Radical activist and opportunistic prankster Abbie Hoffman’s infamous 1971 opus Steal This Book is part political manifesto and part handbook on getting things for free. The lists of goods and services he and his comrades thought should be automatically free to everyone, such as medical care (including birth control and abortions), higher education, and food, all considered unthinkably outrageous 43 years ago, have been subsumed by more recent movements as perfectly normal expectations in an affluent society.
The rhetoric doesn’t sound quite so jarring, either, except for the occasional bit of vintage slang. This Hoffman quote could easily be taken from a Russell Brand monologue:
Dig the spirit of the struggle. Don’t get hung up on a sacrifice trip. Revolution is not about suicide, it is about life. With your fingers probe the holiness of your body and see that it was meant to live. Your body is just one in a mass of cuddly humanity. Become an internationalist and learn to respect all life. Make war on machines, and in particular the sterile machines of corporate death and the robots that guard them. The duty of a revolutionary is to make love and that means staying alive and free. That doesn’t allow for cop-outs. Smoking dope and hanging up Che’s picture is no more a commitment than drinking milk and collecting postage stamps. A revolution in consciousness is an empty high without a revolution in the distribution of power. We are not interested in the greening of Amerika except for the grass that will cover its grave.
Food insecurity is still a massive problem in the U.S. four decades later. Hoffman’s advice on finding, stealing, and scamming free food contains nothing that a poor college student, couponing single parent, “recession wife,” or unemployed person doesn’t already know: crash wedding receptions, bar mitzvahs, and conventions, ask for vegetables, bread, meat, and fish that are about to be thrown out at groceries, wholesalers, market stands, and restaurants (although I suspect most people would draw the line at asking for leavings at the local slaughterhouse), ask for “charitable” donations at canning factories, eat off other people’s plates at restaurants before tables are bussed, form a food co-op, and hustle from caterers. With ubiquitous security cameras in every chain grocery store, shoplifting food is much more of a challenge than it was back then. It may be easier to qualify for food stamp benefits now but food is astronomically more expensive.
The scams Hoffman outlines to get food from restaurants and food delivery people are clever but sometimes require props and costumes (a nun costume?). Of course, many of his ideas are obviously outdated (slugs for vending machines) or silly. He advises that you line your pockets with plastic bags before you load up on food to take home from buffets, especially fried chicken. However, it’s hard to imagine anyone today actually taking him at his trollish word and trying to pour coffee into a bag hidden in their pocket for later. Not when you can get free coffee at Half-Price Books or bank lobbies.
Hoffman included recipes for cheap food, including “Hedonists’ Delight,” which starts “Steal two lobsters,” and this one for granola, which would probably cost $100 in raw materials from Whole Foods:
Hog Farm Granola Breakfast (Road Hog Crispies)
½ cup millet
½ cup cracked wheat
½ cup buckwheat groats
½ cup wheat germ
½ cup sunflower seeds
¼ cup sesame seeds
2 tablespoons cornmeal
2 cups raw oats
1 cup rye flakes
1 cup dried fruits and/or nuts
3 tablespoons soy oil
1 cup honey
Boil the millet in a double boiler for ½ hour. Mix in a large bowl all the ingredients including the millet. The soy oil and honey should be heated in a saucepan over a low flame until bubbles form. Spread the cereal in a baking pan and cover with the honey syrup. Toast in oven until brown. Stir once or twice so that all the cereal will be toasted. Serve plain or with milk. Refrigerate portion not used in a covered container. Enough for ten to twenty people. Make lots and store for later meals. All these ingredients can be purchased at any health store in a variety of quantities. You can also get natural sugar if you need a sweetener. If bought and made in quantity, this fantastically healthy breakfast food will be cheaper than the brand name cellophane that passes for cereal.
Abbie making gefilte fish, below: