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Confessions of a Bottom Feeder, Part 1: When Frugality Becomes a Survival Skill

Anita Sands shows how to REALLY live on nothing while still eating well and getting adequate health care.

>[Editor's NoteThis is a very different look at frugality from anything else on the site--and it's not about fun, but about living healthily for the very lowest possible cost. What we have here is a how-to for living a decent, healthy life on the edge--when you are so poor that any good meal might feel like a blessing. I present this as a public service for those who are beyond marginalized, in the hope that at least one person gets a higher quality of life on the margin. Twenty years ago when I was dirt poor, I used some of these and some similar tricks.

If you are comfortably middle-class, you may be offended by this article--you don't have to read it (try one of my own articles on Frugal Fun, including excerpts from The Penny-Pinching Hedonist: How to Live Like Royalty with a Peasant's Pocketbook).

Some of the tips are specific to the Los Angeles area; however, most of those can be reproduced in other places.

Also, I have taken out some parts, which I felt were illegal, unethical, or just too long--though it's still extremely long. The complete article is on Anita's own site (see URL at the end). Disclaimer: This is article is not intended as medical advice, or any other expert advice. I present it as one person's opinion and take no responsibility for the contents. I welcome comments, and if they are significant, I will both send them to Anita and put them up as well, with a link from the article. e-mail to shel@frugalfun.com

--Shel Horowitz[End Editor's Note]

Many modern city dwellers survive perfectly well without a 'regular job.' We live like millionaires but would be hard put to tell you what our true career is. We survive on air. And no, we are not the crazy homeless you see rooting in trashcans. We live in picturesque, old homes with huge, jungley gardens. Not all are rented homes; many are owned, bought with land contracts (monthly payments to old owner) or those new poverty-sector Fannie Mae loans with a low downpayment and no proof of earnings or good credit, only proof of high, past rent paid by showing canceled checks.

How do we afford homes when we don't have 'regular' jobs? Well, I didn't say we don't WORK. We are well-paid for freelance work as artists, healers, mystics, organic gardeners or party caterers. We just never work 40-hour-a-week jobs hoeing other people's row--not unless we love the work; then we happily put in 80 hours.

Job-free people are easy to spot. We drive to mountain and beach on week-days--in old cars it's true--but with a proud smile because we're glad to be in the .0005% of the populace of the planet who own cars. We brake for trashcans in alleys and garage sales, because that's how we furnish our homes. We know that your second-hand, leftover stuff is as good as our firsthand. So we earned our nickname. We are bottom feeders.

Bottom feeders don't make a good living but we have a great life! We have the dollars for rent and utility money and the leftover change is for brown rice and tofu. We're into quality abundance in things other than cash: Gardens, sun, creativity, art... All we need is just enough income to get by. Often, we 'get by' with the help of our friends. Friends sleep on our couches and kick in rent and food. And in hard times, friends lend us their couches and we do the kicking in.

BFers don't have savings accounts; we have 'mattress money.' We don't have regular jobs; we have cottage industries, home businesses. True, we don't make as much as you do in your highly paid drone work, but look on the bright side, our money's all our own. We don't have FICA deductions, pension fund, Social Security deductions and we don't pay taxes. We don't have costly HMO's but not to worry. We don't have high blood pressure either.

We may be forgoing Social Security and Medicare coverage at the end of our lives because we expect--as Clinton predicts, that there will be no Social Security or Medicare by then. Not for you, not for anyone. BFers don't count on Uncle Sam or on pensions. We have learned secret techniques of Surviving on a Nickel that give creativity, earnings and bliss, and bliss is such a super vitamin that we expect to live forever.

Bottom feeders enjoy sunny days at home doing textured wall-painting or digging carrot rows in the yard, or sweating in their ateliers as much as you yuppies enjoy your caffe lattes, Beamers, IRA's and airless, gleaming, monochrome condo-sealed tombs scented with all the formaldehyde in those spanking new plywood boards.

What are the secrets of this mysterious tribe who listens for their own drumbeat and happily live at the bottom of the food chain? What are their methods of achieving a viable lifestyle in Post-Reagan times using advanced Trickle-Down theory?

BFers are often outdoors. They are a fresh-air lot. They have suntans, smile a lot and have no visible means of support. You'll find them unloading a picnic basket in the parking lot at a public park on a week-day. They carry thrift store tennis rackets, drive old Volvos, VWs or 4 cylinder Japanese cars from the early 80's. Look in the picnic hamper. It's full of SALAD. Bottom feeders are frequently vegetarian, recognizing that cows must know how much good protein is in greens, hence they have ruddy complexions and never NEED medical coverage. Their cuts and gashes actually heal without stitches, as they have amazing immune systems.

WHAT, NO HMO? How do we do it? Hey, the answer to this is a no brainer. Don't get sick. Bottom feeders stay on the absolute healthfood diet of the planet! No bologna, beef, eggs, gland meats for us. In our picnic basket there's a choice of bogus egg salad sandwich, Caesar salad, or raw fruit, depending on who's giving away what at the grocery or the menu at the temple where we feast.

HOW BOTTOM FEEDERS EAT:

There is the totally vegetarian feed bag, filled with loss-leader items from super markets and free, giveaway produce that the healthfood store gives us at closing time. There is the bounty from our own organic gardens or from the communal garden. There are free meals at Sikh and Hari Krishna temples. There is the bounty of all God's trees overhanging alleys and last, every small non-chain market will box up and give you their wilted vegies if they're certain you'll come at the end of the day. Those that won't will see the hardier of us leaning over their Dumpsters, picking.

We combine a small amount of vegetarian proteins with full amino acid foods either in the meal or in the next meal. Broccoli oddly enough can be a protein if you add a little complementary protein like hummus or dairy so we sprinkle or drizzle bean dip or butter on top. Raw juices, green and gold salads are full of macro-nutrients but it takes sunflower seeds to turn vegies into a rib-sticking protein meal.

With rent so high, some days there is no money for FOOD. When that happens, Bottom feeders don't fret. They eat what's on the shelf. Canned beans are great with a shot of hickory barbecue sauce. A solid poor-day tip given me by one of my nickel-pinching Caesars is to always keep whole grain flour in the freezer. Add water from boiled vegies, yeast, good oil or butter and let that dough rise into crusty bread. Or rub the wheat with water to make Seitan (wheat steak) or take soybeans and make tofu.

OTHER FOODS FOR PENNY-FREE DAYS: Keep track of all the fruit trees in the neighborhood. The true scoop on fruit tree alley scavenging is that it is 100% legal if it overhangs a fence. When I first became a Bottom Feeder, having four fatherless children, I learned to pick lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruit from my own California garden and juice it. I learned to not throw away the peels; they were the best part. I parboiled them, scraped interior pith off with a sharp spoon, getting rid of all the white rind, then boiled the outer skins with its own juice and a ton of sugar to make marmalade, which I kept in the fridge in jars and gave away at Xmas.

ALLEYS ARE USER FRIENDLY-Apricots, nectarines, peaches, grow all over the city. The most prized treasure on trees is avocados. Avocados are friendly fruit. The ripe ones fall on the ground, making themselves available. There is one drawback to poaching in alleys: cops. Police will harass you if they see you, but not to worry; if they don't see you, they can't harass you. So be as invisible as you can. Ask your neighbors if they want their pets walked. (Charge 4$ an hour to do it.) Drive pooch to a suburban neighborhood. Park car on the street and walk your neighbor's dog into an alley with overhanging trees. Carry a long prong tipped stick (nail in stick is fine) and some plastic bags. The aggregate visual effect is of a neat citizen walking a dog. You actually seem to live on that street. No cop asks a dog walker for ID. No dog? Do it alone. If police wonder what's up, say sweetly, I was jogging and I saw this lovely fruit. Give them your 'aunt's' address nearby. Booking a misdemeanor takes too much paperwork, too many forms, also, other cops would laugh these cops out of the jail for booking someone who was just picking fruit as it is, technically, legal.

Afraid of the hassle? Then go to the healthfood store at closing time, tell the owner that you distribute food to the poor. (You must actually do it, too, or your word's no good. Never fritz with your word. It's the most important thing BFers have--next to pluck and chutzpah.) If you promise to show up daily at the same time, invariably, you will get the store's 'garbage concession.'

If you're a stickler for realism, there's real garbage. Many BFers "Dumpster Dive," just as the homeless have always done. Supermarkets throw enormous amounts of food, cosmetics, medicine, plants into those Dumpsters. I met Marty, an 80 year old Dumpster diver, who gets inside the bins, tosses the treasures out into boxes. He fills his van with food from the supers and potted plants, cosmetics and notions from drugstores and gives regular garage sales--he makes thousands of tax-free untraceable dollars on a week-end. He also has a regular route of delivery customers, Bottom Feeders all. Frizzy hair Bob gives it to single mothers with kids. I know because I was on his route and often he'd take me to watch.

FOOD RESURRECTION TRICKS:

BREAD-Put on your glasses. If there's any mold, anywhere, dump it. The spores are all the way through the loaf.

BERRIES-Float berries on water, save and use floaters only. Out of these, toss ones with any visible mold onto compost pile. Put sugar on your fresh washed berries to preserve them in fridge until needed. The sinkers have lost their oxygen, are no good for eating but don't let the sinkers go down the drain. Gather them together, plant them. You'll get dozens of vines and berries for years afterwards out of a handful of rotten berries.

CARROTS: Soak overnight in a sink of cold water, turnips, beets, ditto.

WILTED SALAD- Cut across bottom of leaves, soak for several hours.

Dry before you bag it, by shaking, toweling, draining.

FRUITS- When you dive or get rejects from markets, you get fruit with tiny rotten spots. You must gauge how long it will last with that nick and if it's not long, "push" the fruit to the tenants and kids. If you're smart, you will do fruit salad the second it gets into the house. Wash, clean, peel, cut up, and sprig with mint so it looks appetizing and kids will add it to yogurt. If kids are not kitchen-friendly, the food-respectful parent will 'push' what just came in by serving it up in a festive fashion. Plop a dish on their lap in front of the TV or where they're doing homework. Parents will never, ever tell their kids this is or charity from markets. Their egos cannot handle it. They want to be the same as other kids and you should respect their feelings.

GREEN POTATOES- Plant them. They're no good for anything else. The green ones will give you arthritic joints. Potatoes develop a poison when they turn green. Sprouting potatoes are fine to use, just cut the sprouted tips off with a piece of potato behind it, and plant those. Only eat the remaining, gouged up spud.

While upper class DDs and BFer's don't go after it, restaurants throw huge amounts of food into the trashcan. Just for an experiment, go behind a cafe at 11 p.m. and check. You'll find complete meals, well wrapped.

Except for riding shotgun with Frizzy Bob, I have no recent experience DDing. However, when I was a young single mother with four children to feed, I used to drop by the trashbin of elegant Fred's Bakery in Beverlywood and reheat "day's end" (not day-old) corn rye in my oven. Bread never tasted better.

But DDs and BFers are elitists and care about their feelings more than they desire a free meal. diving is a little rough on self image. A BFer concerned about waste might visit the back alley kitchen door of a small cafe and ask the cook when the kitchen closes, and if he could come back with plastic jugs, and distribute the leftovers to the poor and homeless. He will not ask for the food for himself because he'd get bummed out. But he'll eat probably eat part of it himself, later. My friend Jeffrey goes nightly to the Hare Krishna restaurant, Govinda's, and is given gallon milk jugs or huge plastic bags full of curried dal, rice and yogurt raita, which he distributes to his friends or freezes.

A BFer will go to the bakery, determine when the baker throws away the day-old unsold bread and promise to pick it up to distribute to the homeless. Merchants are food-artisans, and always glad to NOT have to throw precious delights in the trash; they welcome the appearance of a 'distributor.' I know because I was the unofficial 'distributor' for my 3HO (Sikh) healthfood store. I was given forty to fifty pounds of food a day. They knew that the four kids and I couldn't consume that quantity, and that I was distributing to the poor .

Some days there would be a dozen huge yogurts, five dozen half-gallons of milk, massive bags of rice and lentils with rat bites, pounds of wilted greens--I'd cut the stems, stick them in water--they'd puff right back up. Carrots get a deep bath overnight and they are crunchy as new.

Always ask the store manager for throwaway stuff for your poor people's route. If the manager says no, come back another day when he's not on duty. (How do you find out? ASK!) Ask for the dented cottage cheese. It's the single item most often discarded.

Another trick of the collecting trade---that weekly Farmer's Market the yuppies attend has a lot of unsold produce at sundown. Where do you think it goes? Back to the truck farms? No way! If you help the farmer load his truck, he'll comp you. To him, it's nothing. He has eggplants coming out of his ears. If you tell him you know of some poor families or a halfway house or orphanage and roll up a truck, he'll give you enough to set up your own stand the next day--but don't be tempted. Cops harass street vendors. Instead, visit poor pals' homes where you'll win brownie stripes contributing farm-grown vegies.

Need fresh food the other 6 days of the week? No problem. The Farmers market moves to a different borough of the city each day. Or try Supers. All small, non-chain grocery stores have rats. If you ask the employees, you can get dog and cat kibble, flour, rice---true, sometimes there are tiny teeth marks on the bag, or actual rat droppings inside, but they're easy enough to pick out.

Sometimes, you have a dollar, a quarter, a dime and a nickel. In this case, you have to know what foods are the SUPER CHEAP GOURMET HIGH ENERGY/NUTRITION TREATS: GREENS: Collards are .33c a bunch at barrio stores and at Iranian markets. They cost .89c in ritzy emporiums. The butcher always gives me a piece of pig fat for free. Fry this, discard oil and put those "chitlins" in your greens. When you've got cash, get smoked ham hocks. Cut them up, store in freezer, take a few chunks to boil with the greens. Add a little sugar and chile pepper and you'll sing Baptist hymns.

TOP RAMEN: Buy the .33c cup of shrimp ramen. In the produce section, get a few broccoli florets, spinach leaves, and a carrot. Chop your vegies, boil, pour water over ramen, let sit a minute. Add chile sesame oil, seaweed, onion, slice of raw ginger, seaweed, an egg if you've got one. Really so delicious, often I can't wait for poverty to eat it, so I eat them with bucks in my pocket. The super tasty dried shrimp make this my favorite flavor. I used to give ramen to the homeless until I learned they ate it raw like chips! True, it's not healthfood, but it makes me EAT the greens that ARE.

HOLIDAY FOODS: If you get blue on holidays without that turkey or ham, indulge your inner child and have the ham! You can get it by doing shopping for five or six old people. Supermarkets give hams away if you buy enough groceries to qualify so it pays to make lots of geriatric pals in your neighborhood. Get their shopping list and their cash in front. Tell them they'll get an exact to the penny itemization. First, collect coupons on all the peripherals people want, vegies, cereal, soup, oil, sugar, etc. Give the discount to the geriatrics, too. Now, get the food section from the newspapers on trash night. See which market is giving the ham or turkey away free for a fifty dollar purchase. Holidays they do this. One wants $100 but there's always a market that will give premiums for $50. Go there, shop in groupings, keeping items separate in basket. Then, arrange the foods on the checkout stand so that each geriatric's groceries are scanned together in a group, as you'll be showing this receipt to the geriatric later when you give him or her the change and just showing them their circled items. If you're an angel, you'll divide the ham and share it with the geriatrics!

COFFEE- All supermarket coffee mills have a little drawer

full of grinds that will be thrown away. Ask the manager, he'll let you have it for free. Find plastic bags in the produce section. Often you'll find bags where someone ground a little coffee, then stopped. This ground coffee will be thrown away, so repackage in plastic produce bag and tuck it in your pocket.

DENTED CANS- Some markets mark them down with a black marker.

GARDEN DIVING:

In really hard times, there are weeds growing in front yards. Take a careful look at what you find that is SURPRISINGLY TASTY:

1.) PURSLANE grows everywhere. It's a fat, flat, low-sprawling leafy little octopus like weed with leaves like jade plant, fleshy stems, loaded with Omega oils that heal the heart. Mexican maids used to bring it into my San Miguel de Allende kitchen in spring as if it were God's gift to man. The way they cooked it, it was. Steam for a minute, add fresh-made garlicky tomato sauce. Scramble in one egg at last minute, if your aorta is not a problem.

2.) DANDELIONS; eat the smallest, tenderest green leaves in your salad. Bigger leaves get juiced.

3. OUR VINES HAVE MORE THAN TENDER GRAPES: Parboil the delicate new leaves of grape vines 'til soft, fill with rice, roll and steam. Unusually tasty!

4.) CACTUS: The tender green baby leaves are de-fanged with a knife, then sliced in ribbons, parboiled, served with raw chopped onion, tomato and cilantro. A delicacy in Mexican cafes. Later in summer, the tuna fruit is grasped with newspapers, bagged, gas-flame toasted at home to remove needles, peeled, sliced. Plant the seeds!

5: ESCARGOT: California variety same as French small variety. These were actually brought here from Europe. No need to check garden for SNAROL. If the escargot found any, he'd be slimy tread to the sky, stone cold dead. HOW TO FIND: Spray garden well night before. Hour before dawn, collect les petits slimeballs. Feed snails cornmeal for a few days, locked in a box, jar or cage. Rinse them clean, drop in salted, simmering water for l0 min. Discard gritty strip, where it's attached to the shell. Heat butter, parsley, drop in snail fillets. Turn off fire, add crushed garlic, raw lemon. Garnish with minced parsley. Serve on toast. Ooo La La! Nature writer Chris Nygeres says they're better than those available in French cafes. Would you believe it? I'm drooling for stuff I wouldn't touch in their habitat without canvas gloves!

BEGGING:

No escargot drool response? Starving and broke? The last resort is begging. Go to a supermarket parking lot in a neighborhood very far from your home or you won't be able to handle it emotionally. Dress in really ragged, bleached tatters. Have a child with you. Rent the kid as emotional duress is too intense on the child if it actually is yours. Sign should read, Homeless, On the Street, Cold, (adjust to season) Require money for transit to Fresno, Oregon, or for Landlord or groceries. (pick only one.) If they give you a can of something you would never eat, beef tamales, do not say "I'm sorry, we're vegetarian, we can't eat that, we'd welcome money." Don't you dare say you're vegetarian as your glaring poverty will give vegies a bad name. Take the can and give it to someone who eats meat. You never look a donation in the teeth!

Another, safer, more hilarious way to get food is GYPSY SCROUNGING FOR FOOD IN STYLE: Dress up and hit the big hotels; every banquet room has food in it; join the crowd at parties. Drive around posh suburban areas on Saturday and Sunday at 1 PM for daytime parties or 7 PM to 8 for nighttime . You'll see parking valets. Park your own car, walk into the party, eat your fill, socialize. Network. Great in Hollywood, where writers can meet producers, agents, directors. Go to Gallery Row. Spot a party? Crash it. Cheese, wine and crackers are the 3 main food groups!

HOW NOT TO BE HUNGRY: When the food supply's small, or dangerous to procure, the trick is-- don't do anything stupid that will make you get unduly hungry. Besides too much cold air or exercise, the prime cause of hunger is eating carbs and sugars; Avoid them entirely. They not only don't stick to the ribs, the insulin reaction to them creates bigtime hunger.

Dense carbs, fruit excepted, have no nutrition. Stick to macro- nutrient-dense vegies, high protein whole grains, not high starch, and of course, proteins. Only eat fruits if you know that you have a rib-sticking meal ready, an hour later.

The magic herb that kills hunger in the body and raises blood sugar is licorice or fennel. It grows wild all over the city. Chew any part, the reaction is instant. All hunger departs--and for the oddest, longest time.

SKINNY FAT FOODS: Most skid row free meals serve white rice, a killer carb. It seems like a thin food but it's all starch and will make you eat like a horse an hour later. All Hari Krishna or Sikh temples have a daily 'lungar'...(odd it should rhyme with hunger) comprised of rice and chapati, unfortunately, all super-starchy carbs. You can eat hand-out food but avoid the rice and wheat foods; instead, load up on garbanzos, beans (black or kidney are preferable to starchy pinto). Take all the lentils you can get, and eat them cold the rest of the day and night. Welcome vegetable and dairy products. Carbs will fast-flame but then you go into low blood sugar and you start to feel blue and will forget what delirious pleasure it is to be a Bottom Feeder.

KEEPING HEALTHY


GETTING HEALED FOR FREE:

Many bottom feeders are holistic healers, knowledgeable about New Age diets. We often cook vegetarian delights for parties, or give massages, making good money, as clients are used to paying $120 an hour and we can lowball the competition and do it for $60 (and get twice the clients). We counsel on Power Diets, diagnose weak organs from the iris of the eye then suggest (and sell for retail) herbs we buy wholesale from those Mormon herb farms in Utah. (Look up Nature's Sunshine in Spanish Fork Utah). We generally stay healthy because we take those herbs ourselves. But my secret, bottom feeder way of staying tip top and getting FREE massage treatments is that I teach an esoteric system, Primal Scream massage. I was instructed on Primal Scream Emotional Release work by Dyan Cannon, when I party-read palms at her Malibu home. She inspired me to read the works of Art Janov, then get primaled at a center run by his students. They didn't do massage, but I was into it. I accidentally stumbled on the fact that simultaneous massage and sad music could produce primals too. I came up with an unusual Rolfing massage therapy involving digging in neural nexus and muscle bundles around the heart, shoulders and neck where repressed pain lodges, having really sad music on, like Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, thusly drawing emotions out of the supine client. So I wouldn't need a shrink's license, I called it TANTRUM YOGA. My clients were encouraged to remember painful memories and if not talk---then scream about them. It's full of convolutions and naturally, all the yuppie-puppies wanted to study with me. The catch: my students have to practice on my sore old bod. P.S. I have nothing left to scream about these days but I mime that part to get a good rub on my aching bones.

DENTAL CARE


TEETH HURTING? Free dentistry is easy. UCLA and SC both have dental schools and need guinea pigs. Call them up and you'll soon be under a student's drill. Whoopee. Most dentists will let you paint their house, clean their gardens, babysit or paint paintings for a trade. So, when you're diving and pass a dentist's office, leave a letter. Dear Doc, wanna trade for fillings? Here are snaps of my paintings. (resume, etc.)

AVOIDING CAVITIES: Forget toothpaste. The Fluoride is so toxic it takes your immune system 24 hours to recover. Mix salt and baking powder in a jar. Dip brush in, brush under the gumline where pyorrhea starts. Use a soft, thick brush, working it into the gums, trying to make your gums bleed. Change brushes daily, letting them dry between use. When gums no longer bleed when you do this, you've cured the bacteria problem---for a moment.

Brush teeth immediately upon waking, brush tongue, and brush back of tongue to provoke a gag ,which coughs up mucus. Rinse with cold water (prevents gum disease) after every meal. Floss once a day. You may never need a dentist.

MEDICAL EMERGENCIES:


You think they'll never happen but they do and when you need those sudden stitches, there's no time for comparison shopping, so do that now and be ready.

Recently, my son got his hand whizzed around the pulley system of a car. The tendons to one finger on top of hand were severed. He realized he would never work again as an electrician if tendon ligature wasn't done. I had to make a lot of phone calls to E.R.s in a very panicky ten minute period. Daniel Freeman Hospital, where his pal had driven him, wanted $2,000 in front to even call the hand surgeon in. County General SC wanted $l00 in front but averred the kid would wait five hours in the waiting room before a scalpel was lifted due to the average day's haul of bulletholes. Harbor General already had a hand surgeon there 24 hours a day. No bullets down there so they're never very busy and when the kid sailed in, the doc immediately did the necessary tendon ligature on a local without thinking of money and when it was all over, they asked for only $50. If he doesn't pay within five days time, however, they say they'll dun him for a hefty $1500. They say they're very cheap if you're a fast pay as most people stiff 'em. So, in the LA area, HARBOR GENERAL HOSPITAL in Torrance takes the cake. It's really worth it to do the homework ahead of the disaster. Know exactly which freeway you have to zip over to get to such a heavenly place. (Harbor Freeway south to Carson, turn right.) [Editor's Note: Many communities also have free clinics, or municipal hospitals. Also, many private hospitals are required by law, under the Hill-Burton Act, to provide free care to indigents if they receive certain federal funding [End Editor's Note]

HEALERS- Holistic healers are bon marche and terrific. Giveaway mags at local healthfood stores have tons of ads. Healthfood stores collect business cards in scrap books, will show to customers. Call Santa Teresita Hospital in Duarte and see Marjorie Ward, the world's best. $45 first visit. She could make Mother Teresa so healthy she'd tapdance.

Visit Anita's site for astrology and frugality information.


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