Imagine this: you are not poor and you have a job but you get your food and pretty much everything else in your life out of the garbage — someone else’s garbage. This is how freeganism is viewed in the the western world. But the freegan lifestyle is about much more than just dumpster diving.
It’s hard to imagine any of the commuters you will see in the centre of London, for example, not owning a watch or a good pair of shoes or any of the other essentials to get them through the day. And everywhere they go there’s another ad or a store trying to sell them more. That’s consumerism in a nutshell. Something doesn’t work anymore? — Buy a new one! Need a change? — Buy something new!
The 90's were a decade that brought us the extreme shopping channel, the dot-com bubble and more luxuries that we could ever imagine. But then, the bubble burst. Wall Street crumbled and we got slammed by a once in a life time recession. Then we paused for a moment to reassess…
The word “Freegan” is a combination of the words “free” and “vegan”. To live free from the oppression of the economy and not paying for things. Also freegans are not necessary vegans but the ideology of veganism is deep-rooted in freeganism.
Have you ever thought about how much fresh food is wasted? What about furniture or electronics? Freegans say that our society wastes way too much and they can live off of what we throw away. Freegans are people who have chosen to opt out of a consumer lifestyle as much as possible. But it’s rather to make use of the excessive amount of waste that is produced by our society than rather to chose not to purchase. Freeganism exists not in spite of consumerism but because of it. It is about more than saving a few bucks, it’s a way of life.
If freeganism sounds to you like some 60's new anti-globalisation movement you are actually right. That’s where it started. But unlike most trends from that era it survived and evolved. Freegans don’t want to turn their way of life into some style that gets sold in the latest store with the black hooded jacket or with the cool t-shirt that has an “A” for “Anarchy”. We have seen that before. The grunge music scene of the 1990's started in Seattle with a bunch of bands wearing flannel, actually bought from surplus stores. Pretty soon the look became the style. High-end stores began to sell that same flannel for a huge mark up. That won’t happen with freegans.
Freeganism does not equal dumpster diving
There are freegans who don’t dumpster dive. There are people who garden, who wild-forage and can grow their own food. On the other hand, there are lots of dumpster divers who are not freegans. So it’s good to make that clear because traditional media used to show these two as synonyms and that is not the case.
Freegans are not just opting out of participating in the economy on a purchasing level but for many of them it’s opting out of the standard working “nine to five job” level.
Freeganism is a sustainable practice that’s about creating alternatives and Do-It-Yourself habits. If they need milk or fruits, they won’t buy those from a capitalist company that exploits animals in the farms or people on the fields. They will grow their own fruits and raise their own animals to milk. This is the real freedom — to produce goods on your own and with your friends, to create communities consisting of mutually supportive people and relationships. Freedom, solidarity, independence — this is true freeganism.
Eh okay, they are not almighty experts in all areas who are able to produce everything (especially those who are used to living in big cities like London). Freegans are regular people who also might call a professional to install their energy efficient windows or a specialist to fix their boiler. The point is that they strive to participate in the system as little as possible
However, some freegans chose to live life to extreme standards. They live completely off the grid. Whatever they need to survive day-to-day they scavenge. And at the same time most of them are open to technology and use it to further the movement. To that end, there are websites like:
- freecylcle.org — a site with more than 8 million members, that connects freegans around the world and allows them to exchange stuff for free.
- Freegan.info — gives freegan tips, helps freegans from the world to find each other and organize, shares links to other freegan sites and useful info.
- Trashwiki.org — lists the bins of wasteful supermarkets around the world
Food goes to trash while millions starve
Researches have shown that UK households waste more than seven million tonnes of food per year. Supermarkets are another massive point of discarded food — they throw away £5 billion worth of fruits and vegetables every year. Sadly, this is the way to do business. Groceries would rather supply their shelves with more than the necessary and throw out the leftover than look empty. They also get rid of produce that’s below the average quality level, since not many clients want to buy a fruit that’s all bruised up.
After all, we need to understand that these are just small imperfections which are part of the nature. Sometimes fruits are not all the same size because nature does not care about marketing.
So being dragged by all those quality control and store stocking reasons, supermarkets don’t seem to care enough about wasting so much food. At the same time, there are some shocking statistics about hunger over the world — the brutal reality most of us don’t see. According to the Stop Hunger Now organisation:
805 million people in the world do not have enough to eat.
One in every nine people on our planet go to bed hungry each night.
Hunger kills more people each year than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.
Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five — 3.1 million children each year.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, more than one in four people remain chronically undernourished, while Asia, the world’s most populous region, is also home to the majority of the hungry — 526 million people.
80 percent of the world’s stunted children live in just 14 countries
What stores at least should do is organise groups to transport the food remainders to those who need them. Or set their waste on shelves outside and put signs that say “FREE”. But they won’t do that because it is not in the spirit of capitalism and they can get in trouble… in trouble for giving food to hungry people for free! I know, it sounds insane.
We are so close to a crisis point that there have to be radical responses in order to stop us from going over the edge. It seems that freegans found out these responses for themselves. They found out that to be a freegan means to be a free individual, a free entity, a free existence.