Monday, May 15, 2006

Memories of Being Homeless – Of Food

A second important aspect of being homeless concerns food or fuel as the poet Charles Bukowski might refer to it.

You might be surprised at how kind and generous working people actually are. If you sit long enough with a pleasant disposition, many people will give you spare change even if you don’t ask. Even the business man, who has for eleven days straight, previously ignored you, may suddenly drop some change into your aluminum can. Because I did not spend money on alcohol or drugs, I usually had enough change for at least one meal a day. But you must still discipline yourself to ration any food you do acquire since you can’t be sure when you’ll eat next.

But sometimes there is no money. When you are hungry you have to look for food in the trash. Contrary to what many people believe, the dumpster is the last place to seek out food. Food in the dumpster is usually in its worst possible configuration with mold, maggots, and bacterial slime predominating.

The trick is to intercept food while it is still relatively fresh. This means going through the smaller trash receptacles in and around restaurants. In this respect, I was lucky, that not only do American restaurants serve huge portions of food, but also that Americans are very wasteful. The best strategy I found was to hover near the business district at lunch time. Many busy people are on short lunch breaks around the building squares and, eating quickly, they often dump their unfinished lunches into the trash.

You might think of this as totally disgusting. Perhaps it is, but think about it for a second. The food itself was only just being eaten moments before so it’s not rotten. Or maybe you are concerned with the fact that it was recently in contact with a stranger’s mouth and hands? That seems a fairly petty concern when one considers all the different things people do with their mouths and hands when having sex. Am I right? This is about survival afterall.

Most restaurants also have a specific time that food must be rotated off display, discarded, and then replaced by fresh product. If you could figure these times out, there was a good chance you could get to the trash bag just after it was placed in the dumpster. Back then, only a few restaurants ever locked their dumpsters.

The bottom line is this: the brain needs fuel. A good meal goes along way towards clear thinking so, if you’re going to solve problems, make sure you eat something.
- Just a peasant
Photo by Getty Images