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Freeganism: Dumpster Diving and Reclaiming Waste

Exploring Freeganism as a practise and philosophy. How and why do freegans escape from society?

Written and researched by Monica C

What is Freeganism?

How is your everyday lifestyle? Do you wake up in the morning to force yourself to do a daily routine for those people you’re working for? Do you have to spend a lot of cash just to have something on your table? Do you always have to pay for debt and interest after buying “stuff” in grocery stores and shopping malls?

Freegans, the ones who practice a freeganism lifestyle, don’t have to do those things. Their daily routines don’t include going to work or visiting stores and supermarkets.

They enjoy a simple, yet different lifestyle. They live without feeling the need to work for somebody, but they always have food on the table and they always acquire everything that they need. The interesting part is they get of there things for free. They are creative people who know how to turn trash into gold.

Freegans are dumpster divers who scout for furniture, appliances, food or anything that has been discarded by other members of society. This is the way they choose to live because they don’t subscribe to consumerism and capitalism.

  1. What freeganism is not – challenging myths and stereotypes
  2. Freegans, slackers, freeloaders, and bums are the same.

Some people go by the above notion when questioned on their understanding of this grouping. They are still unaware of the freeganism movement, which is the main reason they often consider bums, freeloaders and freegans as the same entity. Also, some people find freeganism as a good excuse to slack off. Note, however, that freeganism is different from bumming or slacking.

Bums are homeless and jobless. Some view the term bum in itself as a derogatory or demeaning term but we will use it here for the purpose of clarity and explanation. For so-called bums, not having a job is not a choice – well, some choose not to work, but it’s commonly because of harrowing personal reasons. The dumpster diving lifestyle is not their choice but it’s mainly because of the lack of money.

There is a distinction between freegans and the homeless

You may see a freegan scouting for food or stuff in a dumpster like a bum does. You may say that like a bum, some freegans choose not to work a 40-60-hour/week job, but there’s a meaningful reason behind this kind of lifestyle – something that’s beyond personal problems or unavoidable circumstances.

A freegan does what he does because he doesn’t want to be victimized by capitalism and consumerism. He doesn’t want to work for the bosses who are getting richer by destroying the Earth’s atmosphere, biosphere and natural resources. He (or she) is a free person who cherishes his time for something more important than being always at his best just to keep a job.

Most freegans are not homeless. They can sometimes afford to pay for mortgage or rent. Many of them are educated. In fact, some of them still choose to stay in a job. They just don’t want to subscribe to those who keep on destroying the Earth by working for them, or they just feel bad about the wasted food or products.

Freeganism and frugality are one and the same

The other misconception about freeganism is that freeganism is synonymous with frugality. It is a fact that freegans live a frugal lifestyle. However, it isn’t just about frugality. It is about finding justice for environment, wasted food or products and animal rights. They have to be frugal because their main goal is to help save society from the negative effects of capitalism.

For them, subscription to consumerism contributes to pollution, waste products and animal cruelty, that’s why they have to live a frugal lifestyle and strive to reduce consumption whenever possible. Freegans reuse and recycle whatever they find to be reusable or recyclable.

Are freegans all anarchists?

Freegans are not exclusively anarchists. Generally, there is a need for proper governance of the society to maintain peace and order. Freeganism is a separate political movement from anarchism. There are freegans who are anarchist and there are those who support a standard political hierarchy.

Some freegans are against capitalism and not in favour of the existence of a government, especially if it’s the kind of government which chooses to help and support a sovereign individual instead of looking after its people.

To wrap it up, freeganism is an anti-consumerism movement. They are not slackers, anarchists nor bums. In fact, “freegan” is a combination of two words: free and vegan – free, in a sense that they get their food out of dumpsters and vegan because most freegans abstain from eating animal products. They’re just people who want to create some change in society in their own way. None of these are absolutes and variations of philosophy do apply.

anarchists against the system
The term “anarchist” has been taken and misrepresented

How did freeganism start?

“Eww, that’s gross.” This is the common reaction of people when you say that you’ve found something edible in a dumpster and would like to eat it! Hardly surprising I suppose given how we are conditioned to live. With this common prejudice, what do you think is the reason why freeganism became a popular movement? How did it begin?

It began in the mid-1960s when an anarchist guerilla street theatre group, known as Diggers, were performing in San Francisco, California. They got their name from a 17th century group known as English Diggers. The English Diggers had this vision to free society from its obsessive consumerism and possession of private properties.

The Diggers of the mid-1960s would engage in street theatre and artistic performance. They would also cook and eat foods that came from trash, gardens and local stores – obtained by stealing. They also had the heart to share those foods through the free stores they set up and they gave them away to everyone who wanted them.

Since then, the San Francisco Diggers had made a significant contribution in political activism against food waste. Food waste issues have been at the centre of political activism to increase ecological awareness.

This was part one of a three-part series. Keep an eye out for the second part dropping soon.

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