A Prospect Park forager eats better than most New Yorkers

Freegans are often portrayed as subsisting on day-old bagels and donuts. (Time to dumpster dive for a new publicist?) Zaac Chaves, however, takes this alternative lifestyle that’s all about making an anti-capitalist statement and turns it into a personal recipe for health. Chaves, a 28-year-old part-time computer programmer, is that rare freegan—a health-conscious vegan who eats only whole, unprocessed foods. Chaves loves his fellow freegans but admits, “A lot folks in college start dumpstering donuts—a horrible thing. For me freeganism is an extension of pure food veganism.”

Zaac Chaves, part-time computer programmer, full-time freegan

His gourmet aspirations, and encyclopedic knowledge of wild mushrooms, led him to learn to forage. He bikes two-and-half hours from his southwestern Connecticut apartment to New York City to lead foraging tours in Central and Prospects Parks. Turns out the parks are better stocked than the aisles of Trader Joe’s. Chaves’s favorite park bounty includes stinging nettles (he cooks these iron-rich leaves up like spinach), dandelion greens, mulberries, morel and maitake mushrooms (he once found 30 pounds of maitakes around a tree in Prospect Park), crabapples (he substitutes them for pectin when making jam), and hickory and hazelnuts. The next time we go running we’ll bring a shopping bag (though Chaves tells us this is frowned on by the Parks Department). And if we’re lucky we’ll forage enough for Zaac’s recipe below.

Zaac’s next foraging tour is April 18th at 4:00 p.m. in Prospect Park. Meet at the stone benches at the Grand Army Plaza entrance and bring a garden trowel. Needless to say, the tour is free. Check www.Freegan.info for more details.

Zaac’s Artichoke Stew

(Gives new meaning to term “locally sourced.” Cost = $0. Time spent foraging: 4 hours)

Put a handful of dried maitake mushrooms (found in the woods near Zaac’s house) in a big soup pot with a half gallon of water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for at least 15 minutes, or longer for a richer flavor.

Add artichokes, 4-6 or however many will fit into the pot (found in the dumpster of a health food store in the Bronx). This creates a rich artichoke-mushroom broth. Cover stock post so artichokes steam.

After 30 minutes, add celery and any other longer-cooking veggies as you want (found in the dumpsters of restaurant suppliers).

15 minutes later, add faster-cooking vegetables, lentils or other beans. (Zaac says lentils and beans are an easy freegan find. “Every time someone bags some French lentils of Aduki beans at a health food store, and then leaves without buying them, they get thrown away,” Zaac explains. He’s found a 50 pound bag of sunflower seeds and a carton of 11 bottles of olive oil—the 12th spilled all over the carton rendering the other 11 unsellable.)

After 10 minutes, remove from heat, add dark leafy greens, as many as will fit into the pot, and let the steam wilt the greens as you stir the stew.

Serve with whole artichokes and enjoy in soup bowls found on your neighbor’s stoop.

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