Chow Down in the Dumps

By Anna Sachse

Posted November 25, 2009 in Mind Body Spirit

On November 16, the Department of Agriculture announced that the number of Americans who lack consistent access to adequate food skyrocketed last year to 49 million, the highest since the government began tracking what it calls “food insecurity” 14 years ago. At the same time, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Americans create 245 million tons of waste a year, about 12 percent of which is food. Much of this food is still edible; it just doesn’t look pretty or is past the theoretical expiration date.


Enter the Freegans, a growing subculture of people (including successful, college-educated people from middle-class families) who, in defiance of an economic system that they feel is based on over-consumption and greed, have opted to live off society’s waste. Yes, I mean garbage. This is dumpster diving for the socially conscious. The name is obviously a combination of free and vegan, however, you don’t have to be vegan to be a Freegan. They don’t like animal cruelty, but they also don’t like human rights violations, environmental destruction and unnecessary waste.


For those who are interested in learning more, the Internet is a veritable Freegan “what, how and where” horn of plenty. But as a Thanksgiving gift to ya’ll, I’ve compiled three top tips. As a side note, I don’t personally agree with all aspects of the Freegan code (Humanure, or the practice of detoxifying and composting human excrement, comes to mind, as well as Squatting), but Freeganing is an interesting premise to consider, especially at Thanksgiving because it reminds us that not only should we be thankful for our food, we ought to be more mindful of the creatures and land that produced it. 


Here’s how to get started.


Concept: Waste Reclamation

What it Means: Reduce the waste going to landfills and incinerators by recovering the usable discards of restaurants, grocery stores, retailers, offices, homes, hotels, etc. This involves rummaging through their trash for food, toiletries, electronics, toys, furniture, you name it. 

Make it Work: Barring a willingness to dumpster dive, you could buy the older baked goods and bruised produce that will otherwise be thrown away, or offer your leftovers and past-due food to a homeless person. Also, try to buy second-hand or check out, Craigslist or “Freemeets” for 100-percent free stuff!



Concept: Waste Minimization

What it Means: This one is kind of a no-brainer. Freegans are disgusted by consumer waste, thus they do everything in their power not to add to it. 

Make it Work: Recycle, recycle, recycle. There are usually centers where you can recycle the things that you can’t put in your bins, such as batteries or plastic bags—save them up and then dump them off all at once. Also, compost any organic matter from your kitchen and try to repair broken objects rather than replace them whenever possible. 


Concept: Going Green

What it Means: Much of the food we eat is grown far, far away from where we live, heavily processed for a longer shelf-life and then transported to us, all at a high ecological cost. In response, Freegans are fans of both community gardens and “wild foraging” i.e. scavenging neighbor’s yards and city parks for edible and/or medicinal plants.

Make it Work: If you have a yard, plant a garden—you’ll be shocked by how much money you save once your fruits and veggies appear. If you live in an apartment, look into edible plants you can grow indoors, like herbs, peppers and lettuce. Share whatever you can’t eat with friends or a homeless shelter. As for wild foraging, invest in a good guide book and, in order to prevent getting arrested, forego your neighbor’s yard and head out to the mountains. 


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