Freeganism can be labelled as a subculture of people. In this subculture, there are different types of freegans who are classified according to their motivations to adapt to the freegan lifestyle.
The feeling of remorse for wasted food and products.
They are aware of how much food is wasted each year. They know that there is mass waste of clothes, gadgets, and furniture all bought in order to keep up with the recent trends and fashion. With that in mind, freegans take advantage of the opportunity to find useful items in the bins and dumpsters.
Love for the animals and environment.
Freegans are aware of the toxins and negative effects of the by-products used by a company. They also know how much non-biodegradable things are thrown away by people who are not aware of their negative effects. They know that there are abused animals in every fur and wool products.
For these reasons they adopt a freegan lifestyle with an aim of saving the environment. They want to eliminate waste and the dangers of some products by scouting the dumpster and reusing or recycling whatever they can find. They also don’t want to subscribe to purchase of products that cause the abuse of some animals.
They are against consumerism and capitalism.
They are the real freegans because they believe strongly that they know the real principles behind freeganism and who the real culprit is. Because of this they avoid everything that can make the capitalists stronger. They achieve this by not buying their products, insulting them by getting these products from a dumpster for free, proving to them that they can live without buying their products, or sometimes by shoplifting (this is the exception not the rule).
They are just extremely frugal.
Some people are just extremely frugal. They adapt to the freegan lifestyle for personal reasons. They just want to save lots of money, because it is an obvious fact that you can save a lot when you dumpster dive.
Aside from these common motivators for adopting a freegan lifestyle there are other various reasons. Some are encouraged by friends who are freegans while others just hang out with other freegans, because there are various events and activities held in freegan communities.
How to be a real freegan?
The first and the most important thing that you have to do is to ask yourself, “What are you fighting for?” or “Why do you want to become a part of a community who are willing to face the prejudice of the society?”
Although it may seem easy to adapt to a freegan lifestyle, the difficult parts are mainly the battles that you will have to face in your everyday life. To become a serious freegan, there are a lot of sacrifices that you will have to make. These include your pride and career – that’s if you are a capitalist or you working for a capitalist.
What’s important is that you are prepared and you have the confidence and bravery to face these battles. These battles include the fight against capitalism and consumerism. That’s why if you have this so-called career that includes working for a capitalist, or being a capitalist yourself, you may want to say goodbye to it. Not to mention the personal battles against the prejudice and discrimination of closed-minded people who can’t even figure out the difference between a freegan and a bum.
If you think you are ready to face life as a freegan, here are some important practices you have to apply:
As was mentioned before, time is the most valuable thing for a freegan. A freegan devotes most of his or her time to family, friends and community. He devotes most of his time taking actions against consumerism and capitalism. He also devotes his time teaching the others on how to create something good out of trash.
Squat or couchsurf
A freegan believes that lands should be publicly shared. That is why he doesn’t bother paying for a rent or mortgage. He would squat or couch surf instead or live in a communal area.
He would squat in an abandoned house to provide housing for those people who want it, or he will use the place to provide education for the community. On the other hand, couch surfing is also encouraged to all the freegans worldwide, because this is a way to build stronger relationships between likeminded individuals.
This is a trademark of a freegan. He does it to eliminate the wasted stuff and food items. Many hungry people in the world are living in poverty. That’s why freegans try to extend their help by saving the foods and stuff from a dumpster and sharing these to the others for free.
Gardening and farming
Freegans are against GMOs and corporate food production systems. That’s why they create their own food by planting fruits, vegetables and herbs.
They minimize waste
They organize activities like free markets and free stores. During these events, you can swap the things that don’t seem useful for you, but can still be used by others. You can also swap your recycled stuff through internet-based swapping sites.
They don’t own a car
To get from one place to another, a freegan hitchhikes or uses the train or a bike because they know that owning a car will only contribute to pollution. In addition, they are fully aware that buying a car is a form of subscription to consumerism. This said, a documentary aired in the UK some years ago showed freegans driving around in a camper van using doctored vegetable oil as fuel!
The perks of being a freegan
It is a fact that there’s a movement or even an ideology behind freeganism and anyone who practices it can enjoy other benefits including the following:
Free food, house, furniture and other stuff
Your food and your housing is always free. You can find food in a dumpster or you can pick it from your garden. You don’t need to pay for rent or a mortgage because you have an abandoned house as your home, or you can find a place to stay with likeminded people. The same goes to the other things that you can find in a dumpster. If you’re lucky enough, you may even find something unexpectedly beautiful.
You don’t have to please anybody
You don’t have to follow any rules. You do not have any bosses to please. You don’t have any irate customers to deal with.
Freegans are social people. They promote couch surfing and gathering events to meet up with the other freegans in different parts of the world.
Freegans look at current society and see victims of capitalism, and people functioning as if profits and consumerism are inherently good things. In a freegan’s point of view, these are not good things, but instead represent the causes of the problems in wider society.
Because of capitalism (amongst many other things, it’s not the sole cause), inequality between people exists; animals are treated not as living creatures but as machines and the Earth is filled with pollutants caused by the companies’ by-products. For the freegans, the root of all the self-destructing factors in the society is capitalism.
For them, if capitalism continues to fool the society of its “benefits,” they fear that in the near future, all forests will be cleared (see the excessive logging in Brazil for example), there will be no clean air to breathe, no clean water to drink and no sustainable food sources to eat.
Why do freegans blame capitalism for all the bad things that are happening in the society?
Some people say that capitalism doesn’t exist nowadays, and if it does, it’s already controlled by different laws. Others say that good capitalism in the modern society has to exist, because it creates different roles for everyone, not to mention the product innovations and concept of ownership.
In the eyes of a freegan, capitalism is the root of almost all of the problems in the society. It is the reason why social classes exist and why some people dream of working in a better profession and gaining more profitable employment. But it is the reason for the continuous destruction of the Earth’s biosphere.
The following are some of the societal problems caused by capitalism and consumerism, which gave rise to the freeganism movement.
Do freegans see capitalism as the cause of discrimination
In the workplace
Everyday, you have to work hard for almost 6-8 hours per day. You have the most tedious and difficult job, but at the end of the day, what you’ll find out is that all of your hardships and effort are just equivalent to an amount of money which is often still not enough to provide for the needs of your family.
To make it worse, your superiors don’t really have to do much about anything. They are just there to supervise you. They sit in their office, signing off jobs and follow a decision-making process, but they still make more money than you do. You cannot complain about it because they’re the owners. They’re the ones who are paying you. You are just there to follow and and make them richer.
In educational attainment
In current times the primary aim of the existence of schools is not to promote true education but train the children on how to be better slaves for capitalists.
Nowadays, you’ll hear most parents telling their children to do their best at school. They tell them to compete with their classmates and other schoolers to get a better job in the future. You won’t hear the parents say that they have to go to school to learn something interesting and new, so they can become whoever they want to become.
This misconception about school is rooted from the unequal opportunities of people based on educational attainment. Those people who have graduated with a degree have a greater opportunity to get a better job.
If you’re a college graduate and you are compared to an undergrad, you will always have the edge whether you learned something from college or not. As long as you have this piece of paper called diploma, you are welcome in the HR’s office to get your interview. However, if you are the undergrad, there are less opportunities for you no matter how experienced or smart you are.
Capitalism is the reason why job stereotyping among races, colour, and gender exists. Without capitalism, there’ll be no inferior or superior countries. There’ll be no need for human resource exportation and everyone will be treated equally.
Capitalism takes charge of people’s most important commodity
For the freegans, time is the most valuable commodity. Humans have only one life to live and it’s short. Because of capitalism, this valuable commodity is taken away from them.
Your boss also has a lot of control over the majority of your time. Imagine the fact that you spend most of the time working for them while you are awake. This is the harsh truth that you cannot resist when you choose to work for them, because resisting their orders and not following the rules that they’ve set at work may cause you to get fired.
Capitalism destroys the environment and the welfare of animals.
Freegans believe that all companies are responsible for the environmental destruction. Waste materials are inevitable by-products, when a company produces something. These waste materials can destroy the Earth’s biosphere.
It doesn’t matter if these companies claim to be externalists or socially responsible
Freegans don’t believe these kinds of marketing campaigns because not everyone is 100 per cent sure that their products are 100 per cent eco-friendly.
For example, the eco-friendly cars. Freegans don’t believe that these “eco-friendly” cars are 100 per cent eco-friendly. How about their paint and other components? What about the machineries and other equipment used in making this product? What about its by-products?
Capitalism creates a lot of waste
Capitalism is the reason that fads exist. Because of the marketing campaigns and frequent innovations on different products, people have this urge to be “in” or buy what the marketing campaign has told them to buy. Because of this, a lot of usable or edible products are thrown away.
Companies are getting richer and richer, while consumers are wasting more commodities, money and other resources.
Capitalism takes possession of the things meant to be shared.
The illusion of “right” perceived by most people nowadays is the result of the “buy it to own it” concept. According to them, this is the way to settle the dispute about ownership among people.
The funny thing is that people still have this dispute, even in the presence of titles, receipts and certifications. It is also ironic that natural resources, such as water, forest, land, trees, and animals, are naturally made and humans made no contribution in their existence. In fact, these things were already there even before the humans appeared on Earth. So do humans have this real right to take possession of these things?
Capitalism fools society in view of what is valuable or not.
The illusion of what is valuable and what is not is dictated to the society by various marketing campaigns. TV commercials, radio and magazine ads and other marketing collaterals designed to teach the consumers what to believe.
Different marketing strategies are made to manipulate the biased tendencies of the brain. In the modern marketing strategy, emotions are manipulated to get the people to buy an endorsed product.
The products are commonly bought, not because of their real value, but because of what the marketing campaign has told them.
For this reason, most people in society discard and neglect all the wasted products because they think that these are not valuable at all. What the marketing campaign says to be valuable is mostly what is only valuable for them.
Because of this illusion, people forget that there are good things that they can find in the dumpster. In fact, if you are creative enough, and you know that there are valuable things in the trash, you can still make something new, and something beautiful and important.
Statistics and facts
Some people oppose the principles and morals practiced by the freegans. They think that freegans tend to overreact to the problems of the current society. The opponents also believe that freegans can’t make any effective changes in society and they are just risking their health because of their lifestyle.
People naturally have different beliefs and they have their own way of dealing with the societal problems. However, there are proven statistics and facts that can prove the self-destructing effects of capitalism and most importanlty over-consumption. It also proves that freegans are just people who are aware of the possible long-term effects of materialism and consumption and they are just taking a serious action to prevent it before it gets too late.
Proof that capitalist exploitation still exists
According to the Storyofstuff.org, the main source of income of most people in Cascade Lock, Oregon is agriculture. The residents were sharing the water of the publicly-owned water source called Oxbow Springs.
However, in 2007, Nestlé came to Cascade Lock to deal for the privatization of Oxbow Springs. Nestle were planning to make bottled water beverages out of the spring’s water and sell them back to people. They in return promised to open 50 new jobs to people.
Proof of hunger
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, in 2013 there were more than 49 million of Americans who have been struggling to find food to eat. Also, in 2013, there were 21.5 million children who received free or reduced-price lunches from the National School Lunch Program.
Approximately 50 per cent of these children received free or reduced price breakfast from the School Breakfast Program. Only 2.4 million of these children received free or reduced price food from the Summer Food Service Program during summer months.
Proof about food waste
According to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in UK, there is approximately two billion tonnes, or almost half of the food produced in the world, that never makes it on the table each year. The IMechE says that it is all because of the unnecessary sell-by dates, buy one-get one free promotional strategies, poor storage facilities, engineering and agricultural practices, and consumers’ demand for cosmetically perfect food.
The United Nations predicted that by the end of the century, there will be an extra three billion people to feed and the demand for food and other resources is continuously growing. That’s why it is important to deal with this problem about food waste.
Examples of abuse behind products
According to Amnesty International around 3.7 million people died in Africa during the three-year civil war. This is all because of the illegal trade of diamonds that cost billions of dollars all to provide arms for rebels and warlords.
According to PETA, sheep are treated as wool-producing machines and not as living creatures. Because of the huge market for wool, sheep are the ones that are abused.
Shearers are paid per volume, and not per hour, that’s why they are encouraged to work as fast as they can, even if it harms the sheep. Because of this fast-paced work, the shearers can inevitably cut the sheeps’ skin. Most shearers just leave the sheeps’ wound as it is, and some sew it without using any painkillers. Aside from that, others report certain cases of sheep maltreatment including kicking, punching, hitting, and other forms of abuse.
In Australia, there’s a breed of sheep cultured specifically for its capability to produce a thick wool due to its wrinkly skin. The breed of this sheep is called merino. The ranchers commonly let the wool grow without considering its effects on the sheep during the hot months. Aside from that, its thick wool can collect some of the sheep’s waste, attracting a breeding haven for flies, especially in the wrinkly area of the skin, where the moisture commonly collects. Because of this, there are merinos that are eaten alive by maggots.
To face this problem, some ranchers apply a deadly procedure on lambs that are as young as two to eight weeks old. The lambs are forced to endure the procedure, which prevents their skin from wrinkling. This procedure is called molesing. This method is applied by restraining a lamb’s legs and forcing it to its back. After that, the rancher will cut a huge chunk of skin on the lambs backside without any painkillers. This is the main reason behind the death of many lambs even before they reach their eighth week.
According to the globalexchange.org, West Africa has been the main source of cocoa in 60 years. It comprises the 67 per cent of the world’s total production of cocoa.
America is the largest consumer of cocoa. Americans spent a total of $13 billion dollars on chocolate and ate 3.3 billion pounds of it in 2001.
Behind the sweet, delicious and addictive taste of chocolate, there’s a horrible labor force behind it. The low global market value of chocolate has been owed to the children who are forced to work in cocoa plantations. These children are forced to complete hazardous daily tasks without any protection, such as using machetes and pesticides.
According to the US State Department, there have been 15,000 children who were sold to work in plantations of cocoa, coffee and cotton in the Ivory Coast, the greatest producer of cocoa. Also, according to UNICEF and IITA, the Ivory Coast farmers have been using child slaves who came from the neighboring countries such as Burkina Faso, Togo, Mali and Benin.
Also, according to the IITA, 60 per cent of children who are working in cocoa plantations have never been into school.
China has been the greatest exporter of fur in the world, and their consumer is the United States. Why? It is because certain animal abuses are not illegal in China.
According to PETA, there are even fur farms in China that operate legally to exploit and abuse the animals in unimaginable and barbaric ways. The animals that you can find here include dogs, cats, rabbits, foxes and other animals. These animals are commonly placed in a wired cage wherein they are exposed to the scorching sun and heavy rainfalls.
To make it even worse, when it’s time to “harvest,” the fur farmers will pull the animals aggressively from their cages, throw them onto the ground and hit them with a bludgeon.
It doesn’t end there just yet. According to the undercover investigators from Swiss Animal Protection / EAST International, the fur farmers would hang them by their legs or tail and would begin skinning them. It is the worst part for the animals that survived the bludgeon, because they are skinned alive. After this process, they will be thrown into the pile of skinless and bloody animals that have gone before them.
It seems like doing this kind of stuff is just a part of everyday life in China, because you’ll find more fur farms and animal market in other places, wherein you’ll see domestic animals, such as dogs and cats hanged and bleeding to death.
These are just some of the examples of abuse behind every product. It will take more than a thousand-page book to expose all the wrongdoings and abuse of brands and products and we are just using these examples to highlight the backdrop of abuses that shape the ethics and philosophies of the freegan movement.
It is because the freegans believe that even though a product appears to be legally produced and loved by loyal customers, there are still hints of abuse and harm behind it.
For example, a plastic bag is a product that is widely accepted by society, but is it good for the environment? A glass of Coca Cola is a product legally produced and widely accepted, but is it good for your body? The same goes with cigarettes, alcohol, and more.
The only foods or goods that are accepted by the freegans are those that are naturally harvested and are wasted away by some people. They reuse and recycle whatever they can find useful to eliminate the harmful effects of plastics and other non-biodegradable materials in the environment.
Freegans’ solution to the effects of consumerism and capitalism
The freegans’ aim to battle against capitalism by living a simple life. They want the kind of society which is almost the same as primitive times when our ancestors were living a simple life and were just happy with what they had and what they could acquire, sustainably from the environment.
The freegans do not like people to take full control of the environment and use it to benefit only them. They just want to let the environment provide for them as naturally as it used to during the ancient times.
For this reason, they don’t let capitalism dictate the way they have to live. They live by not letting the “bosses” enslave them because they believe that their motives are for profits and not for the good of society. They don’t buy the goods that will only profit the capitalists and enslave the poor.
They have to live in a simple way by not subscribing to the illusion of a “good life,” or material existence that the capitalists dictate them. They have to do it to save the environment and the society. They do it by saving the goods that the other people see as trash. They have to live a simple and happy life to teach the others about freeganism and the creative ways of doing it.
They want to show to everyone that the world is a beautiful place to live. They want to prove to people that it is possible to feel happier and be richer by seeing others’ perspectives and by seeing the opposite of what every marketing collateral tells them is beautiful and desirable. They want to show the world that people can still survive without over consuming and that they can be happy with all the things that the environment can naturally give them.
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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.
What freeganism is not – challenging myths and stereotypes
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.
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.
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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Thanks for reading. If you found some value please leave a COMMENT or SHARE with others who might enjoy the article. Give us a shout on Twitter us @EscapersMedia.