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Freeganism is the practice of reclaiming and eating food that has been discarded. Freegans and freeganism are often seen as part of a wider "anti-consumerist" ideology, and freegans often employ a range of alternative living strategies based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources.
Freegans "embrace community, generosity, social concern, freedom, cooperation, and sharing in opposition to a society based on materialism, moral apathy, competition, conformity, and greed."
The word "freegan" is a portmanteau of "free" and "vegan"; not all dumpster divers are vegan, but the ideology of veganism is inherent in freeganism. Freeganism started in the mid-1990s, out of the antiglobalization and environmentalist movements. The movement also has elements of Diggers, an anarchist street theater group based in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco in the 1960s, that gave away rescued food.
The manifesto pamphlet "Why Freegan" (written by former Against Me! drummer Warren Oakes in 1999) defines freeganism as "an anti-consumeristic ethic about eating" and goes on to describe practices including dumpster diving, plate scraping, wild foraging, gardening, theft, employee scams, and barter as alternatives to paying for food. Motivations are varied and numerous; some adhere to freeganism as an extension of anarchism or other anti-capitalist tendencies, or simply for environmental reasons, some for religious reasons, etc.
The pamphlet does include a lengthy section on non-alimentary practices, including conserving water, precycling, reusing goods, and using solar energy. Some freegans consider these non-alimentary practices components of freeganism itself; others simply consider them complementary, while some are against them and/or have deeper analyses surrounding capitalism and its effect on the world.
Freeganism is based on the idea of anti-consumerism and that there is little need to purchase new goods because of the waste that society has produced and because they want to help the environment. The writings of sociologist and anthropologist Marcel Mauss inspire many values of freeganism. Mauss studied the relationship between forms of exchange and the social culture. Not only do freegans use their finds for personal use, they also share their items and use them for free distribution. They believe that the general public greatly misuses resources because of the ideals and activities of mass consumerism and do not want to contribute to the consumerist society.
Freegans get free food by pulling it out of the trash (bins) a practice commonly nicknamed "dumpster diving" in North America and "skipping" or "bin diving" in the UK, as well as "bin raiding" or "skipitarianism" (so called because the person's diet mostly involves eating out of a skip). Retail suppliers of food such as supermarkets, grocery stores, and restaurants routinely throw away food in good condition, often because it is approaching its sell-by date (without thereby becoming dangerous), or has damaged packaging. Freegans find food in the garbage of such establishments, which they say allows them to avoid spending money on products that exploit the world's resources, contribute to urban sprawl, treat workers unfairly, or disregard animal rights. By foraging, they believe they are keeping edible food from adding to landfill clutter and that can feed people and animals who might otherwise go hungry.
Dumpster diving is not, however, limited to rummaging for food. Many "dumpster divers" search for anything that can be recycled or reused, from accessories to power tools in need of small repairs. Some divers also collect aluminum cans, which they can then sell for a small profit. Often, these people have all sorts of equipment such as a long pole that they use to move items in the dumpster around. When searching for food, a forager may come across food waste that is not entirely sealed from the unwanted waste in the same rubbish sack. This lower quality food is commonly referred to as "Scree". As bugs, rodents and other disease carriers also forage in such places, there are risks associated with sourcing and eating such food.
Much food is discarded by producers for reasons to do with food standards of retailers and consumers. Examples include fruit and vegetables that are smaller or larger than sizes required by supermarkets, edible offal, and a species of Dover sole with all the qualities of sole but small size. Freegans get their resources from dumpsters, typically at places like grocery stores and pharmacies. An estimated 20 to 40% of United Kingdom fruits and vegetables are rejected even before they reach the stores mostly because they do not match the supermarkets' strict cosmetic standards.
Freegan group organizers are frequently harassed by law enforcement. Freeganism is seen as a taboo in most developed countries, causing it to be considered socially unacceptable. Non-freegans may see freeganism as an unsanitary or dirty practice based on general sanitation standards developed over time.
In general, society views garbage as something “dirty” and overlook it as an area to get a wholesome meal. Mass advertising is constantly encouraging customers to get the latest and greatest products, always upgrading. However, dumpstering rejects this notion for consumers to keep up with the newest most improved trend. Based on the amounts of food waste produced by Americans, it is shown that often the pursuit of exchange value is not considered before it is thrown away. Groups of freegans come together in many cities that go out dumpster diving and participate in freegan gift exchange.
Instead of buying industrially grown foods, wild foragers find and harvest food and medicinal plants growing in their own communities. Some freegans participate in "guerrilla" or "community" gardens, with the stated aim of rebuilding community and reclaiming the capacity to grow one's own food. In order to fertilize those guerrilla gardens, food obtained from dumpster diving is sometimes also reused. In many urban guerrilla gardens, vermiculture is used instead of ordinary composting techniques in order to keep the required infrastructure/room small. Guerrilla gardeners claim to seek an alternative to dependence and participation in what they perceive as an exploitative and ecologically destructive system of global, industrialized corporate food production. Many rural freegans choose to learn about native wild plants which are easily sustainable and either bring favored species home to cultivate or identify wild populations from which to forage. Often rural freegans are also "homesteaders" who also raise their own dairy livestock and employ alternative energy sources to provide energy for their homesteads, occasionally living "off the grid" entirely.
Sharing is also a common freegan practice. Food Not Bombs recovers food that would otherwise go to waste to serve warm meals on the street to anyone who wants them. The group promotes an ethic of sharing and community, while working to show what they consider to be the injustice of a society in which they claim fighting wars is considered a higher priority than feeding the hungry.
Really, Really Free Markets are free social events in which freegans can share goods instead of discarding them, share skills, give presents and eat food. A free store is a temporary market where people exchange goods and services outside of a money-based economy.
Freegans also advocate sharing travel resources. Internet-based ridesharing reduces but does not eliminate use of cars and all the related resources needed to maintain and operate them.
Community bicycle programs and collectives facilitate community sharing of bicycles, restore found and broken bikes, and teach people how to do their own bike repairs. In the process they build a culture of skill and resource sharing, reuse wasted bikes and bike parts, and create greater access to green transport.
In general, co-ops function to provide their local community with additional resources; they are also typically vegan-friendly and local-produce-friendly.
In addition to the belief that people should not have to go without food when plenty of unused food is thrown away every day, freeganism also encompasses the idea that people should not be homeless when unused buildings are available. Freegans consider housing to be a right as opposed to an economic good. As a result of this philosophy, many freegans are involved in squatting. Squatting is the act of someone occupying a building that they do not have any legal claim or ownership over. "Squatters take a stand against councils and landlords, who would rather keep properties boarded up if they cannot make a sufficient profit from them". Freegans see this practice as senseless and a counter-productive use of resources. The criminality of squatting makes it hard to accurately track the number of people involved in this activity. However, there are estimated to be around one billion squatters worldwide. Striving for equality and reform, squatting is a political action that has been incorporated in numerous movements. Squatters view the act as a necessity because of the lack of housing available. They believe that there should not be buildings remaining empty when there are people who are in crucial need of a home but lack the resources to legally obtain one. Ultimately, squatting is a way of housing the homeless. However, the buildings that squatters reside in are sometimes used for other purposes as well, such as being changed into community centers that house programs for children, community organizations, and environmental education.
Working less is another component of freeganism. Freegans oppose the notion of working for the sole purpose of accumulating material items. The need to work is reduced by only purchasing the basic necessities for things such as housing, clothing, and food. Not working resists the idea that joy can only be found through the purchase of material items. Working is seen as sacrificing valuable time to "take orders from someone else, stress, boredom, monotony, and in many cases risks to physical and psychological well-being". This time could be spent volunteering in service activities, bonding with family, or participating in a number of other endeavors. The concept of voluntary joblessness has been described as means of completing tasks out of love for others while not expecting anything in return for one’s services. Working is viewed as a component of a system that has abused the world both socially and ecologically. It is realized that not working at all is not an option for everyone, but that there are ways to limit the need to work as much.
Another aspect of the freegan lifestyle addresses the basic human necessity for food. Many dumpster divers, because of freeganism, practice veganism, which calls for the avoidance of flesh foods, dairy and eggs, and further extends to avoid the consumption or use of furs, leather, wool, down, silk, and cosmetics and chemical products tested on animals. Many will also consume food that is not vegan if it is free, hence the name freegan.
Not all people who identify as freegan are vegan. There are some, because of a confusion with dumpster diver, who consume animal products only if those animal products would otherwise be wasted, as they believe that animals should not be slaughtered in vain.
Although freeganism is a movement that has sprung from anti-consumerism and anti-capitalism, the movement also has much in common with environmentalism. One of the main aims of freeganism is to reduce waste and limit the amount of destruction that results from the production of goods. Some of the practices established in freeganism serve the function of addressing many of these same concerns. Squatting, for example, makes use of empty buildings for the homeless, and dumpster diving practices recovering food that is being wasted. Adam Weissman, eco-activist and creator of www.freegan.info, states that "Freeganism is a reaction to waste, but also to injustices like sweatshops and the destruction of rainforests that go into producing goods in the first place".
Environmentalism has been described as a "binding philosophy, the start of environmentalism was a religious reformation; an epiphany; an awakening to desecrated surroundings".
In United States fast food restaurants, 9.55% of the total amount of food that is used turns into food waste and in full service restaurants 3.11% turns into waste. On average, 49,296,540 lbs of food is lost in all full service restaurants and 85,063,390 lbs in all fast food restaurants. Pre-consumer kitchen waste is anything from incorrectly prepared or spoiled food to overproduction that contributes about 4-10% of food that becomes waste before it is even served to consumers. Freegans focus on finding this pre-consumer waste when dumpster diving.
Friends of the Earth did a survey in 2012 and found that the four largest supermarket chains (ParknShop, Wellcome, CR Vanguard, and JUSCO) discarded a total of 87 tonnes of food each day, about a third (29 tonnes) that were still edible. One of the chains, ParknShop, was accused of pouring water and bleach over the discarded edible food to spoil it. A year later, the follow-up study from the same group found that ParknShop and Wellcome donated food through their respective programs. However, they criticized CR Vanguard and JUSCO for their inaction.
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