Rekindle Your Wild Joy and sense of deep Belonging through spiritual ecopsychology and the arts, incl. bioregional awareness, animistic perspectives, strategies for simple living, & low/no-tech DIY fun.

Scrounging Free Food April 19, 2010

Money tight right now?  One of my strategies has been to become an opportunivore.

While I can indeed exist on rice and beans, PBJ, and such, I do not really enjoy such meager repetitive fare day after day, being a spoiled-rotten American who loves to eat. Plus I’m a woman of A Certain Age, which means well past the I-can-thrive-on-Top Ramen,-no-problem stage of life.  However, like many of you DIYers, I am resourceful. I can bake my own bread from scratch, make and home-can my own applesauce and cider from nearby Gravenstein apple trees, make yogurt from a little starter bit, cook up some mighty fine roadkill, and brew cordial from stolen pears or green walnuts. At the ground of this success is Coyote, Raccoon and Magpie medicine: walking the path of the Scroungemeister.

Here are some recent gleanings.



It’s Spring in Sonoma County! This means abundant greens for the taking. Here you see salad makings from a few minutes’ picking from my back yard: plantain, young dandelion greens, and (pictured below) my absolute favorite: miner’s lettuce. Sweet crunchy yumminess wildcrafted from a gleefully neglected lawn.



Most folks would call these delicious edibles “weeds.” Ha! Go ahead and think that way. Pay $6 a pound for mixed salad greens that were picked Demeter knows how long ago. All the more free, extremely fresh salad for those in the know, like my neighbor pictured below wearing a sourgrass-eating smile.



Around here, late winter & early spring means rain, and besides mud and flood, rain means mushrooms! Yahoo!

These are Elfin Saddles. They’re so weird looking that even if I get there after lots of other mushroom hunters have plundered the chanterelles and porcini and other charismatic megafungi, I can generally find them.

Pungent Slippery Jacks are the same way: easy to come by because not only are they not the most choice to taste, they’re kind of scary to the eye with their slimy tops and spongy chartreuse underbellies. But both they and Elfin Saddles taste darned good when sauteed up in an omelette with butter and garlic.  (Of course, linoleum would taste good if sauteed up in enough butter and garlic.)


(Disclaimer: Please do not eat wild fungi without knowing exactly who they are! As the old saw goes, “there are old mushroomers and bold mushroomers, but no old, bold mushroomers.”)


Then there are human sources of free chow. We live in an incredibly rich and wasteful country, even now with the empire’s economy tanking. I am amazed at what abundance I can glean from a late-night trip behind a grocery store. Among other delicacies, I’ve found green vegetables like broccoli and lettuce, onions, perfect tomatoes, fancy cheeses, bread, oranges, blackberries, and a few lovely flowers for the table. Once I even found coffee beans.

Pictured here are the results of one brief foray last summer. Most of it is organic. All I had to do was pick off some withered outside leaves, cut off small bruised portions of certain fruits or pick out and toss the few berries that were beginning to mold, then wash everything I wanted to keep. This is not very different from what I do with produce I purchase.

Dumpster diving is an eye-opening urban sport. I find it quite a mixed bag. Some grocery stores guard their garbage like it was diamonds, locking it up behind high fences. Others, like our local Whole Foods, have it out in the open but wrap the 20 or more full cardboard boxes in wide, heavy plastic wrap, making them hard to get into and also adding unnecessarily to the Pacific garbage patch. I feel sort of torn about this: I want to advocate that the company knock it off, but in doing so, I’ll out myself as one of those nocturnal divers who desecrates it! After all, how else would I know about it?

Out of my samplings from our area, I rate Oliver’s Market in Cotati to be the best. At times, I’ve found grocery carts thoughtfully placed outside the back door near their dumpsters, with slightly bruised or close-to-expiration but quite edible food arranged in them for easy and clean picking. They get Indigenize’s Green Scouts award for this out-of-the-norm ecologically sound, rebellious, and kind practice.

If you decide to dumpster dive, please be extremely respectful.

Do not leave a mess. Put anything you don’t want back into the boxes, preferably not placing squished or rotten bits on top of edible food. This makes it easy and pleasant for the next diver. If you empty a box, either take it with you or flatten it and place it with the other cardboard recycling. Pile the boxes back up the way you found them, and close them up again. If you cut into that execrable plastic wrap, put it back over the top of the hole when you’re done so the contents do not fall out, making the garbage people have to clean things up after you.

These small attentions will make it more likely for the store to continue to turn a blind eye to our scrounging – which, after all, contributes to our full, happy bellies and wallets, to a healthier ecosystem with less waste and smaller landfills, and to the businesses’ bottom line as well, as there’s now less trash they have to pay to remove.

My little gleaning pales next to the hauls that David Cohen finds. His “Dumpster Dividends” (see example on right) are Olympian in magnitude. How many people would it take to eat that much? I struggled to give away one boxful of tomatoes.

That’s another good thing about scrounging: even in strained financial times, a big windfall like this can turn you into Ms. or Mr. All-Providing Beneficence. Would you like some fresh organic strawberries? And as we know, a hand that’s open to give is also thereby poised to receive. Good things come when energy in all forms, including food, flows freely.


There’s something very satisfying about finding and making our own foods and medicines for free. Not surprisingly, an increasing number of folks are trying it out. After all, it’s part of our heritage: gatherers, hunters, and fisherfolk have done this for thousands of years! I hope this post has inspired some good scrounging experiences to come into your life. Please share your own stories and tips.

The roadkill recipes will have to wait for another post.