Freeganism

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Freeganism is the practice of reclaiming and eating food that has been discarded. Freegans and Freeganism are often seen as part of a wider ‘anti-consumerist’ ideology, and freegans often employ a range of alternative living strategies based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources. Freegans ’embrace community, generosity, social concern, freedom, cooperation, and sharing in opposition to a society based on materialism, moral apathy, competition, conformity, and greed.’

The word ‘freegan’ is a portmanteau of ‘free’ and ‘vegan’; not all dumpster divers are vegan, but the ideology of veganism is inherent in freeganism. Freeganism started in the mid 1990s, out of the antiglobalization and environmentalist movements. The movement also has elements of Diggers, an anarchist street theater group based in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco in the 1960s, that gave away rescued food.

The manifesto pamphlet ‘Why Freegan’ (written by former Against Me! drummer Warren Oakes in 1999) defines freeganism as ‘an anti-consumeristic ethic about eating’ and goes on to describe practices including dumpster diving, plate scraping, wild foraging, gardening, theft, employee scams, and barter as alternatives to paying for food. Motivations are varied and numerous; some adhere to freeganism as an extension of anarchism or other anti-capitalist tendencies, or simply for environmental reasons, some for religious reasons, etc. The pamphlet include a lengthy section on non-alimentary issues, including conserving water, precycling (preventative waste reduction), reusing goods, and solar energy.

Many freegans get free food by pulling it out of the trash (bins) a practice commonly nicknamed ‘dumpster diving’ in North America and ‘skipping’ or ‘bin diving’ in the UK, as well as ‘bin raiding’ or ‘skipitarianism’ (so called because the person’s diet mostly involves eating out of a skip). Retail suppliers of food such as supermarkets, grocery stores, and restaurants routinely throw away food in good condition, often because it is approaching its sell-by date (without thereby becoming dangerous), or has damaged packaging. Freegans find food in the garbage of such establishments, which they say allows them to avoid spending money on products that exploit the world’s resources, contribute to urban sprawl, treat workers unfairly, or disregard animal rights. By foraging, they believe they are keeping edible food from adding to landfill clutter and that can feed people and animals who might otherwise go hungry.

Dumpster diving is not, however, limited to rummaging for food. Many ‘dumpster divers’ search for anything that can be recycled or reused, from accessories to power tools in need of small repairs. Some divers collect aluminum cans, which they can then sell for a small profit. Tools such as a long pole are used to move items in the dumpster around. When searching for food, a forager may come across food waste that is not entirely sealed from the unwanted waste in the same rubbish sack. This lower quality food is commonly referred to as ‘Skree.’ As bugs, rodents and other disease carriers also forage in such places, there are risks associated with sourcing and eating such food.

Much food is discarded by producers for reasons to do with food standards of retailers and consumers. Examples include fruit and vegetables that are smaller or larger than sizes required by supermarkets, edible offal (organ meats), and a species of Dover sole with all the qualities of sole but small size.

Instead of buying industrially grown foods, wild foragers find and harvest food and medicinal plants growing in their own communities. Some freegans participate in ‘guerrilla’ or ‘community’ gardens, with the stated aim of rebuilding community and reclaiming the capacity to grow one’s own food. In order to fertilize those guerrilla gardens, food obtained from dumpster diving is sometimes also reused. In many urban guerrilla gardens, vermiculture (worm breeding) is used instead of ordinary composting techniques in order to keep the required infrastructure small.

Guerrilla gardeners claim to seek an alternative to dependence and participation in what they perceive as an exploitative and ecologically destructive system of global, industrialized corporate food production. Many rural freegans choose to learn about native wild plants which are easily sustainable and either bring favored species home to cultivate or identify wild populations from which to forage. Often rural freegans are also ‘homesteaders’ who also raise their own dairy livestock and employ alternative energy sources to provide energy for their homesteads, occasionally living ‘off the grid’ entirely.

Sharing is also a common freegan practice. ‘Food Not Bombs’ recovers food that would otherwise go to waste to serve warm meals on the street to anyone who wants them. The group promotes an ethic of sharing and community, while working to show what they consider to be the injustice of a society in which they claim fighting wars is considered a higher priority than feeding the hungry. ‘Really, Really Free Markets’ are free social events in which freegans can share goods instead of discarding them, share skills, give presents and eat food. A ‘free store’ is a temporary market where people exchange goods and services outside of a money-based economy.

In general, co-ops function to provide their local community with additional resources; they are also typically vegan-friendly and local-produce-friendly. Freegans also advocate sharing travel resources. Internet-based ridesharing reduces but does not eliminate use of cars and all the related resources needed to maintain and operate them. Community bicycle programs and collectives facilitate community sharing of bicycles, restore found and broken bikes, and teach people how to do their own bike repairs. In the process they build a culture of skill and resource sharing, reuse wasted bikes and bike parts, and create greater access to green transport.

In addition to the belief that people should not have to go without food when plenty of unused food is thrown away everyday, freeganism also encompasses the idea that people should not be homeless when unused buildings are available. Freegans consider housing to be a right as opposed to an economic good. As a result of this philosophy, many freegans are involved in squatting. ‘Squatting’ is the act of someone occupying a building that they do not have any legal claim or ownership over. ‘Squatters take a stand against councils and landlords, who would rather keep properties boarded up if they cannot make a sufficient profit from them.’ Freegans see this practice as senseless and a counter-productive use of resources.

Working less is another component of freeganism. Freegans oppose the notion of working for the sole purpose of accumulating material items. The need to work is reduced by only purchasing the basic necessities for things such as housing, clothing, and food. Not working resists the idea that joy can only be found through the purchase of material items. Working is seen as sacrificing valuable time to ‘take orders from someone else, stress, boredom, monotony, and in many cases risks to physical and psychological well-being.’ The concept of voluntary joblessness has been described as means of completing tasks out of love for others while not expecting anything in return for one’s services.

Another aspect of the freegan lifestyle addresses the basic human necessity for food. Many dumpster divers, because of freeganism, practice veganism, which calls for the avoidance of animal foods and further extends to avoid the consumption or use of furs, leather, wool, down, and cosmetics and chemical products tested on animals. Vegans choose their diet and lifestyle practices in an attempt to maintain a ‘cruelty-free’ lifestyle.

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