I don’t know where I’ve been the last 20 years that the term “freegan” has never crossed my path, but there you go – now it has.
The word is a combination of “free” and “vegan” and people who practice freeganism live a lifestyle deliberately with little or no money. (I know…don’t we all?) No, but freegans, (who have been around for at least 20 years under this particular moniker and forever as a general concept) do not wish to participate in the conventional economy and strive to leave the smallest possible ecological footprint.
They are vegans, they believe in community and sharing and cooperation and freedom and are social activists combatting materialism, consumerism, greed, conformity and environmental damage.
They get most of their stuff, including food, from other people’s cast-offs. They “forage” instead of buying, They rummage through dumpsters, and the “garbages” of retailers, hotels, restaurants, residences, offices and other places. And before you turn up your nose at the concept of “garbage” you should know that the recovered goods are all safe, clean, useable and in perfect condition – including the food.
What they can’t find among discards they can always get for free on websites Freecycle or the free section of Craigslist. Some communities events like“Really, Really, Free Markets” and “Freemeets” or a free store. Goods (and sometimes services) are given or exchanged. No money is involved.
Freegans are also behind Food Not Bombs. They cook up recovered food and serve meals on street corners to anyone who wants them.
Freegans avoid using cars as much as possible, though realize they are often a necessity. They try to use diesel engine cars converted to run on leftover fryer oil from restaurants. (Yes, apparantly this is not only possible, but very efficient! Who knew?) For the most part, freegans walk, bike, skate, or hitchhike.
They believe housing is a right not a privilege and so squat in vacant properties that landlords have boarded up. Freegans feel it’s an outrage to have people living on the streets freezing to death when there are structures all over the place just sitting empty. Don’t equate freegan squatting with TV images of squatters in crack houses, though. No, these people make real homes out of these empty buidings. In addition to living areas, squatters often convert abandoned buildings into community centers with programs including art activities for children, environmental education, meetings of community organizations, and more.
They also turn garbage-filled abandoned lots into community garden plots, growing their own vegetables and edible and medicinal plants. And what they can’t grow they forage for in urban green areas.
Some freegans have moved out of the urban centers altogether and have set up communtiies in wilderness areas, living more primitive lifestyles.
And Freegans believe that the concept of a nine-to-five work grind is soul destroying — which most of us nine-to-fivers already know. We sacrifice such a large chunk of our lives just to buy stuff we’re going to throw away eventually. We sacrifice our freedom to take orders from someone else. We live our days with stress, boredom, monotony, and in many cases risks to our physical and psychological well-being
So, without the need to buy stuff and pay mortgages, freegans can get by with very little need to work. They devote their days to caring for their families, volunteering in the community and joining activist groups
But, because it’s difficult to find some things for free, employment of sorts is often necessary. But even here, they stand firm in not allowing a boss to overrun their spirit of cooperative empowerment. Employee-led unions like Industrial Workers of the World ensure, safe, free and fair workplaces.
The documentary, Bin Appetit, explains more about the principles behind freeganism.
I love the idea behind this. In some ways it’s a step back to a kinder, more caring, more community-centered era. In other ways, urban freegans couldn’t exist without the throw-away consumerism so rampant in this era.
Some people call them freeloaders because of this, but they’re not lazy or shiftless; nor do they sit around waiting for handouts. Foraging is hard work, too. Making a home and a garden out of garbage is hard work. Volunteering, sharing food, goods and services is work – even if it’s not our conventional concept of “work”.
Lately I’ve been following the blog of Hallie – a woman who seems to be very much a part of this sort of lifestyle (even if she’s not vegan). She seems to need very little, has built herself the tiniest, cutest living space and is free of pretty much all of the encumberances the rest of us have yolked ourselves with.
I wonder if I could live like this? Could you? I spend way too much money on food now because I’m picky about the quality of the stuff I eat. I think the transition to dumpster cuisine might be a difficult one. Other than that I wouldn’t have a big problem. I have very little interest in my home. I like it to be vermin-free and have hot and cold running water, but I don’t spend my weekends picking out colour swatches or down at HomeSense matching fabrics and dinner ware.
The only reason I’ve even made half an effort is for my daughter. And I love foraging for free and/or cheap stuff. And I already live car-free. It’s just the food thing…