This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Canning jam and urban gleaning

Tuesday night Charletta and I made about two gallons of strawberry jam. It was our first collaborative jam making effort, and as is often the case, there were a few mistakes. Our jam ended up too runny even though we thought we added enough pectin. Any suggestions out there?

We also underestimated the number of jars we would need and ended up canning our jam in quart jars rather than more manageable pint jars. But the more jam, the merrier.

But wait, you might ask, what are you doing with all these strawberries in September? If we were proper Mennonites we should have been out in garden harvesting our strawberries in June. These aren’t strawberries flown in by jet from some far off state are they?

urban strawberry jam canning

Well, actually they are, but they’ve been redeemed. You see, we’ve discovered the urban canner’s best friend – an urban hunter gatherer. A friend from church has learned the weekly habits of the local super market and when they throw out their fruit and vegetables that are past their due date.

Yesterday our friend brought us lots and lots of strawberries from the store’s dumpster. We do the jam boiling, stirring and canning and share the results with him.

That’s right, our jam is made from certified dumpster dived strawberries. Now before all you food safety minded folks start complaining too loudly, let me point out that the strawberry jam making process involves boiling the jam-to-be not once, but twice, so nasty germs and such should be thoroughly eliminated.

Still skeptical? Let’s look at this passage from Deuteronomy

When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this. Deut. 24:19-22

The concept of redistribution through gleaning was so important that it was worth repeating three times in case people didn’t get it on the first two tries.

Of course, 0ur modern economy is a bit different from ancient Israel. We don’t have to be told to waste. Our economy is built around it. Supermarkets regularly ship in more fresh fruits and vegetables. When we buy fresh produce we subsidize the cost of those that end up getting thrown away.

What we have to work on today is redistributing the excess. In the case of food past its expiration, some is reclaimed by food pantries and organizations like Second Harvest, but most of it must be thrown away for liability reasons. Some stores go so far as to lock up their dumpsters or even poison the food to thwart urban gleaners.

Ironically, the dilemna for the dumpster diver when they finally find a friendly (or at least somewhat tolerant) store is the sheer amount of food. It’s very difficult to use up a bushel of apples, potatoes, peppers and bananas without help.

So next time you see someone looking in a dumpster, don’t turn up your nose. Ask them if they need some help with canning.

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