The Cost of Free Food


A while ago, I posted about all the free food I was getting from various sources. There’s the organization that used to be called Food Not Bombs, but has since been renamed Community Solidarity. They collect food donations from individuals and stores, and give it away to anybody who has the time and energy to stand on line for it at the designated times and locations. Most of their food comes from Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s; things like cereal in dented boxes, slightly over-ripe produce, and dairy products JUST at the expiration date. Cartons of eggs invariably have some broken ones.

But it DOES take a lot out of me to get over there and stand in line, then carry all the stuff I’m given. Some people use carts to hold their food, but I don’t have one of those, and I anyway find it hard to bend down and get things in and out of the kinds of low carts that are available for purchase, and that fold up to easily fit in the car. Then, I come home exhausted, with several bags of over-ripe food that needs to be processed quickly so it doesn’t spoil. There are often fruits that need to have the bruises cut off and frozen, and vegetables that need to be cooked sooner rather than later. If there are eggs, I have to rinse off the bits of broken egg from the whole ones, and transfer to a new carton. Bread needs to be frozen right away, which sometimes means I need to reorganize the freezers to make space for it.

In short, it’s a big production, and I never know what kinds of foods I’m going to come home with. I may or may not still need to go grocery shopping to pick up a specific item or three that’s needed. Back when I had regular access to a car, it wasn’t such a big deal. I could easily pick up groceries the next day, at a time when I had energy to do so, and I often went early in the day when the stores were not crowded. But now that I no longer have my own car, I only get to borrow my Mom’s when it’s convenient for her. I may not have access to the car until I’m already tired and the stores are busier. If I go to Community Solidarity on Sunday afternoon, that means I’m not going to Costco or ShopRite on Sunday, and I may not have any way to get to the store on Monday to pick up any missing items.

The value of the foods I’m getting there isn’t necessarily worth the time and energy it takes to go. Back when Hannah was living here, we went through more food and it made more sense, especially with the gluten-free breads. She also ate a lot of vegetable soups, and random vegetables I got for free went into those.

Another source was Leah’s friend’s father, who works in food distribution for a kosher food supplier, and brings home anything that’s unsellable. There’s often meat, dairy, or fish that’s normally sold in the refrigerator case, but has been frozen at the expiration date. Most of the meat is highly processed; hot dogs and the like. Many of the packaged foods, donated due to age or damaged packaging, are also highly processed.

Leah hasn’t gone there in a while. In part, this is simply because she’s been busy. But it’s also because she doesn’t really use the kinds of foods that are available there. She’d rather go food shopping and only buy healthy foods, rather than getting free foods that she’ll end up eating because they’re there, and then not feel as good. She HAS gotten some really nice stuff there at times: canned fish, this frozen smoked salmon that she doesn’t like but really agrees with me, 4 boxes of Shabbos candles that were water damaged. She may go there again in the future; I hope she does, but it’s no longer a priority for her.

Once a year, my Mom works at her Temple’s food drive, and brings home anything that’s not good enough for the food pantry to accept. This mostly means matzoh and expired foods. If things are close enough to the expiration dates, we’ll use them happily.

This year, I took a more careful look at the foods I brought into my home. Some products might be “sort of OK” for me, but still contain small amounts of avoids. I decided that, for the sake of my health, I need to be more cautious about what I put into my body. I don’t want large quantities of “almost compliant” gluten-free bread in the house, because then I’ll be tempted to eat it. In the pile of foods we got for free, I found a 12 ounce jar of apricot jam. I decided it wasn’t worth keeping. Once I open it, I’ll be tempted to eat a lot of it so it doesn’t spoil. But when we found a half-dozen 1 ounce jars of the same jam, I kept them. I can have a small treat, and not be tempted to have more than a teaspoon or two once a week.

Anything we can’t use, we can donate to Community Solidarity. It might be too much of a hassle to go there and collect food, but I can send a Facebook message to one of their volunteers and she’ll pick it all up at my home.

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