Houselessness & Crabapples

Scrap Kitchen 20- San Fransisco, glaring wealth inequality and actually free food

So I’m back. After a week in a city build off the greed of the gold rush, and now in the midst of its silicon rush, I’m readjusting to farm life. Don’t get me wrong, my time in San Fransico was a welcome holiday. I walked, I ate, I viewed all sorts of plants, I toured some wineries… And I came face to face with the houselessness crisis within the city.

The hostel where I stayed threw me into conversation with lots of new people. I was confronted by the reality that most of the people in the hostel were not travellers but essentially city residents unable to afford the exorbitant rent. I am honestly ashamed at how easily I had forgotten the depth of this issue when not encountering it on a regular basis. I am more than aware of the sheltering world view at work in the small town in Colorado where I reside. The privilege inherent in living here. The sea of white faces, the almost non-existent houseless population, the price of houses, it riles me up. But after months of it, maybe I had begun to forget. And that’s just sickening. But also all too easy to see how people living in places like this can see the world as ‘not too bad’ and can resist meaningful social change.

‘Homelessness’ is defined as when a person lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, and if they sleep in a shelter designated for temporary living accommodations or in places not designated for human habitation. The people I befriended during my time in SF, who were all in various states of gig employment, would move between hostels every week or so. This was to get around the rules hotels have in place prohibiting long stays. They would work long days, sometimes up to 13 hours, though apps that would have them walk all over to service the city’s elite. While tech bros and football stars were paying people $25 to sort out their shoe collections or clean their chimneys or go to IKEA for them, those same people could not afford to make a home. Some would do all this for less than $100 a day.

It made my blood boil. In one marked breakfast conversation, that day’s mealtime companion explained that they put money into the stock market, investing half of each day’s earnings. They didn’t seem to be upset or angry at their situation and somehow had more faith in stocks than in anything really changing. And of course, then there were the tent cities, the houseless population whose encampments seemed to be ever under attack. This is common though, more than common, with 1 in 500 Americans estimated to lack permanent housing. Hell, in 2018 the houselessness nearly doubled, a quarter of whom were living out of their cars.

What’s so infuriating here is the dichotomy. The #vanlife crowd who tour the country making cute Instagram posts and videos about them ‘discovering’ new places, and the reality of Vehicular homelessness being illegal in several states. The life-on-the-road tech jobs (which myself I partook in 2019) and the city residents with no permanent address, each in the same hostel but worlds apart. It’s the existence of these two worlds and the void between them. And, gods, it has only gotten worse with the pandemic.

Needless to say, while my holiday was a welcome break from the farm, it was another stirring call to action in the name of worker’s rights. From affordable safe housing to healthy sustainable food, each of which are technically human rights (but aren’t treated like them), now more than ever we need socialist policies, ground-level activism and (TBH) an all-out revolution.

This week’s Tarot card is the Seven of Swords, the card of not biting off more than you can chew. It’s also a card of deception and sneaky shit. What a great time to ask yourself what you have been getting away with not seeing? Not paying attention to? But to also take stock of how you can actually change things, how can you undermine the bullshit systems we’re all a part of? How can you sacrifice your privilege for others?

Being away from the UK for several months now I am really missing the Crabapples that grow outside my family home. Thankfully they grow here in the US too, so I shall be on the lookout for them. Crabapple trees are relatively common on city streets as they make beautiful blossoms, and are pretty compact. While the raw fruits are pretty sour, which is where they get their Latin name Malus meaning sour, they can be used in a whole host of recipes. What I love about these plants, apart from making the classic Crabapple Jelly, is that they exemplify the ease of integrating edibles into a city. How simply a tree, once people know how to use it, can provide. A really wonderful memory of my teen years is of picking and processing these fruits with my best friend. Apparently bats also use old crab apple trees as ‘daytime accommodation’. And of course, they‘re free.

To identify Crabapples, look for mini baby apples basically. They form clustered fruit, which can be any shade from green to red depending on the species. When grown the fruit looks similar to a branch full of cherries and they should be ready to pick in the next few weeks. As for recipes, I would recommend making fruit leather, a really great crumble type dish, chutney or liqueur and even pickles!

Over the past week, tomato season has begun in earnest. I can tell you this with certainty as we have spent the last three nights processing tomatoes (what a wild life I lead). While most of the tomatoes we harvest go to our CSA members or to local food banks the ‘seconds’ (i.e. the less physically beautiful ones) are left for the staff, or restaurants making sauces. Having churned through over four full trays of tomatoes, and with more to be harvested tomorrow, I have been wracking my brains for how to preserve them. And how to eat them of course. So far we have been successfully dehydrating, making paste and eating a lot of sauce. I also tried out this really lovely tomato ‘tuna’, made more of this Harrisa from my dog rose post and have my eye on tomato confit. I would love it if y’all could tell me how you have been using your tomatoes, comment or shoot me an email. I can’t wait to hear.

The Podcast this week is from We the Unhoused, which lifts the voices and struggles of the unhoused in LA and beyond. This episode talks about the criminalisation of homelessness in San Fransisco, along with sex work and other interconnected issues. It’s a tough one but important nonetheless.

Thanks again for reading this, and also thanks to the people who have reached out to me through this mess we call the internet. This week I got sent a wonderful picture of a cat (called Clover, which so aligns with my last update) which honestly made my day. Please remember to like, comment and share and defo send me all tomato recipes you can think of.

Until then, stay scrappy


Image credit: Mike Goad, Natalie Chaney, billslife2012 and Bohdan Chreptak.

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