What do you do about rising food cost?

As a kid my parents would throw me into a dumpster to look for discarded food. There were only three of us and while we were not bad off if there was anything better than cheap it was free. I would pull out bags of oranges that had not gone bad, boxes of pasta past their shelf date, and in one instance a plastic bag filled with leavened dough from the local little Caesar’s. We spent an entire day baking loaves of bread, bread sticks, and storing away what wasn’t used in the freezer.

I learned early on that food goes to waste at an unprecedented level in this country. The store we were dumpster diving at was a Harding’s grocery store in an upscale neighborhood. This store didn’t bother with a clearance section to move old product. Anyone who bought from such a section would be judged for having financial problems, instead of looked up to for being thrifty. So these things were thrown into the dumpster and written off in their books as a loss for a bonus tax break.

Before I started a 30 day social media and news fast a story popped up regarding a Fred Meyer in Portland Oregon who called the police to stop people from jumping into their dumpster at night. A dozen cops showed up and stopped a group of people from searching through the dumpster for food to salvage. I have several issues with this. Store employees were standing guard at the dumpster to make sure nobody was able to climb into it. When the crowd became too big they called the police to protect their “trash.” A dozen police officers stood guard for an hour and a half making sure nobody went into the dumpster. As a business I have to assume that whatever they had thrown away was worth more than the pay of the police officers and what their staff was paid to watch over a dumpster instead of moving and selling product in the store to make a profit. If that is the case, why wasn’t the food in that dumpster donated to a local food pantry instead of tossing it into a dumpster? There has never been a case of a business being sued for donating food to a pantry.

Before the death of Anthony Bourdain, he produced a documentary called Wasted, it wasn’t about drug abuse but how all over the world food is wasted and what we can do about it. People were interviewed about dumpster diving, food was collected to feed to pigs at farms, composed was created for farmers, the list grew as to how this Waste could be used for a greater good.

The current situation of inflation and rising food cost is going to make life difficult for those who can not afford the cost. Solutions will need to be found and whether it is growing your own food or diving into a dumpster people will need to do something.

There are two stores in my area that sell food at a discount compared to major supermarkets. The first one we found is called Cadillac Marketplace. They not only sell food but other products that have sat on store shelves so long they are throw into a tractor trailer and sold to the store at a low fixed price. Protein bars that are usually $3 I buy for $.10 and boxes of cereal sell for $1. Bags of Starbucks and Bulletproof coffee sell for $4 when they are usually $10-$15. The first time I went to this store I walked out with two banana boxes filled with food for $75. A few weeks ago the owners of this store bought a load of food that included cases of MREs (meals ready to eat) brand new and sealed shut. With Covid-19 and the lockdowns MREs have been in short supply and they regularly sell on Amazon for $120 for a single box to $300 for two depending on what you get. The individual bags appeared on the shelves and I started to fill the cart. When the owner noticed me, he said that he had a pallet in the back and he wanted to move it out to save space. I bought six boxes for $10 each.

In a nearby town called McBain there is a small Amish store called Pineview. We had heard about it from the neighbors and decided to check it out. This place ended up being twice the size we thought it was when we pulled up. The frozen food section was massive, carrying the over stock of meat and produce usually shipped to restaurants and stores. We found everything from lunch meat ham, breakfast sausage, Greek yogurt, cheese, and bacon for $1 each. It was even cheaper if you bought it by the case. The first time we went I threw a box of Cornish hens in the cart for $10. These were Tyson brand and the last time I saw them at the local Meijer they were 2 for $8. Protein bars were mix and match 10 for $1. Pasta and Rice hovered around $1. We found large containers of Bolthouse Farms eggnog for $1, it doesn’t expire until March of 2021. At the end of the trip, we filled two carts, that turned into six banana boxes filled with food, and paid $120. For the first time since buying our freezer chest it now full.

I’m not sure how the Amish do it. I don’t know why these items are offered at one store but guarded by police at another. I remember watching a show with Andrew Zimmerman about people who go dumpster diving in Seattle then take the items they collected and cook it into a meal that was handed out to the homeless via a food truck. Even though nobody was made sick, countless people were fed at no cost to anyone other than the volunteers, the city shut it down for health code violations. It would appear that good Samaritan laws do not apply to feeding the homeless.

With the amount of food that is wasted in this country, even under mandate by the state, it is safe to say that this trend will continue. The Amish and stores like the Cadillac Marketplace won’t have a hard time filling their shelves. Food will continue to go into the landfills while people go hungry unable to pay ridiculous prices. The only way I can think to counter the cost of produce is to grow your own. To expand on that idea is to have people grow enough for themselves and more for their neighbors. If people grew produce on their property it would take a burden off of the grocery stores. We have seen this happen before after the fall of the USSR. Cuba told its people to grow food where ever they could find land. If you were growing food, the land was “yours.” People didn’t starve, they ate better than they had before, and the country moved on.

Texas is currently experiencing a food shortage. The state of abundance, vast swaths of land, cattle, and of course FREEDOM, is going through something many people in our country have never seen before. Store shelves are bear and with the power grid down the food supply chain us unable to move. Everything is literally frozen in place. This is why we should not only be filling pantries with food that have a long shelf life, but learning to preserve food that we grow. Fresh is best but food, regardless of the quality, is better than starving.

I read a story about a man who filled his bathtub during the blackout and woke up the next morning to find all of his drinking water frozen into a block of ice. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know how people can expect something that rare to happen and prepare for it. Some of the videos I watch told me that in Texas they didn’t even know where their water main shutoff was when a pipe burst in their house. Maybe I’m lucky with where I live. I have seen 120 degrees weather in Michigan. I saw -40 degrees last winter. I’m poor enough to work on my own house and know where the circuit breaker is, the water shut off, and fire extinguishers are assorted where a fire might break out. To me these things are common sense. If I was living in Texas, I wouldn’t know what to do if I spotted a scorpion in my house, came across a rattle snake in my yard, or was charged by a wild boar. We do have bears though.

Rising food prices are here. There is no more speculation of what might happen. The Federal Reserve is printing money like it is the die off of the beanie baby bubble. The stock market is inflated from the influx of money. With a food shortage looming and the value of the dollar declining we will start to see prices we have never seen before. Kiss organic food goodbye, nobody will be able to afford it. Even with the ability to buy food becoming harder for the majority of people some governments are making it more difficult to survive. In the UK the health inspectors are cracking down on people growing and/ or preparing food in their homes and selling it to neighbors.  They are now proposing that people caught doing this without a license could face 2 years in prison for feeding people. This would include your local tamale lady who is just trying to make a couple extra bucks. Could we see the closing of places like Pineview and the Cadillac Marketplace in the future? I would not be surprised if the government stepped in and said that cutting more food out of the market during the time of a shortage was for our own good. “We are the Government and we are here to help.” Cringe.

We as individuals need to be creative. We need to learn how to make the most out of the food we have and relearn tools that our ancestors had only a few decades ago. There was a time, not that long ago, when food wasn’t cheap. We have had it good for a long time now due to cheap oil. The world is changing and as a species we need to adapt to it. While the powers that be think they can implement a policy that will cover all places and cultures, they are horribly wrong. Texas is a prime example.  People in local areas need to figure out the best way to make it in the new world that is coming. Where I live the land is rolling hills, the soil is filled with clay, water pools into ponds everywhere, and we have constant wind. There is a lot of cattle and livestock here. Dairy farms are a dime a dozen. Rolling hills of wheat and corn are common. Move closer to the lake and you will find grape vines and hops growing in fields. One policy will not fix a state, or a country. It is beholden of the individual to figure out the best measure to work through this. The only people that can help us in the future is ourselves.


From the Cabin

1-19-2021 Vol 1 Issue 2

Politics: Only a few days before the presidential election in Washington DC the FBI is now trying to vet the 25,000 national guard troops stationed in DC. Fear has risen that a person or group within the national guard might try to commit a terrorist attack during the election. While vetting FBI agents during the hiring process is a long and involved investigation, the current vetting is based on the loyalty towards the current president Donald Trump.

The House of Representatives has voted to impeach President Trump a second time. He is currently the only president to be impeached twice. The senate has not voted for the impeachment yet and if it passes the hearing will be scheduled for after the inauguration to keep Trump from running for president again in 2024.

Economics: A run on freezers for food storage has increased the price for copper to $10,000 a ton, a sharp spike from previously lower prices. Fear of food shortages are raising the demand for food storage abilities in the United States.

Gold: $1840.20 troy ounce

Silver: $25.26 troy ounce

Platinum: $1,091.20 troy ounce

Copper: $3.60 Pound

US National Debt $27,810,170,000,000

Debt per citizen: $84,025

 Food: Post Brexit UK is not seeing food disappearing from super market shelves as the importing of goods has been shut down from Europe and other parts of the world due to Covid-19. During 2020 the UK shut down several farms from Covid-19 infections limiting the production of food throughout the country. During a normal year the island country of the United Kingdom can produce for 10 million people. The current population is 66.65 million. Without food being imported the UK will run out of any food within a few weeks.

Chaos and Riots have broken out in China from the rising cost and limited supply of food. The Chinese government have tripled their import of Corn from the US, going from 7m tonnes to 22 m tonnes by the end of 2020. The higher price of rice has made things difficult for the Chinese as well since the cost of a freighter has doubled and when rice is ordered from other countries it takes 3-4 months for the order to arrive.

The import and export of good have been halted for many countries. Russia shut down the export of all grains raising the prices on the world market. The hopes of food joining the market from South America were crushed after a season long drought from a La Nina that kept rain from falling on the fields.

While commodities prices around the world have risen, they have remained the same in the US while China buys whatever is available on the market. Only after the Department of Agriculture released information that Soy numbers were much lower that they originally anticipated the price of soy did not rise a substantial amount.

Due to the coming shortage of food in China the government has implemented food waste laws punishing people with huge fines for buying too much food or throwing away any food. Dumpsters are under the surveillance of cameras and keep track of who is throwing items away and how much. Face identification software is being used for the documentation of who is throwing away food.

Self-defense: Many states at the moment are starting the year with new gun bills being brought before local governments. Texas has 16 bills, ranging from Castle Doctrine changes to the limited size of magazines. New York state is trying to make it illegal for citizens to own bullet proof vests. On the agenda for the Biden administration is making the online sale of ammo illegal and the banning of firearms. As Kamala Harris said during a presidential debate, “I don’t understand why we can’t do this through Executive order.” Biden did reply, “it’s because we have a constitution.” But this doesn’t mean it will actually be followed during his administration.

In Germany, the government is building detention centers, camps, for people who violate the Covid-19 lockdown orders. If someone has violated the current orders dictated by the state they will be arrested and taken to these centers. It isn’t clear if this is to quarantine the individual for 2 weeks to see if they are infected or to re-educate the individual to follow the rules.

Editorial: While starting this newsletter I have gone back into my library and pulled out a few documentaries about collapse. There is the informative book by Jared Diamond that does a great job of outlining how societies collapse. Then I re-read Michael Ruppert’s book Collapse.

Years later, it’s obvious that Ruppert was ahead of his time, knowing what was to come. Back then I thought there was a chance to change things and maybe prevent what was to come. These days I accept where things are going and try to do little things to make sure myself and my family can learn to adapt and get through this.

At the local dollar store I found a rack of vegetable seeds, 4 for $1. I picked up several packs and added them to the seed bank I have accumulated over the years. A local discount food outlet had boxes of MREs for $12. I bought 6 boxes and stored them away just in case. Plans are coming along for the remodeling and repairs for the root cellar attached to the house. Compost bins slowly fill up over the winter months to create top soil for the garden to come.

When you grow to accept that there is nothing you can do to change what is happening all over the world there is some comfort in taking command of your own journey and trying to make it as pain free as possible. When pain does come your way learn from it the best you can.

-Matthew Gilman



Adventures in Cooking: Part 7

Theft was common in the kitchen, from personal items to screwed up orders for the sake of a free meal this was something that happened almost every day. I’m not proud of some of the things that happened and while I could make excuses it would just mean that I had learned nothing over the years. Free meals were not a perk of the job, if you ate during your shift you had to pay for that meal. The only exception to the rule was picking up a shift or working a double. Then the sandwich was written off as a loss and added to the books. That was how strict management was about their records. They accounted for every sandwich, tomato, French fry, and napkin. You were not allowed to throw anything away and the five second rule was in full effect, I learned that the hard way.
It was a busy afternoon when I made my first mistake at the deep fryer. It wasn’t some of the funny stuff like dropping car keys into the oil or reaching into the oil to pick something up, both actually happened to other people while I was there. There was an order for a fried chicken sandwich and while transporting the tenders to the bun I dropped one on the floor. Thinking nothing of it I picked the tender up and tossed it in the trash. In less than three seconds I had Nate Dawg and Meagan yelling similar phrases at me. “What the hell are you doing?” “Motherfucker what is wrong with you?” “Now we have to wait for one fucking piece of chicken to cook, god damn it!”
“Dude, it was on the floor. What the hell did you want me to do?”
“Five second rule motherfucker, five seconds!”
I had never heard of this rule before. While it is a common thing to say these days there wasn’t a movie called Waiting and Anthony Bourdain’s book had not reached the poor cashless hands of minimum wage cooks in a Midwest fly over town. Food network didn’t talk about the five second rule and seeing how the floors looked there was no way I would want that on my sandwich.
“You pick it up and put it back in the deep fryer a few seconds dumbass.” I could see that Nate Dawg was going to be an understanding patient father figure one day.
In the restaurant world throwing that chicken away was theft. That kind of loss we tried to stay away from, but there was another kind that we would take advantage of a few days before payday or when we weren’t able to eat before work. This was the mystery order.
So, you have a series of orders that come in and the tickets line up above the counter. You put down all the orders on the grill and start working but you “accidently” add onions or cheese or something that was requested not to be on the sandwich, so you start another one right away and cook the original in the event that a ticket will come through asking for that item. Secretly, you are hoping that doesn’t happen and you make all the plates, setting them under the heat lamp and watch as all of them disappear until there is only one left. The one that you purposely made for yourself. Oops.
It might take twenty minutes but eventually a manager would appear and see the sandwich with congealed cheese resting on top and the fries as cold as a day-old dog turd. The sandwich would only look appetizing to the person who has been eyeballing it that whole time.
“What the hell is this?” the manager would ask and shoulders would shrug in the kitchen. Sometimes to teach us a lesson they would take the sandwich for themselves and still write it off in the books as a loss.
Other tricks we learned when we were trying not to cut one another in our Hangry state was to sneak a curly fry or two and squirt some mayonnaise on them. We thought we were hot shit because that was how the Europeans ate them. I have to say they are onto something. I packed on some pounds during that time and the fries added up quickly.
I would take advantage of the free sandwich for a shift policy and the manager quickly caught on that an extra slice of bacon was added here and that the cheese was liberally put on top there. Soon it was policy for another cook to do the order and the person it was being made for was officially on lunch.
Some of the other tricks the place had to save money was to take bread that was a few days old and cut it up into their fried snacks. The flat bread is cut into triangles in its stale state and then tossed into the deep fryer. Afterwards the crunchy snacks are placed in a bin and covered in salty spices.
These tricks stuck with me. At first, I thought that these people couldn’t get any cheaper but over the years I learned how smart some of these things are. For example, once in a while I like to buy a rotisserie chicken. Most people will think that once you take the meat off the rest is garbage. That is far from the truth. The last couple of years I have spent learning how to make ramen noodles. The broth is the most important part and I can tell you that the bones and left overs from a rotisserie chicken make an excellent broth in a pressure cooker. The left over remains of vegetables that were not used can make soup stock. Those stems you tore off the Swiss chard, that can be sautéed in butter and eaten as a side dish. There isn’t much in a kitchen that can’t serve another purpose.
Life was hard working in a restaurant and while we could say that we were making more than the $5.15 an hour that was minimum wage at the time we barely made enough to pay rent and buy food. I felt bad for the people who were trying to support families and one guy was arrested when the managers figured out that he was stealing food from the walk in cooler and taking it home. $7.15 an hour isn’t going to feed a wife and two kids. Hell, according to the financial office at the local community college I made too much to qualify for financial aid. I could barely live but I made too much money. I was even told to “have a kid” if I wanted to qualify.
The desperation at times hit everyone. We had a guy who had just started and he was in the back working as our new dish bitch. He was quiet and didn’t talk to anyone. One of the waitresses had come into work while the guy was getting ready to leave and about two hours later her bank was calling her on the restaurant’s line.
“Are you at the Meijer on Westnedge right now?” the bank asked.
“No, I’m at work.” she replied.
“Somebody is trying to buy a big screen TV at the Meijer with your debit card.”
Being a single mother with two kids, the waitress freaked out and ran up the stairs to the locker room and found the card missing from her purse. She called the police and the store had the new dish bitch on camera trying to buy the TV. What had tipped off the bank was that the credit card feature was tried first and the waitress didn’t have it activated. She could only use the debit feature. So, the bank stopped the card and the guy ended up walking away from the register without buying anything.
The next day the guy came into work trying to act like nothing had happening. The rest of us were ready. I had sharpened all of the knives. Nate Dawg brought a baseball bat. Junior had a set of brass knuckles he wore in the kitchen just for the right moment. Even Jeremy found a pitchfork and we had no idea where that had come from. We waited for the signal and instead the Portage police arrived and cuffed the dish bitch tossing him into the back seat of the cruiser and the waitress pressed charges. Had he used the debit feature he would have walked away with the television and her rent check would have bounced. Being divorced and taking care of two kids she was not putting up with any man’s bullshit.
There was a time when I thought to myself, if they just paid more, people wouldn’t have to steal. But they took the job, they knew what they were in for, and sure maybe they thought it was going to be temporary and something else would come along. The clock is always ticking and being in jail is no way to pay your bills, or feed your family. There are times, sometimes long stretches, when life sucks. Looking back those are the moments I remember best. I have never read an interview with a famous band where they brag about the women they slept with or all the money they had. The things they talk about are the nights spent on the hotel room floor, flipping coins to see who gets the bed. Spending the night in the house of some psycho fan. The van breaking down and pushing it to the next town. The hard times are there for a reason and they teach you who you can be and encourage you not to return there ever again. Unfortunately, there are those people that thrive on that shit and will sabotage themselves to stay in that place until they have finally had enough, but sometimes that place is home and they have learned that the only way to enjoy life is to embrace the suck.
To Be Continued…