There is Such a Thing as a Free Lunch

Freegans dig up an eco-conscious, anti-consumerist existence

| May 18, 2006

Adam Weissman crouches on a city street, his hands buried in a large plastic garbage bag while eyeing a neighboring black container bulging with food. This isn't another image of urban homelessness. This is freeganism, a lifestyle founded on recovering perfectly good 'trash' via 'Dumpster diving' or 'urban foraging,' instead of spending hard-earned paychecks on the same products in stores.

'Simply put,' Weissman says in an interview with Satya, 'freegans seek to prevent waste by reclaiming, recovering, and repairing available resources rather than generate new profit.'

For those too squeamish to dig through bags of waste for free loot, Weissman recommends shopping in the aptly-named 'Free Stores' and 'Really Really Free Markets,' or logging onto websites like Freecycle and craigslist, where users alert one another to items they're willing to give away, and post notices asking for things they want.

But freeganism -- the moniker combines 'free' with 'veganism' -- isn't just a strategy to acquire goods without cracking open your wallet. According to the website, freeganism developed as a backlash against 'egregious corporations' that violate human rights, devastate the environment, and abuse animals. When environmentalists realized they couldn't escape supporting these harmful actions every time they made a purchase, they decided to boycott the entire economic system.

In doing so, 'Freegans are building a culture where people voluntarily help and share with one another rather than competing for resources,' Weissman says. These socially-minded initiatives include 'finding abandoned, decrepit buildings and restoring them into homes and community centers for low-income families,' converting 'garbage-strewn abandoned lots into beautiful garden plots amidst the asphalt and concrete of urban neighborhoods,' or simply riding bikes and utilizing restaurant grease as an alternative fuel source in converted diesel engines.

As for finding food, Weissman recognizes that not everyone is willing to alter their lifestyles to the point where they eagerly wade through chest-high heaps of garbage. And that's OK. 'Our focus is far more on building a new and more sustainable culture from the ground up than it is on micromanaging the lifestyle choices of individuals. ... It's much easier to get people to want to make positive changes if we make them feel welcome as they are, rather than having to constantly worry if they will be judged for not being 'freegan enough.''

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