A controversial way of living: where would you draw the line?

By Holly Royce

Yesterday evening I was walking through Circular Quay and passed a section with security guards and empty marquees. Remnants of an event during the day, though I noted they did a good job of clearing up any litter. Looking at   overflowing rubbish bins nearby, I noticed at least 6 large circular containers stacked on top of each.

What was in these containers?

They were all full Subway sandwiches in near-pristine condition, overlooking the fact that the containers were a little squashed. I moved closer on my way past to look into the bin, it was filled with full and unopened soft drink and juice bottles.

I was shocked at the waste – but the view did remind me of something I had read about a few years earlier, a very extreme and controversial way of living known as freeganism.

Freeganism – definition from Freegan.info:

“The word freegan is compounded from “free” and “vegan”. Vegans are people who avoid products from animal sources or products tested on animals in an effort to avoid harming animals. Freegans take this a step further by recognizing that in a complex, industrial, mass-production economy driven by profit, abuses of humans, animals, and the earth abound at all levels of production (from acquisition to raw materials to production to transportation) and in just about every product we buy. Sweatshop labor, rainforest destruction, global warming, displacement of indigenous communities, air and water pollution, eradication of wildlife on farmland as “pests”, the violent overthrow of popularly elected governments to maintain puppet dictators compliant to big business interests, open-pit strip mining, oil drilling in environmentally sensitive areas, union busting, child slavery, and payoffs to repressive regimes are just some of the many impacts of the seemingly innocuous consumer products we consume every day.”

The key principals of living the life of a freegan are great ideas, though very extreme, including:

  • Eco-friendly transport – with first choices always being in the realm of trainhopping, hitchhiking, walking, skating, and biking.
  • Rent-free housing – freegans believe housing is a right, not a privilege. This means most freegans choose to be squatters. Squatters believe that real human needs are more important than abstract notions of private property, and that those who hold deeds to buildings but won’t allow people to live in them, even in places where housing is vitally needed, don’t deserve to own those buildings.
  • Eating Local – Freegans believe in foraging as much as they can from the natural environment, think bush tucker and fruit trees. They also use local waste areas like tips and abandoned lots as places to grow their own food.
  • Working Less – by accounting for the basic necessities of food, clothing, housing, furniture, and transportation without spending a dime, freegans are able to greatly reduce or altogether eliminate the need to constantly be employed. We can instead devote our time to caring for our families, volunteering in our communities, and joining activist groups to fight the practices of the corporations who would otherwise be bossing us around at work.
  • Waste Reclamation – This can be basically summed up as “urban foraging” or “dumpster diving”.  The freegan website explains the reason for this,
    “As freegans we forage instead of buying to avoid being wasteful consumers ourselves, to politically challenge the injustice of allowing vital resources to be wasted while multitudes lack basic necessities like food, clothing, and shelter, and to reduce the waste going to landfills and incinerators.”
  • Waste Minimisation  – freegans scrupulously recycle, compost organic matter into topsoil, and repair rather than replace items whenever possible.

So that’s the basics of freegansim. The effects of this lifestyle are obviously great for the environment, but they are very extreme and push a lot of social boundaries.

The philosophy getting the most mainstream attention is that of dumpster diving, with celebrity chefs creating meals they have thrown together from things they’ve found in super market bins and even Oprah has devoted several shows to the idea.  Many well known bloggers have written about their experience with dumpster diving.  My favourite is a piece by Not Quite Nigella in which she enlists the help of a dumpster diving expert, which you can read by clicking here. This post shares useful information she learns along the way like what if you’re caught and some amazing facts and stories.
The photo below is from her blog and shows goods salvaged from a Woolworths and Health Food Store bin.

Screen Shot 2013-07-14 at 8.16.17 AM

It’s not all free food and tea though, there are many health risks that need to be addressed which you can read about by clicking here.

There is no doubt that it is a thought provoking way of living, and it definitely makes me wish I would have taken some of those sandwiches  – or at least a Coke.

What do you think? Where would you draw the line? 

Read more about 1 million women by heading to our website. We are daughters, mothers, sisters and grandmothers getting on with practical climate action to live better for us and the planet. Join the movement at www.1millionwomen.com.au

6 responses to “A controversial way of living: where would you draw the line?

  1. I have worked at these types of events for years and am surprised these days (since the economic “downturn”) how much more food and drink is being mismanaged. Fair enough if you have a couple of sandwiches left over at the end of the day – no big deal. But throwing away full unopened bottles – sooo wasteful.

  2. If we had food at the end of our monthly meeting (which we catered for ourselves as we met after work during dinner time, and we had to eat, or we’d get cranky!), we would wrap it up in leftover cling film or whatever was available, and drop it off to the homeless on the way to the train station. If we couldn’t find any homeless (sometimes they weren’t where they always hung out), we’d drop it off to a charity group who would feed them. No waste, people had full stomachs, and we never gave feeling sorry for them. In my mind, they were doing us a favour. That made me happy coz I hate waste, especially food.

  3. There are many charities that would jump at the chance in a second if a call was made to them to come and pick up this food. 30 years ago when I worked in a supermarket the day old breads and fruit and veg starting to look a little less fresh would be picked up by the local homeless girls home, they were very grateful for this food as they ran on skeleton funds. These days with all the litigation nonsense, retailers choose to destroy excess, which a lot of is written off and claimed as loss.

  4. I would think putting them in touch with Ozharvest or The Yellow Van would be helpful. Those organisations are set up to deal with usuable food waste.

  5. Such an interesting post! I had no idea there was more to freeganism than dumpster diving. I love the idea of it, but I definitely could not do it myself. The housing thing is something I’m not totally comfortable with either. But, as with all things, we can definitely learn from it and take from it what we deem suitable. Thanks for the insight!


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