Desperate Dining, by Prepared Pamela


Billions of people have been affected by the global coronavirus pandemic. Some are worse off than others, but each of us has been touched by this disaster. Many individuals have been left homeless, barely surviving without adequate shelter or food. Fifty million Americans in the United States go to bed every night hungry. We are all affected by the supply chain issues, lack of provisions and high prices. Unfortunately, 40% of the food produced annually is discarded. Our country throws away tons of viable food that is considered no longer consumable, only garbage. It is disposed of in landfills. Farmers are still paid to grow and then discard crops. Millions of people are starving in spite of a plethora of food.

If you are homeless, then there are many options to find nutrition in an urban, suburban, or rural environment without compromising your health. Even if you are not homeless, these suggestions may help relieve a tight budget. I describe a few possibilities in this article. Please consult your medical advisor before trying any of these suggestions.


You could live 100% on food from dumpsters. Many groceries discard food past its freshness date in a trash bin to avoid a liability issue. Some markets may choose to donate their older produce and bakery items to food banks. Fortunately, organizations such as Food Finders and other charities will pick up unwanted food from markets and restaurants before it is collected by the waste haulers. Consult your local food bank and their redistribution policies. Dumpster dining is actually simple. Go to wherever you’d like to get your goods for free. Instead of walking into the front door, go around back and locate the dumpster. Then open the bin. If you like what you see, remove the item. Use food raw only if it is safe to do so or heat it to a proper temperature to destroy pathogens. Vegetables and breads are much safer to eat than meats.


In addition to the fruit, grapevines also provide a source of tasty green nutrition. You can harvest the young tender leaves which can be eaten immediately. Older leaves can be brined and used to make wrappings for rice-filled Greek domades. If you enjoy a savory tea, then pluck the tender needles from a pine tree then steep them in hot water. Many orchards of unpicked fruit can be harvested such as citrus, apples, plums by owners who do not want it. While backpacking through Hawaii I came up on an abandoned pineapple field. The small fruit I rescued fed me for many days along with dollar cups of Raman noodles.

I want to share the story of an Italian immigrant who was living in New York City during the 1930s Great Depression. She had few provisions to feed her family but much resourcefulness. While walking on the craggy sidewalk on the Lower East Side, she came upon dandelions growing between the concrete cracks. To her it was a treasure, a nutritional vegetable with many uses. She plucked each and many others from the area. The owners of pristine gardens thought it to be an offensive weed. It is actually a desired ingredient for tea, salad, stir fry and even wine.

The health benefits of the dandelion plant are many. It can support liver health by releasing toxins, improve cellular health, reduce inflammation, improve gut health, stabilize blood sugar, reduce kidney stones and urinary infections. They have 8 times more antioxidants, 2 times more calcium, 3 times more vitamin A, and 5 times more vitamin K and E than the FDA minimum daily requirements. Dandelions are an excellent source of potassium and other minerals and electrolytes that stimulate the heartbeat. Potassium may help kidneys filter toxins more effectively and improve blood flow. The polysaccharides in dandelions are known to reduce stress on the liver and support its ability to produce bile.

Sautéed Dandelions
1 tablespoon oil
2 ounces of dandelion greens
¼ teaspoon of garlic powder
¼ teaspoon black pepper, ¼ teaspoon salt
Other ingredients to taste
Dandelion Tea and Coffee
Tea: ½ cup of dandelion (all parts)
Steep in 4 cups of boiled water
Coffee: roast 15 roots (two tablespoons)
Steep in two cups water
Add optional cinnamon, fennel seeds or chicory to taste

Dandelion Syrup and Jelly
Syrup: 1 ½ cups of flowers only
Steep in 3 cups of boiling water
Dissolve 2 cups of sugar or other sweetener
Include ¼ cup honey or lemon juice if desired
Jelly: Thicken same solution with pectin
Dandelion Wine will need more time, patience and equipment to produce. Many recipes are available on the internet.


Many desert cacti have kept indigenous peoples alive for centuries. The Prickly Pear cactus (nopal opuntia) is found mostly in the southwest. It is promoted to assist with diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, hangovers, and has antiviral and anti-inflammation properties. Use cautiously. It can cause nausea or other side effects. The prickly pears (purple fruit on the cactus) make great jam, syrup and tea. Wear gloves when harvesting.

Prickly Pear Jam
Skin, peel, seed then boil 27 prickly pears
Mix in ¼ cup lemon juice
1 package of fruit pectin
4 1/2 cups of white sugar
Serve on toast when cool

The Beavertail cactus (opunita basilaris) and Nopal cactus has a flat patty that must be scraped of its needles and then peeled. It can be sliced, sautéed and included in many Mexican dishes and salsas. Great to chop into scrambled eggs.

Napolites Salad
1 chopped tomato
1 chopped small onion
2 cups of cooked nopales till tender
¼ cup chopped cilantro
Two teaspoons of olive oil
Mix and serve

The Organ Pipe cactus (varisencereus thurberi family) can offer emergency hydration and food. It can grow to 24 feet and store much liquid in their trunks. Cut the trunk low to access the fluid.


My grandparents survived the Great Depression by working constantly. To feed their large family, they bought 50 pound bags of beans, rice or flour when money was available. Meals were simple. My mom then made her dresses out of their food empty sacks. They lived in Long Beach, California and planted a Victory Garden in their back yard which featured a variety of vegetables. My grandfather was raised on a Missouri farm so he knew how to cultivate crops. In California, citrus was abundant, so scurvy was never a worry. It made delicious lemonades and pies.

In the 1930s-1940s, Long Beach, California was surrounded by acres of bean fields. My grandparents would often glean the bean fields. This is a term for picking up the remainder of the crop left by the hired harvesters. This practice was made famous in a painting called “The Gleaners” by Jean-Francois Millet in 1857. It depicts the poor who gathered a small amount of grain or other produce left behind.


I am a vegetarian so I cannot endorse this source of food, but for many years settlers have had to survive on scarce protein. Squirrels, opossums and rodents provided meat when larger animals such as bear, buffalo, or deer were unavailable. As a 9-year-old, I walked to my local lake in the San Bernardino, California mountains just a couple of miles from our trailer. In route, I discovered a hook, some twine and a branch suitable to make a fishing pole. I assembled all the found material and then tossed the hook, without bait, into the lake. Much to my surprise, a few minutes later I snagged a trout. I did not want to keep it so I gave it to the local raccoons who visited our property frequently for snacks. They also ate the local crawdads I caught which tasted like mini lobsters. Consider collecting bird eggs. Many varieties are safe and readily available. When in doubt, boil everything before eating.

Insects and bugs are commonly listed as tasty items on the menu in foreign countries. More than 2 billion people worldwide choose to eat from a large range of 2,000 insect species on a regular basis. Most commonly consumed in the United States are grasshoppers, crickets, ants, grubs, bees, cockroaches, dragonflies. When in doubt, cook them which will eliminate a lot of potentially harmful bacteria.


Skunk cabbage can be eaten but be careful. Because it is a hallucinogenic it must be boiled first. Bracken fern can be consumed and is found in many mountain forests. It is often available in Asian markets and is included in stir fry or salads.

Certain species of trees offer food for more than squirrels. If you are fortunate to have access to a maple tree, the sap is delicious. Peppercorns from a tree or salt from the sea or briny lake can help season a dish.
I wrote in a previous article for this blog regarding the bounty that can be harvested from an acorn-producing oak tree. This nut kept indigenous people thriving for hundreds of years. Other trees like the pine, walnut and almond produce nuts that are excellent nutrition. I have often found wild strawberries and blackberries growing in the forest.

Be very careful eating mushrooms. You can consume a toxic toadstool and perish quickly from nerve poison. It is best to avoid consuming frogs, snakes, snails or lizards unless you are well-informed.

Often overlooked are parts of a rose bush. Beyond their beautiful blooms, the bush can produce great nutritional value. Rosehips are the seed-filled pods described as the fruit of the rose. They are found underneath the rose petals. When cooked, the pods make great jellies, sauces, syrups, soups, seasoning, and dried as a treat. High in vitamin C, the rosehip may be effective in relieving some symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.


If homeless, it is important to have a safe habitat, good personal hygiene and daily exercise to stay healthy. It is critical to be well hydrated. When in doubt of the water purity, boil it for several minutes.

If you have enjoyed this article, or want me to expand or focus on a particular food-related subject, please chime in via e-mail, for posting in the blog’s weekly Snippets column, which JWR posts on Wednesdays.