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What Is a “Freegan”?

By Emma Grace Fairchild:

“Freegan” is a term loosely defined as someone who resists spending money on things that can be found for free, especially products being discarded. This is expressly true in terms of food; the most popular application of “freeganism” is finding food through waste collection or dumpster diving. Opting out of the consumer lifestyle opens up a lot of options, from collecting free furniture, organizing clothing swaps, or undertaking work exchanges.

A freegan is generally aware of waste and consumption in society, and makes efforts to somehow reduce them. There are many political overtones to the movement in terms of free economy and environmentalism, but it tends to be such a loosely defined identity that anyone can adopt freegan principles in some way.

According to the USDA, wasted food accounts for about 30-40% of our total food supply. More specifically, this data covers both retail and consumer trash, and accounts for “approximately 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of food…” This is a massive amount that we as a society waste. It is important to remember that this is happening not only on a large scale on farms and in grocery stores, but also on a personal level when we toss out spoiled produce, throw out leftovers, and let food expire. And, it doesn’t begin to cover food waste around the world: unfortunately, it’s about the same. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations states on its website that “roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes [sic] — gets lost or wasted.”

Green-Mom.com has covered countless different ways to reduce food waste, such as composting, employing worm bins, and using food scraps in the kitchen. However, the principles of freeganism are much more centered around waste in society as a whole, and on a much larger scale. Imagine an entire run of printed books thrown away because of a typo, or an office throwing away bins of paper because of a new logo, or a college student leaving the contents of a dorm room beside a dumpster. These are just a few examples of unnecessary waste that freegans actively try to reduce.

If you’re interested in freeganism, a good start is to become active in terms of reducing the amount of fresh food being thrown out. Search for local meetup groups who urban forage or dumpster dive in your community. Alternatively, ask with the vendors at your local farmers markets to let you collect any food they dispose of at the end of the day. Before going to buy something, such as furniture, clothes or tools, reach out to your community to see if someone is offering theirs for free or for trade. Consider the skills you possess and would offer in exchange for your needs — are you good with carpentry, have training in massage therapies, or possess any other sorts of qualifications? Trading and bartering for goods and services can open up a lot of space for community connections and creativity, too!

Freeganism is not a new concept, and all over the world there are countless resources that promote this lifestyle. While some of the approaches can seem a bit extreme or very political, there is always space to explore and determine what degree of the lifestyle suits you and your life.

For more in depth information, or to find ways to incorporate freeganism into your life, check out these resources.

Food Not Bombs


Documentary: Creative Living Outside Capitalism

About Emma Grace

Emma Grace is a full time college student in San Diego with a background in raw food nutrition and holistic health. She has a passion for gardening, living a low impact and sustainable lifestyle, and loves animals. She lives on a collective community urban homestead with a backyard flock of hens, a bull dog, a snake, a tarantula and plenty of houseplants. In her free time she enjoys foraging for local fruits, playing guitar, writing, and reading. Aside from Green-Mom, Emma Grace also contributes to Baktun Raw Foods Blog and her school newspaper.

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