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Let's Be Honest, Episode 41: Freegan Culture

Let’s be honest is a Food Circle project to open up the conversation about the challenges when being or becoming a member of the SC (Sustainability Club). This series will shine a light on the different approaches to making life more sustainable and the step-backs and difficulties that arise. Being more kind and understanding, instead of critical, will hopefully help to encourage us to try instead of giving up when facing a step-back or failure. This is made possible thanks to Sapient, the mother company of Food Circle, which every year offers internships to students from all around the world, creating a uniquely multicultural environment!

Let’s celebrate the achievements and give room for honesty and struggles!

Freeganism, the actual meaning

Freeganism, sometimes synonymous with dumpster diving, is a new social movement. In combination of the words free and vegan, freeganism is an ideology where people have limited participation in the conventional economy and minimise their consumption of resources. Freegans avoid purchasing anything as an act of protest against the food system. They are also related with the anti-capitalist and anti-consumerist ideology and engage in alternative and sustainable surviving activities, such as voluntary unemployment, dumpster diving, squatting in abandoned buildings and guerrilla gardening. The main goal of freeganism is to act against animal cruelty, human rights abuses, and environmental destruction as well as capitalistic exploitations that create greed, mass production, and over-consumption. [1]

Freeganism, the history

The term was created from one of the founders of the movement 'Food not Bombs', an NGO based in USA, which used food recovery as a way to organise public meals for protest, with their moto being 'solidarity, not charity'. Freegan lifestyle began to come in light in the mid 2000's, where freegans made visible the food waste problem that is destroying our planet. Nowadays, a massive online group, called, offers various information for those who would like to be informed and are interested on this lifestyle. Moreover, they organise dumpster tours for the public, to show the amounts of edible food that are wasted, as well as to give tips on how you can collect it and do freely your grocery shopping.

Freeganism, the principles

  • Reuse & recycle: Freegans are trying to reuse an item as much as possible and when they no longer need it, they tend to donate, share or give it away for free. Instead of bying a new product, they prefer to borrow it or purchase it from free stores that rely on these swaps. Of course, if something has lost its value, it goes straight to the recycling bins and not the trash.

  • Urban foraging or Dumpster diving: To avoid participating in any form of capitalism, freegans do their grocery shopping through the method of dumpster diving. From perfectly edible food to furniture, beauty products and electrical devices, all this can be found in trash and usually in good conditions and huge quantities.

  • Growing food: Rural freegans have their land where they cultivate their crops. They can also use community free gardens for their harvest while enjoying the fresh air and the companion of their neighbors. If there is a lack in communtiy garden plots, then freegans take over vacant plots in abandoned buildings and create their own garden. This is called 'guerrilla gardening' because, as guerrilla warfare, it relies on stealth. This practice is also linked with a form of activism to show the problems of neglected and under-utilized plots of city land.

  • Eco - friendly transportation: They use environmentally friendly ways to commute daily such as biking, walking or public transportation , train hopping and car pooling.

  • Squatting: Since a house is a very vital condition of surviving and surely cannot be found in the trash, freegans have found a solution. The practice is called 'squatting' and it means when a person moves into empty, unused buildings to live, a form of free housing. However, this tends to be very risky since the building may be damaged and not properly maintained and moreover, you can get evicted by the police. Other freegans work in exchange for home. There are jobs that include free staying as long as you work there. Such jobs are farm work, apartment management, childcare or housekeeper.

  • Work less: Refuse to work for money is their protest against the financial system and the capitalism. They consider that while working for a company, they contribute to the damage that is being done to the world. Some freegans do work for little earnings, just to get by and prefer to spend their free hours doing what they are interested in or volunteer to causes they support or participate in activist groups.

  • Anti - consumerists: Freegans have the belief that people should buy only the essential products they need and not over consume.

  • Protect Earth: Some of the basic goals for Freeganism is to protect and nurture the body we all share, the earth. As a result, they attempt to reduce their energy consumption by using sustainable and alternative forms of energy such as solar, thermal, wind etc. In addition to that, freegans live by the concept of organic composting and water conservation. [2]

Freeganism, the benefits

Leading a freegan lifestyle maybe is a bit hard and uncomfortable, but it sure comes with many benefits. Starting with the environmental impact, fewer greenhouse gas emissions are released in the atmosphere which results to less pollutions. Also, the waste in landfills is reduced since the supposedly wasted products are now used.

Regarding the human relationships, freegans cultivate a new culture and community among them, maybe a bit isolated but with heartwarming and open members that build strong bonds. They learn to share and cooperate. Of course, they develop personal skills such as bike repairing, gardening, sewing, constructing etc. since they are obliged to do everything on their own.

Last but not least, the amount of money saved is tremendous. Along with the few hours that some freegans work, it is the perfect opportunity to concentrate to themselves and things they care about. [3]

Freeganism, the problems

  • Health: While dumpster diving, there are risks that one should keep in mind. The food might be contaminated by other trash or it might been expired without the diver realises.

  • Hunger: There are no guarantees that divers will absolutely find edible food in the dumpsters. While avoiding to participate at any cost in the economy and purchase products, freegans might go on long periods without having food to eat.

  • Legality: Some of freegans activities are considered illegal, such as dumpster diving, squatting or guerrilla gardening. People mighgt face charges or get arrested. [3]

Freeganism, criticisms

A first thought is that freeganism is supported by the Capitalism's surpluses on products. However, freegans have managed to find a way to transform this waste into a type of living so as to reduce their footprint and the companies waste.

A second criticism is that free-economics might work for basic needs such as food and clothes, but Freecycle’s not exactly inundated with skilled trades and professional people offering their services for free, which raises the question of how generalisable it is across different sectors of the economy.

Thirdly, it has been said that freeganism is such as radical lifestyle that is a bit hard to have a huge impact in today's society. It offers though, many solutions and tips for those who care to take small steps and adopt a more sustainable lifestyle.

Last but not least, freeganism is considered as a very white, middle-classed movement whereas people from developed societies have the financial capacity to live by this means, a more romantic vision of 'not poverty'. [4]


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