So we've all heard of vegans, vegetarians and even fruitarians (well, in Notting Hill anyway, not that I've ever actually met one). But freegan? It's one of those terms that sounds vaguely familiar, yet isn't. So when I heard about this underground subculture that's changing the way we think about, acquire and consume food, I was intrigued to find out more. And when I did look into it, I was surprised to hear that it's actually not that new or as 'out there' as I initially thought. But before I get into that, what exactly is a freegan?
Freeganism / Freegan:
(adj): the practice of reclaiming and eating food that has been discarded
(noun): a person who employs alternative strategies for living based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources; part of a wider 'anti-consumerist' ideology
The word freegan is a combination of the word 'free' and 'vegan', since at the core of freeganism are vegan values- that of embracing community, generosity, social and environmental concern. Yet interestingly, not all freegans are vegans- many will consume food that is not vegan, if it is free (and would otherwise be wasted), yet will never purchase animal products as a political statement of purchasing power. Freegans make a point of stating that freeganism is different to dumpster diving (urban foraging for all kinds of useable things in commercial bins- everything from furniture to food), because of the vegan ideologies, yet the main activity- the sourcing of perfectly good food that has been thrown out by supermarkets/restaurants, is very much the same.
While I've only recently stumbled across freeganism, the concept has actually been around for awhile, starting in the mid-90s where it spawned from anti-globalization and environmental movements. While many people still turn their noses up at the idea of freeganism, the below documentary by Thrash Lab gives an empathetic, honest and fascinating insight into this growing movement in New York.
While the initial thought of trawling through garbage to find edible food was not that appealing (and also made me think of those anti-bacterial spray ad's that have animated germs bearing evil faces), after watching this documentary, I'm giving it a second thought. As well as seeing the abundance of good food that is getting thrown out every day, what really came across is the sense of community that this movement is cultivating. It's not about 'getting away without paying', or being a 'free-loader', it's about reducing our overall impact on the world to be more sustainable, and sharing what good food there is with others who need it. I know the amount of food that is wasted every year is beyond a joke; maybe this is the solution to cutting food waste on a level that's bigger than eating my leftovers. Plus, it would certainly help my dismal-looking bank balance!
With the heightened awareness of food waste, food scarcity and food security, I wonder- will freegans be the new vegans in mainstream culture?
Photo: Natalie HG- findings of a freegan via Flickr