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The Freegans Among Us


Katie Bezrouch • Sep 04, 2008

The other day I listened to a customer in the coffee shop where I work complain about the cap Costco put on the amount of rice each customer can buy per visit. It occurred to me that this guy must not have heard about the world’s food crisis. I thought about suggesting to him that he try visiting Haiti, where a farmer can grow rice, but not actually afford to buy it.

The world’s poorest nations have been falling short of what many of us consider a basic right: to produce and reserve enough food to feed their own people. Now that this problem is hitting closer to home, I wonder how Americans will respond. Two recent articles in In These Times caught my attention on this subject. In David Moberg’s piece on the global food crisis he says,

“Earlier this year, a U.N. commission of 400 agricultural experts concluded that the world needed to shift from agricultural business-as-usual to a more ecological and small-scale approach. To no one’s surprise, the U.S. government and agribusiness refused to endorse its recommendations.”

Most agricultural experts agree that switching to this more ecological, small scale approach would help stimulate local economy and ensure food stability. They argue for food sovereignty, which would give people and nations the right to create their own food economy and the right to decide weather or not to use genetically modified crops (which have not yet been proven to be safe to eat and degrade the quality of the land). These policies sound promising and have real potential to address a growing crisis…if they are embraced.

In the meantime there is a small movement of activists that call themselves “freegans” showing up in affluent cities all over the world. The name derives from the root words “free” and “vegan”, and they strive to live simply. One of the main ideals of both veganism and freeganism is to conserve energy by eating lower on the food chain, but freeganism is a little more political. It’s about rejecting consumer culture altogether, therefore not adding to the national, or global demand for goods.

One of most well known habits of freegans is “dumpster diving”. They find perfectly good food (and plenty of it, the U.S. accounts for 5% of the global population, but produces 96 billion lbs. of waste each year). While most Americans would probably think of digging through the garbage as repulsive, I think it’s pretty admirable. It appears as if it’s becoming a popular trend too. According to Sergio Burns in his article A Freegan World,

“There are around 400 to 500 freegans in New York City alone, and growing communities of like-minded individuals across the Western World who are living outside of and challenging the established social order.”

Freeganism is like a tiny, world-wide, esoteric club. In their own humble way they detract from world hunger….they give it less value. They’re people who live their lives in a way that is not invasive to others, nor to the planet. And while we might not all be so hip to rummaging through the waste basket, it wouldn’t hurt us to take a few pointers. Freeganism won’t make a dent in the shortage of food that is starving millions around the world, but it can help us learn how we contribute to the problem and just maybe set us down a path to learning how to stop.

Image gratefully borrowed from DavidDennis’ photostream

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