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Freeganism: What is a Freegan?
What is a Freegan
They forage in dumpsters for everything from electronics to food. They reduce the negative ecological impact of the automobile with eco-friendly transportation, such as walking, hitchhiking or even hopping a train. Believing that housing is not a privilege but a right, they sometimes inhabit abandoned buildings. Work, to a freegan, is a sacrifice of their very lives just to pay bills and buy things, and with all the money they save by living the freegan lifestyle they no longer have to be constantly employed, and for some, that means total unemployment. Oh...wait. I'm talking about bums.
Actually I am talking about freegans, but their lifestyle sounds a little...well...like a bum's lifestyle. Only the bums call it dumpster diving, hitching a ride, and squatting. The main difference is that freegans have an excuse. They have a reason which they can articulate – or has been articulated for them – and it sounds good. It sounds noble. And maybe it is.
So what is a freegan? According to freegan.info, the ersatz headquarters of freeganism, “Freegans are people who employ alternative strategies for living 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.” See? It sounds downright conscientious.
There is no official organization, so it is difficult if not impossible to ascertain where it began or who first coined the term “freegan”. No one is claiming ownership. Nor are there any statistics to estimate the number of freegans practicing the lifestyle, though in N.Y.C, because they have an active freegan community, it's estimated there are 400 to 500 in the city alone. What is known is that the movement started in the U.S. and is concentrated in the New York area, but then, so are the bums. Freeganism has gone global, spreading to England, Sweden, Brazil, and South Korea. The word freegan is a combination of the words “free” and “vegan,” but all freegans don't necessarily adhere strictly to the “avoid products from animal sources or products tested on animals” vegan guidebook.
Where Did Freegans Come From
For years, freegans – or those who became freegans – tried to boycott specific products from unethical corporations who engaged in human rights violations, the abuse of animals, and environmental destruction. They found their method ineffective, realizing that every item they did purchase somehow was connected to a company engaged in something deplorable. The problem, they reasoned, wasn't just a few bad apples, but that the entire orchard was rotten. So after turning on, they tuned in and dropped out, just like the Timothy Leary hippies of the 60's without the drugs. Now? Total boycott, and they use several strategies to accomplish what they call, practical living.
Waste Reclamation and Minimization
With rampant consumerism and slick advertising telling us to discard what we already have and replace it with something new simply so the companies can line their pockets with our hard-earned cash, our waste alone is enough is to feed and support multitudes of unfortunates just with our trash. Furthermore, the waste goes to landfills and incinerators, disproportionately located in poorer, non-white neighborhoods, and have been blamed for causing elevated levels of asthma and cancer.
Useful goods are “reclaimed” with what is popularly called “urban foraging” or “dumpster diving.” Freegans, ignoring societal stigmas attached to garbage, rummage through the dumpsters of retailers, residences, offices, and anywhere else they can think of for useful goods. This also includes food. They claim that the goods recovered are usable, clean, in perfect or near-perfect condition, and safe.
"The F Word" Doesn't Stand for Freegan
My first exposure of the freegan movement came while watching a BBC episode of Chef Ramsey's show, The F Word, where one reporter's contribution to the show consists of a short piece on new things going on in the world of food, whether it's drinking horse's milk in Belgium or freegans getting their dinner from the rubbish bin. It was his lucky day as he hit the mother lode in one bin, getting, among other things, sushi. That's sushi...as in raw fish...which he ate. Now I'm not a nutritionist, a gastrointestinal doctor, or an employee of the World Health Organization, but I would think that's not the smartest move. In fact, I thought his bento box was missing a few noodles.
Still, say the freegans, this helps them curtail contributing to garbage and pollution, and helps in reducing the over-all volume in the waste stream. I couldn't get over the social stigma part, I don't think, and I definitely wouldn't eat the sushi, which I find an iffy proposition at best anyway.
In addition, freegans are adamant about recycling, composting, and repairing items rather than buying new ones in a further commitment to reducing waste with their own contribution to garbage and pollution, thereby reducing the over-all volume in the waste stream.
Conscious of the disastrous effect of the automobile on the environment, freegans instead engage in walking, skating, biking, hitchhiking, and even train hopping. But watch that last step...it's a doozy. But even some freegans cannot get by without a car, so they turn to cars with diesel engines converted to run on “veggie-oil”, literally fueling cars with waste. In addition, volunteer groups assist others in converting their diesel engines to run on vegetable oil.
While landlords and cities keep buildings boarded up and vacant because there is no profit motive on making them available as housing, people literally freeze to death on the streets. Anyone with half a heart would see that this is just wrong, and certainly not the ideal of which our society is capable. Freegans are actually doing something about it.
They not only occupy abandoned buildings, but oftentimes rehabilitate the buildings as well, making them not only available as housing for others, but as community centers with educational programs such as art activities for children, environmental education, meetings of community organizations, and whatever other noble uses the space can be put to..
Being a Freegan
And there's also foraging in the wild where the opportunity exists and establishing community gardens. As for squatting, presumably there is no water or electricity, at least in the beginning. More complicated, is the freegan notion that those who own buildings but wont allow people to live in them, even in places where housing is vitally needed, don't deserve to own those buildings. Whether they expect to government to confiscate the buildings and deed them to the freegans instead or to purchase the buildings from the owners and give or lease them – say for a dollar a year -back to the freegans, I don't know.
So, it is a pretty noble cause I think, but not easily done. In the meantime, you're still living like a bum and I don't know if I could do that, unless perhaps it was a necessity. The social stigma of dumpster diving would also be difficult to overcome for me, and that is the biggest and most famous freegan activity that requires some inward conditioning, but I do know one thing, with absolutely no question, and that is I would never, ever, not in a million years, eat the sushi.
(1.) Freegan Trash Tour by airmoore/flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/arimoore/473464155/ (2.) Freegan Sink - Shira Golding/flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/boojee/2929830730/ (3.) Freegan bike repair sign - humain/flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/humain/908773869/ (4.) freegan dumpster diving - thegarlands/flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/thegarlands/2302320379/ (5.) freegan food rescued from trash - sigurdas/flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/sigurdas/2991013647/ (6.) Freegan food party - notanalternative/flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/boojee/2929830730/ (7.) Freegan bike - goddamadog/flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/goddammaddog/2574915175/ (8.) freegan building goddammaddog/flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/goddammaddog/2575740190/ (9.) freegan bagels - upturned face/flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/upturnedface/2443389885/