My friend Mayer Vishner, whose community garden plot I help out with, joked that the Freegans’ slogan should be “give a man a meal and you feed him for a day, but teach him to dumpster dive and your feed him for life.” Freegans, you see, make a political statement by trolling the world’s trash cans for food. Last week, I went out on a garbage tour of my neighborhood with a spokesperson for New York Freegans, Madeleine Nelson.
According to the United Nations, fully one-third of man-made
greenhouses gases come from agriculture. Meanwhile, according to a University of Arizona study,
half of the food produced in the USA
goes to waste. Do the math and you see that a half of a third means that one-sixth—that’s sixteen percent—of our greenhouse gases come from making food that never gets eaten. Part of the reasons the Freegans do what they do is to point out that waste.
But also, according to the Freegan philosophy:
“To live in harmony with other beings and our planet, we need to go beyond ‘responsible shopping.’ We must simplify our lives, DECREASE consumption, and thus shrink our economic needs. In so doing, we limit the time that we must devote to waged labor, and regain control of our time, the most precious commodity in our lives. By recovering goods instead of buying them and questioning the need for the products marketed to us in the first place, freegans curtail our need to finance exploitation from our product purchase using funds from jobs where we either are exploited or exploit others.”
So, I went out with Madeleine at 9:30 one night, when the food stores in the neighborhood had put out the garbage for the next day’s collection. I went with complete interest in Madeleine’s Freegan ways and total determination that I absolutely would not let a morsel of trash food pass my lips. But within five minutes of the tour starting, we had found a garbage bag outside Pain Quotidien on 8th Street containing nothing but bread and pain au chocolat.
Even my friend Justin, who was along for the ride, found himself chowing down on the French pastries. Before long we were outside the Food Emporium eating organic bananas too. Plus I brought a bag of bagels home for breakfast.
Think about it. People are hungry and half our food ends up in the waste stream. According to Madeleine, some food stores deliberately taint the food they throw out so no one can eat it. She mentioned a famous clothing store that put dozens of bags of clothes out for garbage collection, but not before slashing each item to make them unwearable. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that, with a little more efficiency and consciousness of waste, there are ways we could treat the planet better without hardly even trying.
Photo courtesy of Freegan.info
Colin Beavan (that's me!) is now leading a conversation about finding a happy, helpful life at Colinbeavan.com. If you want to know how people are breaking out and and finding authentic, meaningful lives that help our world, check it out the blog here and sign up to join the conversation here.