A dumpster dinner


Can actions that are seemingly innocuous, such as our eating habits, be transformed to create a political message? Freegans certainly believe so.

The Freegan movement began in New York City in the 1990s. The ingenious mutation of ‘free’ and ‘vegan’ into one word suggests the straightforward approach to  the diet adopted by followers of this ideology; people who consume free food, preferably not derived from animal products. If you are thinking the ‘free’ component of the idea is tricky, think again. Freegans, in fact, have transformed dumpster-diving into an ecologically friendly activity, laden with political significance. Freegan philosophy revolves around the premise that wastefulness dominates Western capitalist culture. It is said that more than half of the food produced in the US does not get consumed, as confirmed by a study done at the University of Arizona in 2004, and Freegans highlight the relevance of this problem by living off the half that doesn’t get consumed.

Adam Weissman, a key spokesman of the Freegan movement, has been subsisting off discarded products retrieved from New York grocery store dumpsters for years. He is an icon of the movement because he is living proof that anyone can be a freegan; these individuals have careers, homes and families. Regardless of the fact that the fundamentals of freeganism imply that people shouldn’t be part of the capitalist system (and should thus be jobless) and that currencies should be eliminated, most practitioners of this trend follow Mr. Weissman’s footsteps.

Freegans in the US advocate low-income or no-income lifestyles which, in their view, provide the way to confront the detrimental effects of capitalism, like poverty and environmental destruction. Yet, is this a realistic concept?

Less extreme, but still highly political, is the message sent by groups such as Food Not Bombs. Founded in 1980, this group was formed during protests against the Seabrook nuclear power plant, near Boston, that same year. The aim of this movement’s leaders is to make meals out of food produce that cannot be sold on the market, and would otherwise be dumped; these are then shared with street dwellers, including anyone from homeless people to businessmen or university students. By doing this, they are promoting solutions to issues such as hunger and poverty through which the general public can be empowered. Regardless of the shifts in political atmosphere that has happened since the groups’ founding, it is still active at present, and is still advocating for a peaceful and improved future for people around the world.

The scale of such initiatives is difficult to measure, particularly due to their controversial motives. That the world could do with a little more consideration from our part is no last-minute headline. Whether or not more people are prepared to bury their heads inside a dumpster to improve the world’s condition is an entirely different issue. It seems, however, that it is easier to follow some extremes, whether wasteful or frugal, because society seldom promotes moderation.


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