How To Be Freegan in an Un-Freegan World
Published March 13, 2012 • 2 comments
BY ELIZABETH BASTIAN, Perspectives Editor
As someone who lauds the benefits of informal education, I will sincerely advocate podcast subscription to anyone willing to listen (although most people aren’t – womp womp). By watching or listening to biweekly podcast episodes such as Ted Talks, Stuff You Should Know, and Indiefeed (just to name a few of my favorites), I am able to enjoy hearing about topics, people, places, and movements that I never would have encountered otherwise. And I’m learning without even realizing it – it’s every teacher’s dream come true!
It was while listening to one such podcast about a year ago that I initially encountered the philosophy and lifestyle of freeganism. The term itself is derived from a combination of the words “free” and “vegan”. In the words of the official freeganism website, www.freegan.info: “Freeganism is a total boycott of an economic system where the profit motive has eclipsed ethical considerations and where massively complex systems of productions ensure that all the products we buy will have detrimental impacts most of which we may never even consider. Thus, instead of avoiding the purchase of products from one bad company only to support another, we avoid buying anything to the greatest degree we are able….Freegans embrace community, generosity, social concern, freedom, cooperation, and sharing in opposition to a society based on materialism, moral apathy, competition, conformity, and greed.”
Essentially, freegans believe that in today’s capitalist society where people are pushed to consume, consume, consume, there is no way to escape the system that supports this disgustingly flawed sort of corporate rule. In their mind, the retail clerk who rings up the price tag on a luxurious fur coat is just as guilty of animal cruelty as the poacher who shot down the creature. To solve this problem, and to avoid supporting this system altogether, those who subscribe to freeganism only buy what is absolutely necessary. They also advocate for eco-friendly transportation by avoiding petroleum-powered vehicles at all costs, and some even become squatters to avoid paying for rent and to protest the abandonment of perfectly usable buildings.
When I initially heard about this movement of sorts, I was entranced. Hey, I thought to myself, I like to recycle. I can get down with some rage against the corporate machine. I don’t like spending money, and I’m big on community. This could work out very well, I thought. Perhaps embracing my more freegan side is the way to go. It’s official, I proclaimed to the world: I’m going freegan.
However, my more rational side then proceeded to put my more impulsive demeanor in a full-nelson, to the point where I found myself plunking in front of my laptop to do some background research. What was this movement really all about? If I was going to go freegan, what exactly did that entail?
My question was quickly answered when I clicked on the link to freegan.info and discovered a picture of a bunch of adults dumpster diving for food.
Because, folks, when I say that freegans only buy what is absolutely necessary, I mean it. Waste reclamation and waste minimization are their two biggest core values. Freegans recognize that our materialistic culture is bombarded with messages to replace things that are perfectly usable with newer, “improved” models. Hence, they often “urban forage” (which is apparently the politically correct term for dumpster diving) for anything from food to clothes, toiletries, music, office supplies, furniture…I could go on. I mean, when it comes down to it, freegans really don’t spend money at all. They don’t need to. They can find their meals, clothes, and anything else they need to live easily enough in the trash. Some freegans take this philosophy even farther, retreating to the woods to live in hand-hewn huts, creating and using their own stone tools, and obtaining all they need to survive from nature itself.
Now I am sure the majority of you are wrinkling your noses in disgust, picturing dirty, overweight hobos rummaging through trash for half-eaten onions and brown banana peels. However, this is not the case for most freegans. Following the myth of expiration dates, several people will throw away food that has been unopened, still in the packaging or boxes and perfectly eatable (if you don’t believe me, Google it – it’s a fact that most foods are safe to consume up to a week or more after the expiration date). It is this kind of garbage that the freegan forages for. The food selection may not be as fresh as it was at the supermarket, but it is still certainly edible.
Because the need to spend money is virtually eliminated by becoming a freegan, one of their core values is working less. “Once we realize that it’s not a few bad products or a few egregious companies responsible for the social and ecological abuses in our world but rather the entire system we are working in, we begin to realize that, as workers, we are cogs in a machine of violence, death, exploitation, and destruction.” Freegans believe we are share the blame of this cycle of perpetual cruelty simply by being employed within the system. By working less (or not working at all), one can spend more time with family and friends, and be better able to focus not only on the community but the environment as well.
At this point in my preliminary research, not only had I hopped off the bandwagon, but I had leapt from the moving train and ran away from it as fast as I could. Digging through old food for meals? Quitting my job? No thank you! I plan on becoming a professional someday, and that kind of lifestyle does not tout returning to our hunter-gatherer societal roots. And I’m sorry, I know the whole concept of rent-free housing is kickass, but I do not see squatters as secret community activists with a cause. Hasta la vista, short-lived freeganism. It was fun while it lasted, but we really weren’t meant to be.
But I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something substantial here. There was a reason that I was initially so enthralled by the philosophy of the freegans; I just had to figure out what exactly that was.
I’m going to be honest. Most hard-core freegans are probably white kids from the ‘burbs who saw the road of quiet desperation ahead of them and got cold feet. They didn’t like it, and who could blame them? The American dream of old is not, and has never been, for everyone. While some college kids went to Ivy Leagues and bought mansions on the coast with their trophy wives, their best friends from high school hitch-hiked to California to join the revolution at Haight and Ashbury. This series of role playing is just as prevalent now as it was in the 1960’s. Sometimes the years of suburban angst and frustration are answered by the call of the wild. Disenfranchisement sucks. I’m not going to judge the freegan population for their basic desire to lead a lifestyle better and more ethical than the one their parents led behind their white picket fences. Isn’t that what everyone wants?
And frankly, there are certain aspects of freeganism that do have a place in “normal” lives. Take, for instance, the tried and true mantra of reduce, reuse, recycle. We have all heard this thousands of times, but does anyone really practice it? Do you take recycling further than Kobe-ing your empty Gatorade bottle into the blue bin on the other side of the classroom? And how often have you bought a new cell phone or iPod or laptop when the one you had, while not being in the best condition, still worked well enough? Did you know that most people wear 20% of the clothes they have 80% of the time? As a society, we purchase so many items that we do not need. Reducing this materialistic consumerism can work wonders on corporate America. Learn to properly dispose of your waste, and donate things you no longer have a need for.
Don’t be scared of trash picking, either. The collection of old school desks in my basement is thanks to a local school placing the furniture on the curb. And I could not tell you how many times my brothers and I, as children, collected empty refrigerator boxes on trash days and played in them for hours. People often place perfectly usable furniture and other home goods on the curbs with signs that say “FREE” for a reason. There are also websites, such as www.freecycle.com and the “Free” section of Craigslist, where the aspiring freegan can locate some needed items without spending a dime.
At the end of the day, freeganism is about producing what you need to live in the most ethnical and environmentally-friendly way you can. So host a clothes swap with friends instead of going to the mall. Grow a community vegetable garden instead of driving to the supermarket. There are so many little things that you can do that will release you from the corporate machine of “violence, death, exploitation, and destruction.” Being a smarter consumer is the first step on the ladder to the enlightened freegan’s nirvana.
And while you won’t find me in the dumpsters behind the UC, you aren’t likely to find me at Fairlane either. Freeganism and I weren’t meant to be, sadly; but our hard-and-fast fling has definitely left its impact on me. Don’t worry, freeganism, I will not be forgetting you anytime soon. Our love has set me free.