Friday, October 24, 2008

Freeganism: Should Your Next Meal Come From a Dumpster?

By: Kimberly Leifker (Junior, Media Studies)

How much money do we spend a year on purchasing produce and other goods from the supermarket? Imagine produce--for free. Imagine pasta, bread, bagels, or candy bars. Free. How? Dumpster diving. Sounds absurd to dig for your groceries from the garbage disposals of local supermarkets right? Not for freegans, an emerging lifestyle resulting in the overtaking of dumpsters everywhere.
Freeganism is derived from the word “free” as in no cost and “vegan” as in the practice of refraining from eating or using products that originate from any type of animal product. Freeganism is the refusal to participate in the traditional economy, opting to use resources that would otherwise go to waste. The freegan movement spawned from the environmental justice and anti-globalization movements and has a heavy emphasis on anti-consumerism.

Freegans believe that there are valuable resources being thrown away daily, thus leading to land fill buildup. They work to reduce consumption from businesses that are environmentally harmful, allow unfair labor practices and conditions, and contribute to the exploitation of animal rights. Freeganism isn't only dumpster diving (often referred to as waste reclamation), however, it involves a variety of “alternative” lifestyle options like eco-friendly transportation, voluntary joblessness, waste minimalization, and urban gardens and compost.

While dumpster diving is the most identifiable activity related to freegans, they also advocate for eco-friendly transportation. The use of automobiles contributes to pollution and involves the consumption of petroleum which is a valuable and diminishing resource. Freegans prefer alternative modes of transportation including biking, skating, hitchhiking, train hopping, and car pooling. These activities can help to reduce negative ecological effects.

Voluntary joblessness has more to do with the anti-capitalistic tendencies of the freegan philosophy. Freegans refuse to be a part of the workforce that is exploited by major corporations in our society. They embrace no-cost living like urban squatting, living in abandoned buildings and rejecting the 9-5 work schedule. Instead of working for exploitative and purely commercial enterprises, the voluntary joblessness allows one to focus more on familial relationships and activism against corporate interests and other socially conscious movements.

Waste minimalization involves recycling products that do not necessarily need to be put in a landfill. Items that can be reused. They can be given away for free or shared. Freecycle ( is a website that is committed to reusing and recycling items that others do not need or want that can still be used. In addition, the free portion of Craigslist is a great place to save items from going to waste. Some communities now host events called “free meets” which are like flea markets without the exchange of money.

However, dumpster diving seems to be the most popular and the most interesting feature of the freegan lifestyle. Often referred to as “urban foraging,” dumpster diving involves the search for any type of still usable product that has been left for the trash. Some dumpster divers have even contributed to a program named “Food Not Bombs” by using the dumpstered items to create meals that are then distributed to the homeless, survivors of natural disasters, and terrorist attacks. This program has become a widely popular activity in cities in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Australia. For more information regarding freeganistic practices or the “Food Not Bombs” Movement visit or
(photo courtesty of laurence at
I had the privilege to correspond with a freegan named Laurence last spring and I asked him for some advice on dumpster diving. Laurence told me not to be discouraged if I didn’t find anything the first time, the second time, or even the third time. It can take awhile to find the right places. He recommended that we go to many different locations. The amount of people partaking on the expedition should be aobut three because more will cause suspicion. I took Laurence’s advice on my first dumpster diving expedition. I did not go lurking in supermarkets, but instead chose the dumpsters outside of apartments during the first weeks after students had gone home. I took my friend with me and our main finds were a pair of fairy wings (useful for Halloween maybe?), a women’s jacket in good shape, a wallet, and a camouflage jacket. We did not really look for food, but we were on the look out for anything reusable. For more reading on the food findings of a dumpster diver check out this blog

(photo courtesty of laurence at


By: Brooke Schantz, Dietetic Intern and M.S. Candidate

What are these superfoods that everyone is talking about? The term superfood is starting to be used more and more in the popular press, broadcast media, internet, and marketing campaigns. Currently, there is not a scientific definition for superfoods. Superfoods are said to contain beneficial components that produce significant health benefits when consumed. Some of these so-called superfoods include foods found within the United States like: blueberries, beans, oats, soy, broccoli, yogurt, tea, walnuts, spinach, etc… However, other superfoods becoming more popular include: quinoa a whole grain from Brazil, pomegranates which can be found in California but are native to Iran, Himalayas, and India, goji berries from subtropical regions in China, Mongolia and in the Himalayas in Tibet, and acai a berry from Brazil.

Presently, there is not a regulated labeling system for superfoods and consumers don't have anyway of knowing if the foods they are buying actually contain high amounts of nutrients or if those nutrients are bioavailable or properly absorbed during digestion. The position of the American Dietetic Association states that, "the total diet or overall pattern of food eaten is the most important focus of a healthful eating style." One or two single foods should not be the main focus of anyone's diet in order to promote overall health, instead try eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to support your overall health.

Therefore, these exotic superfoods are definitely not worth their carbon footprint. Air freighting is one method for transporting superfoods overseas. Air freighting is not only expensive, but due to the abundance of carbon dioxide emitted during transportation it is also highly damaging to our environment. The bottom line is that you don't need to buy expensive non-eco friendly superfoods to consume a healthy diet. Just remember to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; focus on your overall diet not just one or two foods; and buy locally grown fruits and vegetables whenever possible.

Entire Departments Struggle to be Green

By: Beth Papanek

Organizations and philanthropic groups on campus are not the only ones pushing for a “Greener” University. Entire majors and departments have begun to understand the need to make their work more sustainable. One such branch is the Chemistry department.

Chemistry going Green happens on a number of levels on campus. There is the actual scientific research being done. A lot of this is slowly turning toward environmentally conscious research. It also is an issue on making the research being done more environmentally friendly. Finally, it shows up in teaching labs where there are much stricter regulations on waste disposal, and experiments are being done on a smaller scale. The current push is to make current research more efficient and deal with wastes more effectively.

Chemistry in academia has been an environmental problem due to a lack of accountability. Toxic wastes and materials are gathered in separate containers. When they become full a work order is submitted and the University’s Waste Management program picks them up. All of the waste is taken care of, but individual students don’t consider the final destiny of those waste products. Accountability is slowly being enforced due to an increasing amount of requirements from the University of Illinois. More paperwork is required when disposing of wastes and clearly labeled containers are a necessity.

Waste management has become a smaller problem in industry over the last several years because companies are directly financially responsible for the disposal of their wastes. A few select companies have begun to realize the need to integrate waste management programs into the academic field. One example of this is Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) providing funding for Professor Pat Shapley’s research group where her government grants are failing. She said, “With a change in administration the funding will go back up, but slowly. There is too much money promised elsewhere.”

The research done by this group involves turning agricultural products into chemicals that are currently made through petroleum-based processes. The current method of making these products involves using organic solvents to do reactions in. Organic solvents are hard on the environment and do not decompose readily. The goal of Professor Shapley’s work is to utilize sequestered liquid carbon dioxide in place of those organic solvents. Using this method of chemical reactions, the only by-product of the processes would be water.

This trend is taking place in other labs on campus as well. In Professor Tom Rauchfuss’s lab, there has been a push to replace organic solvents with water. The goal is to make the reactions that currently take place in toxic chemicals to proceed the same way in water. Though this is difficult on research, it would eventually lead to far less waste.

Although practices are improving, it is not yet a widely accepted need. Money is a driving factor in the research being done. According to Shapley, “Industrial funding is done year by year. It makes it hard to plan for Ph.D. students.” Her group used to be funded by the EPA, but since the current administration took office, there has been little funding from the government in Chemistry. “The money is there for engineering, but not Chemistry,” said Shapley. While the faculty at large understands the need to change, advancing research is driven by federal grants.
To meet the need to be environmentally responsible as well as not exceed budgets requires a lot of planning and careful consumption. Sharing chemicals between groups and even overlapping between Chemistry and Chemical Engineering has become commonplace rather than buying new bottles. Experiments are also being done on smaller scales to avoid large amounts of waste.
As Professor Rauchfuss said, “Chemistry has always been Green – Greenback. There is a large overlap between the environment and money.” For this reason, the move to become environmentally conscious is there, but slow. “There is great sensitivity in the faculty,” said Rauchfuss. This sentiment was shared by Shapley who said, “The Faculty in general see the need to change, but it’s driven by federal grants.” The knowledge that practices need to change is overwhelming, but the struggle for the funds to follow through with this need is in close opposition. When the money is present, the research and the improvements in practice will follow.