A flight and a chauffeured drive South by an old friend left me in Santa Cruz, California. Somehow the weather gods were all mixed up. Whereas Portland was unseasonably warm and sunny, Santa Cruz was gray and constantly drizzling. We hiked down to a deserted beach and then roamed amongst the redwood trees, but all this nature did not make me forget the true reason for this pilgrimage, to fill my belly.
We checked out the local farmer’s market. With it being autumn there was a bountiful variety of exotic fruits and vegetables. The crisp brown jujubee, the persimmon, which one day can leave a chalky taste in your mouth and the next when it is fully ripened a sweet flavor explosion, and plums of all shapes and colors. While you could make a meal by trying samples my friend told me to save room. Later that night was a freeloader food fetishist’s fantasy.
At a local Quaker church after the farmer’s market, several do-gooder farmers supplied crates of produce that had not been sold. The crates of produce were spaced evenly throughout the parking lot. The organizer of the event would say a few secular words and then you were given the go ahead to take as much food as you could carry.
A motley crew descended upon this event. None of the freeloaders looked particularly poor or malnourished, rather they had the scent of big game hunters. Just as wealthy men once went to Africa to hunt exotic animals, not for sustenance, but for sport, the prey of these urban hunters was a bargain.
At the start of the event I was not intimidated by my adversaries. Most of the attendees were older women who looked like they spent their days listening to NPR. I was reminded yet again that I am a poor judge of character. As the battle began I went for a box of bread, but was elbowed out by a woman in flannel. I settled for the less competitive box of Japanese eggplant. I tried to grab ones that were not too soft, but this pickiness cost me. When I looked up the twenty other boxes which were filled with hundreds of pounds of produce were all empty. More experienced hunters filled their bags and boxes to the brim.
I had considered myself a food warrior, but Santa Cruz taught me I was minor league.