing by taking free food.
On most trips I’ve taken to the food bank, people are bitching about the wait for free food. I can never understand that. Don’t be one of those people.
Food Not Bombs
Food Not Bombs is a group that was born at the height of the Nuclear Protest Movement in 1980. It is organized collectively and relies on consensus decision-making. Food that is donated or saved from dumpsters is prepared into healthy vegan (no animal products) meals. Howard Zinn, the noted historian and author, describes it in the forward to the Food Not Bombs handbook by C.T.Lawrence Butler and Keith McHenry.
“The message of Food Not Bombs is simple and powerful: no one should be without food in a world so richly provided with land, sun, and human ingenuity. No consideration of money, no demand for profit, should stand in the way of any hungry or malnourished child or any adult in need. Here are people that will not be bamboozled by “the laws of the market” that say only people who can afford to buy something can have it.”
Zinn goes on…”They point unerringly to the double challenge: to feed immediately people who are without adequate food, and to replace a system whose priorities are power and profit with one meeting the needs of all human beings.”
I‘ve been to lots of FNB feedings. They are good, social events. The food is usually served in a white plastic tofu container. I”ve had salad and vegetable soup. There was also Guacamole and sourdough bread from a local bakery. Forty or fifty people usually get fed. There are lots of hands helping the FNB folks unload and then pack it back up. A couple of bags of clothing get handed around and shared throughout the meal. It is inspiring. Most of the people who were eating were the homeless people you don’t really notice when you’re downtown during business hours. They were crackheads, bagladies, and spare changers. They picked through the clothing occasionally making an exclamation of delight as they found something that would keep them warm or that appealed to them. Everyone sat around having discussions with the people they knew, meeting new people, and overall behaving exactly as anyone behaves as they get food at a picnic or barbecue. It was an atmosphere of respect and human dignity.
Many churches and missions have regularly scheduled free meals. People who volunteer their time to make the world a better place cook most of these meals. Most meals I’ve had at churches or missions were cooked and served with love. If you have one of these meals, please take the time to thank the people that serve you.
Food stamps are as simple to get as having valid ID and an address and phone number in most states. All you have to do to get food stamps is go to the office, jump through some administrative hoops, and claim to be homeless (whether you are or not). I’ve heard numerous stories of people taking advantage of the generousness of food stamp programs. I’m all for it. I would rather see the money go there than to building new prisons or supporting the wars on drugs or terror (or anything else we’ve had a war against in my lifetime.)
A lot of people don’t like using food stamps. I’m one of them. I prefer to struggle a bit rather than have the state provide for me. After all, I’m a healthy, somewhat intelligent man, in my early thirties. Don’t get me wrong though, I’ve used food stamps to get me through tough times. I’ll do it again if I need to.
I’ve read reports that claim Americans throw away enough material goods every day to feed, clothe, house, and educate everyone in this country. I believe it. Most grocery stores throw away produce that is perfectly edible but not visibly appealing enough. Dairy products are usually good well beyond the ‘sell by’ date on them but are thrown away anyway. If you get to know the restaurants in a certain area you can pull unsold hamburgers, donuts, or fried chicken out of the trash with the wrappers still on. I’ve had burgers from the dumpster that were completely wrapped and still hot. It’s all about knowing your dumpsters. Successful dumpster divers usually have rounds and sometimes if you hit a dumpster that is on someone’s established rounds they can react as if you are robbing them. If this happens to you, my advice is to simply apologize and offer to give back what you’ve taken from that dumpster. You never know, that diver might end up a friend that can show you where the best dumpsters for clothes, food, and other things are.
I’ve only done this a few times, but it works if you’re hungry and have no other option. If you go to a self-cleanup kind of restaurant, the kind of place where you put your dishes in a bin before you leave, you can usually find large uneaten portions sitting on plates. It’s unsavory, to say the least, but if you hang out for a bit and watch you can usually find someone who eats nearly nothing from their plate and looks clean enough to alleviate any fears of catching a rare disease.
As a youngster I did a lot of shoplifting. I don’t recommend it. The risks are too high. If you’re going to shoplift there are a few ways to minimize the risk involved. One method is to have a baggy coat with big pockets and to slyly slip a few items in while you shop. I used to buy something trivial with my pockets loaded to alleviate any suspicion. The problem with shoplifting goes beyond morality to the fact that in all likelihood, you will get caught.
My good friend George Hush was an expert shoplifter for years. He had taken literally thousands of dollars in food and clothing without ever coming close to getting caught. One day he was in the grocery store and saw a 99-cent package of fresh herbs that he thought would go well with some pasta he was going to cook. With a casualness born from years of lifting he dropped them in his pocket.
Seconds later a hand clamped down on his shoulder and he was quickly escorted to the managers office where he was made to wait until a police officer arrived before being told anything. He was charged with theft, banned from that store for a year, (it was the store with the best deals on beer too!) and had to pay a hefty fine. All in all, it would have been a lot better for George if he had bought those herbs.
If you are at all familiar with the plants that grow in your area, you can probably survive. In the Pacific Northwest you can get by eating dandelions, nettles, and blackberries. In Hawaii you can live on coconuts, guavas, mangos, and taro. In other places you can go to the library or a bookstore (you don’t have to buy the book!) and usually find books on what grows wild and is edible. It’s amazing how many ‘weeds’ are actually nutritious and delicious