Since many more Americans will soon be facing the same financial straits that I have for my adult life I thought I would provide you with some pointers on how to extend your food budget, if you have one. Or like me you go to the food bank/pantry to eke out a diet that contains more than ramen. Please note I detest ramen not because it is a poor food product but because as someone well below the poverty line (PDF) I have had to try and survive on it. First some suggestions for those that donate to food banks/pantries and some advice to those that cannot access a food bank or pantry for food.
If you are one that donates to food banks/pantries please do not provide ramen, or other starchy low value foods, what we crave are veggies; fresh if possible, protein; hopefully meats but a reasonable amount of beans is alright although due to high vegetable prices living on just beans all month creates cravings as well. Also processed meats and canned meats are not the same as fresh, I think the B complex vitamins we crave have been processed out of those. The exception to that is tuna but as a standby it is over provided.
If you are in food crisis try and find a food bank/pantry in your area. Sometimes the municipal phone number 211 can direct you to an appropriate agency or try local religious groups (some of those will proselytize so be prepared to have to be shamed and cajoled to eat). If you can not access food that way or like me they only allow monthly food that may only last a few days there are other options that you can try.
Dumpster diving once was a secret to survival that is being legislated out of reach for the poor. It used to be grocers would dump produce that was malformed or near the spoilage point in the dumpster behind the store. Now those same unacceptable foods are sent to the food banks/pantries. Also in some places it is a criminal act to be caught doing so proceed carefully.
What you can try is to take your pride and put it in your back pocket and ask produce managers for these scraps, you may have better luck by claiming the food is for your chickens or other livestock. Restaurants that cater to the wealthy will also be handling fresh produce so you may want to approach the kitchen staffs using the same reasons to try and get more food.
If you are near a farming area scan the roads near harvest time for food that has fallen off of the trucks. And if you can, try and ask the farm manager if you can go through and collect food in rows they have already gone through and harvested. If you have access to National Forest lands you are allowed to glean fruits and vegetables there with the understanding that you only take enough for your own use. Use caution when gathering food from the forest, as some items may be similar to toxic relatives, know what you are gathering or take an experienced gatherer with you. Your local Wiccan Coven should be able to direct you to an experienced gatherer.
Recipe after the break:
Now to the soup, I understand that it is hot but there comes a time every month it seems when you no longer have foods you can prepare not using heat at all or with minimal heating. This recipe can take all day depending on cooking method.
What I had to work with:
I save my chicken bones and place them in individual zipper bags after each meal and freeze them immediately. Whether I cooked the chicken bone in or not and even if they have differing spices and coatings including fried. I try and get enough bones to equal one chicken but you go with the bones you have got. To a large pot of water add these bones and bring to a quick boil, turn down the temperature and cook for one hour. Cover pot and turn off heat and let cool. Remove bones from water saving the resulting broth, when bones are cool remove remaining meat and return to the broth. If you have a large crock pot place broth in crock and turn on high.
I lucked out and got a small package of chicken breast meat from the pantry, it smelled a little gamy when I opened it so I thoroughly rinsed the meat in cold water and removed all fat nodules I found. Note: I like fat and if you are needing food you will understand, but if meat nears the spoilage point the highest concentrations of bacteria and toxins will be in the fat tissue and under the skin. But if you are questioning whether something has turned go the safe route and discard the product. I chopped it into bite size pieces and fried the meat in oil until browned, you can use margarine too but at a lower heat. I then added it to the broth.
For vegetables I had some small red potatoes equaling about one russet, to that I added three carrots, all had been in the fridge awhile and were starting to wrinkle but the soup water will fix that. Chopping both to small bite size pieces and adding them to the pot. Also one onion chopping it to even smaller bits. I included two zucchinis halving and chopping in to large bite size pieces as the squash will cook faster. I managed to get about two cups of fresh mixed peas and green beans from the food bank that I prepared by removing the ends and cutting to one inch segments. All goes in the pot.
I have access to a grocer that has a great bulk foods section so when I get my $137.00 a month in food stamps I go there for my shopping once a month. Each trip I try and bring home a pasta, legume or grain that I would like but would rarely use, in small quantities. So to the soup I was able to add all in ½ cup increments or if your large pot is less than 8 quarts than use ¼ cup each, long grain rice, the little short fat rice they use in sushi, brown rice, wild rice and barley. Make sure your pot has sufficient water to cook as a soup and not a casserole. Add water if it begins to become too thick.
I also added about ½-teaspoon sage and 1-teaspoon rosemary, (something that can be found for free in many yards, and building landscaping). If you were using pre-cooked chicken for your bones there should also be residual spices leached into the broth. If you have it available also add two bullion cubes or if not, a teaspoon or less of salt will help bring out the flavor. Pepper to taste. You can find salt and pepper packets in the strangest places so keep an eye out for them and save them for your pantry.
Cover and cook at low heat all day in a crock pot or about one hour on the stove at a low to medium heat. Stir occasionally. Cook until the veggies and the grains are tender.
Now there is no way I can eat all this soup within a reasonable time. So after it cools considerably you can place portions of the soup in zipper bags or storage containers and freeze it for other meals. When you freeze liquid foods allow one inch headspace to allow for expansion.
Almost all of the items included in my soup can be omitted or replaced with available or favored foods. Try and include a broth; (you can save your vegetable cuttings and make a broth the same way), veggies, meat or legumes and a starch like grains or pasta.