I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of being a “freegan” but I thought I’d clue you in on it if you haven’t. Its an interesting lifestyle where you buy absolutely nothing and live off of discards of other people. It sounds like being a bum and living in a really nasty pile of other peoples’ garbage but I’ve got news for you. Here in America we have an embarrassment of riches regardless of how many poor living among us. Many people just toss out stuff that is still usable and even salable. Let me tell you this: I have a neighbor who makes his living exclusively off of picking up roadside garbage and selling it on Ebay and Craigslist. I kid you not.
When I first heard about it, I went a little nuts on the idea. I thought about how easy it is to dumpster dive and just grab up good stuff. I had another friend years ago, when I used to flea market stuff, that also ran a booth at the market strictly on stuff she pulled out of the dumpster behind the mall. I mean, she had great lipsticks, shoes and gifts sets that are sold by expensive designers in stores like Dillards and Macys. I got a lot of my stuff in those days from abandoned warehouses. So I know first hand how wasteful Americans can be (no offense intended!) and how you can find a way to live off the proceeds. And you don’t have to go nuts like I did and buy a hardhat with a headlight or drive around to dumpsters after dark to grab the goods.
The idea came from the vegan movement. They came up with the name Freegan (free+ vegan) as an alternative lifestyle. Basically participants are tired of all the waste we generate and are looking for a new way to “reclaim, recover, repair and recycle.” They want to reduce consumption, work less, save money and build a community where generosity and sharing is the main focus. This is a valiant effort with loving principles. How can you go wrong doing so much good for yourself and others?
The simple adage: one man’s garbage is another man’s treasures comes back to life in this concept. Nearly everyone has picked up something useful from the garbage and you must remember walking along a neighborhood street and commenting on the great stuff somebody was tossing out. There are appliance resellers and thrift store furniture refinishers who make their living snatching up the toss outs and fixing them to near new working order. But the freegans take dumpster diving to another level. These people even feed themselves with food thrown out by stores and restaurants.
Do you remember the stories Madonna told of eating burgers tossed out in McDonalds bags in NY City? How she lived off garbage while she slept in the shadows until she made it big? But if the thought of eating food thrown out makes you nauseous, you’re not alone. North Americans have been trained to be suspicious of garbage but our obsession with cheap, fresh and flawless has resulted in 40 percent of all food produced being thrown out. But, more often than not, our garbage cans are filled with perfectly edible food. I have been campaigning locally myself to get the stores and restaurants to send their cast offs to the food pantries and homeless shelter kitchens.
Adam Weissman, one of the founders of Freegan.info, has not bought anything for 10 years. He’s managed to maintain a fairly regular lifestyle. By day he works for Wetlands Preserve and at night his heads out to lead New York freegans on Trash Tours. Participants collect food and some of it is turned into a Freegan Feast open to anyone with an appetite. His website has plenty of useful safety tips for urban foraging as well as information on the growing freegan movement.
Some great activities where you can make a difference: