BREAKFAST is a scam.
Retail eggs, to you and me, cost 19 cents apiece. A pancake is local-sustainable air kissed with five cents of flour and chemical leavener, and a $2 loaf of white bread with 20 usable slices means your side of toast nets out at 10 cents. Potatoes cost far less than paper towels, and two slices of bacon might go for whatever you lost between the cushions the last time you fell back onto the couch and joy-belched your first name. It's entirely possible your $10 restaurant brunch could have been made for under $1 at home, and the service—even if it were overseen by a Weimaraner who was caught in a fan belt as a puppy—would likely have been less self-obsessed, lazy, and unlikely to remember your coffee.
As an experiment in extreme thriftiness, we whipped up a meal for four using only ingredients culled from one night of digging through Portland dumpsters. We learned that the 7-Eleven on SE Hawthorne doesn't sell flashlights and balaclavas, that the pros always get there first, and that freegan is, largely, vegan.
We started in inner Southeast at 10 pm. As the last light bled from the summer sky, we found ourselves stuffing taffy-like gobs of beautiful, fully fermented, uncooked pizza dough into Value Village bags, marveling at the versatility of this bloated blank canvas.
Trekking northeast, we stopped off behind a Hollywood grocery store, slipping open a gate and sifting through the moist refuse in a giant food-waste skip, only to be rewarded with a mushy mango and a cracked, coffee-ground-slathered watermelon. The parking lot of a family-run market was a much better gamble: a quick hop in the produce aisle cast-offs turned up fresh ears of corn, a basket of beaten-up strawberries, and a full Grand Central loaf still in the bag.
On NE Alberta, the full-sized open dumpster outside the recently shuttered Siam Society turned out to be a goldmine. Rifling through the refuse of the former Thai restaurant unearthed a 10-pound bag of salt, dried noodles, fresh mint, ground coffee, hibiscus syrup, and the evening's crown jewel: an unopened bottle of Cook's champagne. High on that find, we threw open the lid of a doughnut shop bin and were immediately horrified when the beady eyes of the Western Hemisphere's three fattest rats met ours—maple bars clenched in their teeth, and bellies distended.
At the end of the night, we had a diverse assortment of bread products, soggy fruits, seasonings, and "carbon-based sparkling product," but no protein (we had left the rats). Dumpster brunch would be four starchy vegan dishes, paired with a risky cocktail.
We cut the Grand Central loaf into one-inch squares and fried them in a steadily replenished sheen of non-dumpstered olive oil (even freegans must consider stocking lipids). Then we sliced the kernels off the corn and sauteed them with chile flakes, salt, and lime juice. All that was mixed together with some curb-scored sage, and voila, a fragrant Italianate bread salad not unlike a panzanella.
Flatbreads, Pan con Tomate
Picking tiny food chunks out of the day-old pizza dough became a tense game of "Salami or Salmonella?," but after a thorough once-over, we rolled the dough into six-inch rounds and set them on a hot oiled griddle, where they puffed up into chewy, flavorful flatbread. Slices of toasted Grand Central boule rubbed with ripe tomatoes and backyard oregano became a Spanish-inspired pan con tomate.
The filthy watermelon became the best part of a cold noodle dish made with one of the several packs of rice noodles we fished from Siam Society. Since the watermelon was split and filled with digestion-impairing coffee grounds, we cut off only the safest back quarter, sliced it into chunks, and tossed it with the noodles, fresh mint, a little salt, and chopped tomato. As luck would have it, the flavors of these fruits have a remarkable affinity for one another, and the resulting self-dressed salad was actually something worth improving into a repertoire item. Toasted nuts would have been nice... and you can steal those from bars. Note: Some book Chris had been using to shim up his toilet base also said that pineapple and basil work well with tomato—so consider those options when composing your next freegan pasta salad.
For the cocktail, we blended strawberries, lychee berries (also from Siam Society), the juices of lemons, limes, and oranges, and the smushy mango for a mimosa drizzled with hibiscus syrup. Fresh citrus is ideal for dressing up nasty booze, so this came off as a nearly intentional fog cutter.
The best part of the meal? No food poisoning, no money spent, no confrontations. For zero dollars and two hours of adventuring, we had a goof that bore real fruit.
Items Found in Trash or for Free on the Night of June 11:
10 pounds of salt
4 ears of corn
2 bags of rice noodles
2 ramekins of chile flakes
1 ramekin of cinnamon
Grand Central Como loaf
Jar of lychee berries
Bottle of champagne
Half bottle of white wine
¼ pound coffee
1 cup sugar
½ cup olive oil