Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Adventures in Freeganism

I was happy to join fellow blogger, Megan of Fix, at a freegan dinner this week. Called Grub, the dinner is hosted biweekly (or maybe monthly?) by In Our Hearts and is open to anyone who chooses to wander into this out-of-the-way space in Brooklyn. My boyfriend was a confused by my interest in freeganism, and he envisioned lots of stale donuts and bagels and rotting food that would make me sick. Moreover, he argued, the quality of this food goes against your interest in eating fresh, locally grown food. Which is a good point, but I also believe in the value of keeping food out of the trash and finding ways to stem the tides of waste of our throwaway society. Adam on Wild Green Yonder has an excellent discussion of the extent of food waste in New York City, and the New York Times also recently reported on freeganism as a growing trend.

Neither I nor Megan were sure what to expect, but I was certainly pleasantly surprised by the delicious array of vegetables on the menu. It felt like one of the healthiest meals I'd eaten in a while. Not all of the food was freegan, some of it coming from someone's garden and from a CSA, in addition to grocery store dumpsters. Amazingly in all, this multicourse meal for forty people cost the hosts only $36, for which they accepted donations. We ate dinner on the roof, where there was a garden and a "lovely" view of the BQE (unfortunately I forgot to bring my camera up there). I brought along couple beers because the post said BYOB, but no one was drinking so the beers came back home with me. Proof that the world does not revolve around alcohol.

This is not to say I am about to become a freegan, although I am curious to go on a dumpster diving run and see how it goes down, how people even know where to look for the food. It was a refreshing change of pace to go out, do something on my own, meet new people - things I wish I could push myself to do more often. I enjoyed chatting and biking with Megan, and perhaps not surprisingly, I ran into a few people I know peripherally. I really liked Grub's message about "looking for practical ways to build community" because a sense of community is something that I've found lacking in New York City. I miss the time spent with friends at the cooperative dorm on my alma mater, where the residents shared the responsibilities of cooking and cleaning and ate communal dinners. After two years of post-graduate life in New York City, I still have no semblance of a community, with everyone scattered throughout the city, plans too hard to make. I didn't find a new community on Sunday night, but maybe this will motivate me to seek out more new experiences that interest me.

After dinner, many bags of lettuce and greens (from the CSA I think) and bread were leftover, and I was happy to take some away at their urging. But once home, I realized that this left me with the question of how to use up all the extra food I myself now possessed. A conundrum made worse by the fact that I'm leaving for a long vacation on Friday.
So I decided to pass on the goodwill by using all these veggies to cook dinner for a friend. Tonight, another Meagan came over, and I made a vegetarian peanut sauce stir fry. I sauteed an onion, carrot, and half a zucchini from the greenmarket in olive oil, then added baby bok choy from Grub until wilted, while lentils and rice from my pantry simmered away in separate pots. I whisked together a peanut sauce from a couple tablespoons of peanut butter, a teaspoon of tahini, a tablespoon of soy sauce, about a cup of warrm water, along with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper for a spicy kick. Once plated, I draped it in the peanut sauce and garnished the meal with sunflower sprouts from Grub. Peanut sauce stir fry was one of my favorite go-to meals in college, which I haven't made much since then, so it was nice to return to this simple (cheap!) and delicious dish.

Continuing to work through the perishables in my fridge, I also prepared myself a healthy grilled zucchini sandwich for lunch tomorrow. I sliced the other half of the zucchini, loaded it up with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and then grilled until charred and tender. I don't like zucchini much, but grilling somehow transforms it into tastiness. The zucchini strips went on a sandwich with homemade tofu cream cheese, a few basil leaves from my deck, and the rest of the sunflower sprouts.

I made the tofu cream cheese last week with my sister's guidance and wanted to use it up, since I figured it probably won't last as long as store-bought tofu cream cheese. It was easy to make by throwing half a package of tofu (pressed for an hour first) into the food processor with a couple garlic scapes, salt, pepper, a handful of almonds, a handful of parsley, several shakes of nutritional yeast, a dash of cayenne pepper, a few teaspoons of vinegar, and a few teaspoons of water too. Similar to the tofu garlic scape pesto salad, but in spreadable form. Really whatever spices you have on hand will work, and cashews can be used in place of almonds. My sister also recommends making tofu cream cheese with sundried tomatoes and herbs.
This picture is a good literal representation of where my mind frequently wanders: into the kitchen wondering what to cook next. I've now successfully eaten or cooked for later all my produce for the week, with the exception of kale from Grub, which my roommate promises me she will eat while I'm gone. I'm thinking of transforming some of it into a kale basil pesto first to take along my camping trip, but I'm not sure how long that will stay good in the cooler. So although i was unable to make any completely local meals this week for One Local Summer, Greenmarket and CSA ingredients found their way into every meal, and by participating in Grub, I helped to divert food waste from the landfill, so I'd say that balances it out.

PS. If I don't post again for a couple weeks, it's because I'm on a camping vacation in Maine, enjoying the woods, ocean, lobster, blueberries, and beer!


  1. Wow, all of these look yum yum yum! Thanks again for your company and have a great trip!


  2. Hi Julia,
    Thanks for the link! That was actually my co-author nelson's story you referred to, although I'm big into freeganism as well. Let me know if you want to tag along on one of my dumpster sessions when you get back (I'm in Wburg as well).

    - Adam

  3. Adam, thanks - i might just take you up on that when i'm back.

    cheers, julia

  4. Grub is still held twice a month. Check out for up to date information or email with questions and to join our event announcement list!