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

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