I started not to write this piece- not because I feel any shame about my approach to survival and prepping, but largely because I will be misunderstood or dismissed- as I have been whenever I try to enlighten friends and co-workers of the needh to have a survival plan. But I feel it may help others who are not wealthy enough to buy thousands of dollars worth of MREs or hundreds of pounds of hard red wheat and a grinder… and frankly, because I do not welcome the competition for my supply of food and supplies.
Many years ago I began prepping for Y2K. Nothing happened then, but the exercise was of undeniable importance in my life. I had been keeping a pantry for years, because being self-employed leads to a life cycle of feast or famine. At least for me.
I used the last of the dry goods and kerosene from my Y2K prep stash in early 2011.
I provide services for businesses now. My job involves a lot of driving, and a lot of contact with grocery stores. I discovered a long time ago that grocery stores, drug stores, and discount stores throw away tons of usable and consumable food and other necessities. Gleaning these supplies takes some work and the willingness to deal with a little mess, but for me it has been well worth it. I bet I haven’t spent a hundred bucks for grocery items in over two years- mostly for cooking oil and spices.
Just this last week I have put up 13 pints of homemade Rotel, 20 pounds of peaches, 100 or so pounds of stew meat, and quantities of canned salsa, tomatoes, etc, etcetera, all free.
As a side note: saving money on food, light bulbs, shampoo, etc., has allowed me to spend a lot more on firearms, ammo, and other important items. I now have three freezers and three refrigerators full of food- not to mention the flour, sugar, and other dry goods I have stored, all free. In the process of doing so, I have provided a lot of food to several needy families who understand what I do, and are grateful for the assistance.
As another side note, this will be the first year I have grown a garden in my new home, due to all the time I have spent on another project that took months to complete- but all I grow this year will be canned and/or shared with others. I have been saving heirloom seeds for years, and have now gathered enough old tires to grow vegetables here- the soil is shallow and requires me to do raised bed gardening.
I keep chickens for the eggs, although I get enough free eggs that I give away tons of them through the year. Cartons of eggs with one broken are thrown out every week. I wash the eggs, repack the whole ones in the cartons, and put the cracked ones in plastic tubs for immediate use as omelets or scrambled eggs or to use in batters or breads.
So, the rest of this piece will essentially be a guide to dumpster diving, and a guide to harvesting the fantastic wealth of consumables that are available to those who will seek out these sources. Understand this- if I made enough money to buy AR-15s, MREs, and Mountain House entrees- I probably would. I don’t. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t be prepared for disasters or lean times. I just had to find a way to make use of what is available to me- a willingness to do what I can to survive, and the knowledge that free food is out there for those willing to glean it. And isn’t that what survival prepping is all about? Learning to make the best use of skills and resources, learning new skills, and possibly making do with what you have when the time comes? It may not be the ideal way, but it works for me and mine, and it is what I can do. Also, there is a certain satisfaction in enjoying a fine, nourishing meal of the best kind–free.
On to the specifics.
I get tons of produce. It is generally just fine, but may have a few blemishes, like the produce you would get from an organic garden. I determined long ago that I like fruits and veggies on the very ripe side, as it tastes best. One good example- bananas with spots are much tastier than ones that aren’t much past green- but produce that needs to be used immediately isn’t saleable in a grocery store!
Another thing: veggies that are sold in prepackaged sacks, like potatoes and onions, apples and oranges, are thrown out if just one of them gets mashed or is less than perfect. All of the others in the bag are still perfectly good. Potatoes, onions, turnips, etc, that sprout are also thrown out. I get my seed potatoes and onions this way. Every time a shipment of greens- turnip, mustard, collards- arrives, the last shipment is thrown out. Greens are a vital source of vitamins and minerals in your diet! I use one of my water bath canners about twice a week to process greens for freezing.
Last year I got almost a hundred pounds of free flour that had been damaged by a fork lift. I froze the flour for two weeks to kill any weevils, then packed it in five gallon buckets for storage.
Now about meat. This will take some extra time to discuss.
Every week I get a lot of meat that is thrown out because it is near or past its sale date. Some of it is not consumable, and this I feed to the dogs. Their guts are designed by God for the purpose of consuming scavenger fodder. The vast majority of the hamburger I get is slightly brown, but perfectly useable. I freeze it, and when I get enough, can it as chili (no beans) or plain burger. The meats that require careful consideration are chicken and pork. Any that is questionable is fed to the dogs- they love it. Meats that are heavily preserved, like sausage and wieners, are usually good. Just recently, I got 90 pounds of hot dogs! I put up many quarts of pickled wieners, and made a Boston Baked Bean sauce and canned the rest with that. Add that to some cooked dry beans, and you have beanie-weanie.
Now I want to deal with the greatest source of protein that I have found. Every butcher shop throws out lots of what I call “tailings” every week. This is fresh beef and pork, and consists of cuts that are not perfect, and so cannot be sold, and the leftovers after cutting that aren’t complete enough to package and sell. This free meat is fresh and good, but does require some effort and a sharp knife to harvest. I have to trim away fat, gristle and bone to get all of it- but I get a lot of perfectly good “soup” meat this way- cut up like “stew beef”. Any hunter who has processed his own deer will know what I’m talking about. You can get the back strap, loins, and roasts easily enough, but you have to work for the remaining meat- although beef and pork doesn’t have all the “striffin” that venison does.
Unfortunately, this free meat is not best harvested all year ’round- unless you happen to be there when it is discarded. In the summer months, the likelihood of rapid spoilage becomes a factor.
Incidentally, all the venison I have harvested for the last few years has also been “free”- road kill that I have picked up. It helps to be able to tell how long an animal has been dead, and there are actually books on the subject to help the novice determine just that. [JWR Adds: But note that collecting road kill is illegal in many states.]
The last area to address is that of nonfood consumables, like shampoo and light bulbs. Like bagged produce, when a package of bulbs has been dropped and one is broken, then all are usually discarded. Drug stores and the like frequently throw out large quantities of shampoos and conditioners. I have years worth of these items stashed away- free for the taking.
Now for some details on the practicality of dumpster diving. Some stores will absolutely prosecute you for doing so. Wal-Mart is one of them. As for most of the grocery stores I hit- at one time or another I have been “caught” in the act of harvesting their refuse. I just speak to the employee in very friendly terms about how this harvesting saves me so much money on the feed bill for my “hogs” and usually they are very receptive about my future harvesting of their refuse. The “hogs” I’m referring to are, of course, of the two-legged variety. I never mention that, and it bothers my conscience not one iota to withhold that detail. My feeling is that they need know no more than that about my life and circumstances. Having to explain why you’re in a dumpster can be a bit awkward, for lack of a better word. But no more so than being caught swiping a bit of the icing off the cake before the guests arrive… In the times to come, I may be faced with situations that force decisions of even greater gravity, and if so I will feel blessed if all it costs me is an awkward moment. I’m sure everyone is eventually faced with a choice they would rather not make, but must to ensure their family’s well being. If I let a little thing like feeling embarrassed stop me from procuring supplies, I won’t be very adequate in my attempts to stop the coming tyranny from destroying my family and should join those who are relying on God alone to save them from starvation and/or persecution. Yes, I rely on Him. But I still have to do my part. Just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.
Well, there you have it. This is how I have managed to save up a couple of years of survival goods for me and mine.
I hope it provides at least one family with the insight on a way to be prepared for the worst without having a lot of disposable income.
May God be with us all.