Freeganism: What’s Up With That?

You know, I am not good with extremists of any sort.

And that apparently includes freegans.

Even when I agree with some portion of whatever philosophy they espouse, there is something unsettling about extremist behavior that sets my teeth on edge.

I think it has to do with my inability to respect hypocrisy in any form. Or, maybe it is that while some of what freegans espouse makes sense, most of their logic has holes in it big enough to drive a recycled vegetable-oil burning Willys Jeep through.

I think in the end, that it is a combination of the rampant hypocrisy and the logical inconsistencies of the freegan lifestyle which gives me the desire to back away slowly, and hope that I go unnoticed by the idealistists who go dumpster-diving for their dinners. Hypocrisy and illogic are a potent mixture that reeks of irrationality, and frankly, people who are irrational by nature creep me out.

Before I go any further, it behooves me to defined what exactly a freegan is. Here is a definition from Wikipedia: “Freeganism is commonly understood as the practice of abstaining from any consumer goods except in those cases where the goods are obtained for free and have been divorced from the harm done by their production. The word “freegan” is a portmanteau of the words free and vegan.”

That doesn’t sound so bad.

Unless you think about it.

How, exactly can consumer goods be “divorced from the harm done by their production?”

They can’t.

Just because one picks up something for free that has been discarded, and doesn’t directly give money to the corporation which produced it, doesn’t make the production of that item harmless. I mean, the Nike shoes pulled out of a dumpster still were made from cowhide that came from a factory-farmed animal that was raised standing in her own feces, pumped with chemicals and feed made from ground up bits from other animals, and then slaughtered in an abbatoir by methods too gruesome to enumerate. The shoes were still sewn by underpaid workers who may or may not be children toiling in Third World sweatshops under life and health threatening conditions. The dyes and artificial materials in the shoes were still made by unsafe industrial processes that release harmful chemicals into the environment.

All of these facts are still true, whether a freegan picked up the shoes from a dumpster, a trashbag in front of a brownstone, traded for them at a freemarket, or lifted them from a store. (Yes, there is a document on that condones shoplifting. Yes, I was disgusted, too.)

The only difference is that no money was exchanged in the final link in the consumerist chain.

The lack of money changing hands hardly “divorces” a consumer good from the harm done in its production. That harm still occurs, and to say that if one doesn’t pay money for the item in question, the individual is somehow negating the harm is delusional, dishonest and frankly, full of crap. While it may be true that freegan lifestyles minimize the environmental impact of thier lives upon the Earth by limiting their involvement with American consumerist society, it is not true that “the Freegan holds no responsibility for the material and energy resources used in the production process, since the goods have already exited the production-consumption cycle where money is used in exchange for goods.”

It is disingenuous, not to mention hypocritical, for an individual to benefit from the use of a consumer item, yet claim no responsibility for the harm that went into the making of that item, simply because they paid no money for it. That harm is still there, and it still is happening, and the freegan is still benefiting from it, all the while protesting against the evils that arise from capitalism.

However, what I see in the freegan lifestyle is that regardless of how much disdain they hold for capitalist society, they are still benefiting from it. They decry consumer waste, but they have no problems utilizing the fruits of that waste.

They are scavengers, living upon the edges of the society they supposedly do not respect.

Freegans are right to go on about the excessive waste in American consumer-driven capitalist society. Americans do throw too much of everything away. We are a disposable society, and our landfills are bursting with plastic crap, excess packaging, appliances, furniture, electronics, clothing, medical waste, and worst of all, food. We toss everything out, and it isn’t right. It’s bad for the environment, it’s bad for us (because it is bad for the environment) and it is a hideous waste of resources that can be utilized by ourselves and others.

Freegans support efforts such as freecycling, trashpicking, and freemarkets in order to take useful items out of the waste stream and put them back to use. These are good and admirable goals, which I myself wholeheartedly support and practice.

I cannot help but have sympathy for the freegan view of trashpicking when it comes to ensuring that useable goods never make it to landfills, since I was taught trashpicking as a small child.

My paternal grandmother, Gram, was an inveterate trashpicker. Having lived on a low income most of her life, she had developed a finely tuned trashpicker’s awareness as a young mother. She discovered that better off neighbors didn’t always donate their unwanted clothing, appliances and furniture to Goodwill or other charities–they often threw them away. So, she learned to cruise along the curbside on evenings when trash went out, just to see if she could find something good.

And she often did. Chairs, tables, vases, coats, shoes, books–you name it, she found it. Everyone in the family teased her for her trashpicking ways, but she called it, “treasure hunting,” and never gave up the habit. She would walk her dog in the gloaming, smoking a cigarette, and at every pile of trash, she would pause, looking for likely “treasures.”

When I got old enough to carry stuff, I became a well-trained accomplice. Most of her terra cotta flowerpots came from the garbage, and several pieces of antique furniture that she eventually passed down to family members started out as throw-away finds.

When I went dumpster-diving to rescue an antique bedstead in college, and dragged it home to my apartment, I called Gram to tell her.

She was very proud.

But, it is dumpster diving of a different sort that gets freegans the most media attention.

Not only do they rescue antiques from the trash and polish them up for their own domiciles, they also glean food from garbage, and sometimes even eat food left on plates by other diners in restaurants and fast food places.

Over 100 billion pounds of edible food is wasted every year in the United States.

That is a fact.

In the midsts of all of this waste, there are millions of homeless people, working poor, rural poor, children and senior citizens in America who go hungry. Food insecurity is on the rise, driven by high unemployment rates and a weak economy.

Freegans do see the irony of this situation, but their response is not to work to reduce this imbalance; they only seem interested in helping themselves to the bounty that can be found in the garbage.

According to a New York Metro article by Amy Zimmer, some freegans, such as Adam Weissman, are unemployed by choice, and see their foraging for discarded food not as a matter of survival, but, rather, a “political act.” Others, such as Billy Pruz, say that they want people to “think about mass consumption, about the waste we produce.” He continues, saying, “Even if I had the money I wouldn’t want to spend it when there’s so much trash.”

A third woman interviewed for the article, Janet Kalish, a schoolteacher from Queens who admitted that she had no economic need to dumpster-dive, said that she had soon become a full-time freegan after her first foray. “In this one night, I got more bread than I need for a week,” she said, adding, “I am concerned that when I open a bag I might be touching urine from a dog, but I try not to touch anything too sticky.”

No mention was made by any of these three people, who arguably were not in need of free food (certainly not the woman who was employed and who admitted to no economic need), of the many homeless in New York who must go through garbage from grocery stores in order to have enough for themselves and their families to eat. You know, people like Morlan,19, quoted in a 2004 article by Inter Press Service, who, when seen by the manager of an upscale Manhattan grocery store as she pulled bread, fruits and vegetables from the garbage he had just put out, said, “I have zero cash right now, and no place to stay. What do you expect me to do?”

Not only do freegans with money compete with the homeless who have none, they network via the Internet on places to find the best dumpsters for food. This creates a “survival of the fittest” situation where the homeless who have limited (if any) access to the Internet are pitted against the freegans for food that arguably, many freegans do not need.

Most media coverage of the freegan movement focuses on the “squick” factor of people eating out of garbage cans, and overlooks the more pressing issue of the fact that many freegans seem to be priviledged, middle-class individuals who are practicing “voluntary simplicity,” by being purposefully unemployed or underemployed, or who are employed, but still feel the need to scavenge food that could be used by others who have no money, in order to “make a political statement.” Instead of asking the tough questions like “So, what about hunger and homelessness among people who don’t have jobs? Are you worried about that?” Most interviewers are like NBC’s Tucker Carleson, who completely missed the deeper implications of the choice of a freegan lifestyle, and instead noted, “It is kind of nasty. I mean, dumpsters are nasty,” while he interviewed freegan, Madeline Nelson, a former Fortune 500 company employee.

Even when Nelson mentioned the “Good Samaritan Law” that allows businesses and individuals to donate edible food to charities who work to fight hunger without fear of being sued, Carleson didn’t come back with the most obvious response, which would be: “Gee, you had a job, you’re well-dressed. You don’t look like you need to be scrounging around in dumpsters for food. So why not try to get the stores who throw out the food you eat to donate it to a food bank so that people who really need it can get it?”

No. Instead, he just went on about how gross it all was.

This is the crux of my issue with freeganism and freegans.

After reading the entire website,, including all of their manifestos, philosophy and practices, I see a bunch of privileged people who are fierce critics of American capitalism, yet, instead of doing anything constructive in response, they focus on self-benefit.

In a word, they are parasites.

They say that they are dropping out of the consumerist slave society that we live in, striking blows against corporate America, but in truth, they are living off of the refuse of corporate America. On the one hand, they decry agricultural methods as being harmful to the environment, and yet they feed from the very surplus that agriculture produces.

Freegans harken back to a simpler time, when humans were hunter gatherers, and life was “better.” In his essay, Liberating Our Consumption, Liberating Our Lives, Adam Weissman brings up the mythic Golden Age of Primitive Man, when all was beautiful and life was peaceful: “Before production, before industry, before agriculture, even before the advent of the ritual hunt, humans provided for themselves through direct communion with nature’s bounty, foraging fruits, nuts, seeds, berries, and roots. The land was not owned and food was not a product. People consumed to meet their needs, with little opportunity for waste or overconsumption. The only “producer” was the Earth itself. Human patterns of consumption were governed within the context of our native ecosystems. Humans existed as equals with other animals and the earth, not as owners, conquerors, “stewards,” or destroyers.”

I really hate to tell Weissman this, but his understanding of food anthropology and human prehistory is limited at best, and outright flawed at worst. Besides, I hardly equate taking the subway uptown to scavenge out of dumpsters with the real work that is involved in gaining enough calories to live in typical hunter-gatherer societies; for Weissman to conflate the two points to the delusional manner of the thought processes upon which freeganism is founded.

But be that as it may, you notice that the focus of his essay is on “our consumption,” and “our lives.” There is no real mention of helping out poor folks who are hungry. Lip service is paid in freegan philosophy to “not taking food from those who need it,” but the guidelines, Why Freegan? instruct neophyte freegans to visit soup kitchens and free lunches, or to scam for food stamps and government food handouts, with the reasoning that most of these places have plenty of food to spare, and they are just giving it away, so why not?

The truth is, most food banks, soup kitchens and organizations who give away free lunches are severely underfunded, and with the rising number of hungry families and individuals in this country, the problem is growing worse. Most workers at soup kitchens and food banks will not turn anyone away, but for a freegan who may or may not be employed, who is taking the food offered to them not out of need, but to make a “political statement,” is nothing but pure selfishness and childishness in action.

What turns my stomach about the entire concept of freegans eating out of dumpsters isn’t the idea that “dumpsters are nasty,” but that there are existing organizations of people who work together to try and reduce the massive amounts of food wasted in this country by persuading grocery stores, restaurants, individuals and corporations to donate what they would throw away to be distributed to food banks, homeless shelters, soup kitchens and other charity groups. America’s Second Harvest is the largest group, and they do great work getting stores to donate what they would otherwise throw away, then do reclamation work on it, so that it can distributed to food banks. A smaller grassroots organization, Food, Not Bombs, does similar work with food reclamation, although, they also stage vegetarian meals made with excess produce that would otherwise be thrown away, in order to make the public more aware of the issues of food waste and hunger in the United States.

The freegans do seem to know about Food, Not Bombs, because in Why Freegan? right after the admonition to not take food from those who need it, freegans are told, “Go to Food Not Bombs and help out, then take some extra soup and bagels for the road.”

Instead of just helping out volunteers who are trying to get food to the hungry because it is a good thing to do, freegans are urged to take some food, “in payment” one might say.

You know–for people who are against consumption, they sure know how to get what they want. Everything they seem to stand for, everything they do revolves around themselves. They will help a volunteer organization, but only if they get “paid” with food. They may not want to pay anyone else, but they sure want something for themselves.

No matter how it is dressed up, Freeganism is at base a self-serving ideology. It is just as selfish as the capitalism that it decries. It cannot exist outside of capitalism, indeed, it is dependant upon it. Without the massive waste that consumerism produces, the choice to live a freegan lifestyle would be impossible. Those who are truly dependant upon scavenging for their survival do not have this choice, and freeganism does very little to alleviate this condition.


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  1. Excellent and thought provoking.

    Comment by L — February 9, 2006 #

  2. THANK YOU for this. You absolutely nailed it.

    Comment by Mare — February 9, 2006 #

  3. Wow… the link to the freegan page shows some seriously reprehensible stuff. I can’t believe the levels to which some people will stoop!

    Comment by Xyrra@LJ — February 9, 2006 #

  4. Good. Lord.

    “Returns – Example: we just dove a bunch of jars of mayonnaise. We don’t want to eat it, so we return it to the store, say we bought it and couldn’t use it/don’t want it and trade it in for cash or good food or store credit.”

    I’ve *worked* in a groccery store. They don’t toss stuff out randomly – especially a long shelf life item like that… unless it’s *BAD*. Like – kill me quick I got food poisoning – BAD. So gee, thanks, return it to the store so when some poor berk buys it *they* can get sick?

    I think I’d respect the site a little more if it didn’t sound like it was written by some high schooler ‘anarchist’ who’s never once been hungry *without* having a choice in the matter. And by ‘a little more’ I mean – at *all*.

    I think the poorly written rhetoric just makes the whole thing that much more grating.

    Comment by bastlynn — February 9, 2006 #

  5. Their philosophy is self-destructive. Who will produce if we all live that?

    Comment by Micky — February 9, 2006 #

  6. Let me just say, this is one of the best food/consumption articles I’ve read in a very long time. Thank you for putting it out there — it’s exactly what I would have said if I’d taken the time to put my thoughts on the subject into words.

    I got into it with a freegan girl in a Boston LJ community this past fall. She was apparently descending into town from Whatever-College-USA soon and she posted their tract exclaiming “Freegans Coming to Boston!” as if we would surely dance in the streets and bring out our tastiest pot luck for the welcome celebration.

    What I took her to task for was the bit on their website that advocates train-jumping. As a daily subway user in a city where a good number of us elect not to drive or own cars, the public transit system is something we rely on and pay for without resentment… but you can bet some of us do resent providing it gratis for a trust fund undergrad freegan. When I told Miss Freegan that she’ll either be paying $1.25 per ride, or jumping the turnstile and sooner or later getting arrested and paying a lot more for bail, her answer was a predictable “OMG u r so rash.”

    Anyway, that’s a departure from the food-related aspects of your article, but I just have to say, you nailed it perfectly.

    Comment by Mare — February 9, 2006 #

  7. I wondered when you were going to review the link on freeganism I referred to you 🙂

    I really feel these people should be focusing on getting the wasted food to the people who need it most–those in shelters, on the streets, in very very low income families living check by check–rather than finding the “good stuff” for themselves.

    It reminds me of McMansion ladies who spend hours scouring for designer duds at close out stores because they want the satisfaction, the rush of getting
    that deal. They’re doing it for the selfish thrill of it.

    Okay, not the most direct correlation, but i hope I made my point.

    Comment by Rose — February 9, 2006 #

  8. Excellent points…very logical & thought provoking.

    Comment by Sonali — February 9, 2006 #

  9. I hadn’t heard about these freegans so thanks for putting them on my radar screen. What a bunch of morons! They sound a lot like people I knew in college, rich kids who got high all the time and shoplifted on the rationale that they were subverting the capitalist system. Oh did I despise those people.

    I didn’t catch how the vegan part fits into freeganism. Are they really all vegans? If they’re hungry and there’s an egg salad sandwich that doesn’t seem to be drenched in piss in the dumpster, do they give it a pass?

    Comment by mzn — February 9, 2006 #

  10. I think you should check out French documentary maker Agnes Varda’s The Gleaners and I. She’s a lively and engaging presence and she talks about the tradition of gleaning, that is, the rural traditional practice where after the harvest, farmers would allow others to pick the produce. She herself falls in love with heart-shaped potatoes in the French countryside (two potatoes joined at one end) — and then takes us to how gleaning translates in urban settings, like open air markets in Paris.

    Comment by Yvonne — February 9, 2006 #

  11. Very nice. It’s another theory that has good points to it, but that in practice is reprehensible and hypocritical. These people are only concerned with what they can get, rather than what they can contribute.

    Comment by z.h. — February 9, 2006 #

  12. Thanks Barbara, great essay! It seems to me that freegans are missing the other part of that whole ‘harm done by the production of goods’ equation- the working bit. As in, one must work to earn one’s keep in this world. So not only are they benefitting from the system, they’re also directly stealing someone else’s time, effort, labour, and creativity.

    Freeganism is a product of a leisure society, because anywhere else in the world where people have to hustle for their daily survival, this sort of behaviour would never be tolerated.

    Comment by Raspberry Sour — February 9, 2006 #

  13. Hi Barbara,
    Freeganism has always bothered me–not the “reducing waste” side of it but the fact, as you mentioned, that its mostly a bunch of anarchist brats trying to show how dirty and marginal they can be– a bunch of white boys trying to marginalize themselves for self-justification, or out of guilt or something. Your argument is right on.

    Ive been reading your blog for a while–I enjoy your wit and common sense. I am an undergrad at a school in SW Ohio and I am also the farm market manager for our small (but growing!) market. I enjoy your posts about the Athens market–Im jealous, I hear its fabulous!

    Comment by Molly — February 9, 2006 #

  14. Well said. I’m very impressed with your logical response to a very illogical way of living.

    Comment by Kady — February 10, 2006 #

  15. Beautifully written, Barbara, as usual! I hadn’t heard of these people and it was fascinating reading!

    Comment by Meg — February 10, 2006 #

  16. An excellent and enlightening post, Barbara. Your point about freegans being parasites was spot-on. I am appalled that such a “movement” — if I can call it that — exists.

    Comment by Tania — February 10, 2006 #

  17. This “freeganism” reminds me a lot of the Cargo Cults, except it’s occurring in urban areas of America and not the South Seas.

    As you pointed out, a lot of the freegan philosophy is stuff responsible people would already do – the freecycling, bartering, and supporting organizations such as America’s Second Harvest and Food, Not Bombs. The difference between people like you and the hard core freegan is that they lack the community connection.

    They do it for personal, selfish reasons, and not to assist their communities or to help the less fortunate. They are, instead, in direct competition with the poor and homeless people with an unfair advantage. They’ve actually bought into the Consumer America Lifestyle, only they want it all free, no matter what the cost may be to others.

    Comment by Noddy — February 10, 2006 #

  18. They do it for personal, selfish reasons, and not to assist their communities or to help the less fortunate. They are, instead, in direct competition with the poor and homeless people with an unfair advantage. They’ve actually bought into the Consumer America Lifestyle, only they want it all free, no matter what the cost may be to others.

    Exactly, Noddy. That’s what I find most fascinating about the movement. Beneath any moral/ethical outrage I might have — which is an easy response — I have to ask, why? And how?

    Freeganism is nothing more than a movement than exists in opposition to a socio-economic system, but at the same time, it relies upon and, on some level, even reinforces that system. Freegans are anarchists; they do not (regardless of rhetoric) value community, only the individual, and what that individual can acquire for themselves. That is the same root supposition of a free-market, consumerist economy. Yet, they have apparently so internalized this worldview that they think they are opposing it, merely because no money changes hands!

    It’s a weird twist on the social norm that holds that money is the root of all evil; get rid of the money, and you get rid of the evil. But, of course, that’s a very shallow view. The freegans aren’t contributing to the evil directly — but they’re still profiting from it.

    On the flip side, there’s an interesting undercurrent of anti-aristocratic, anti-bourgeoise sentiment in a number of the critics of freegans. It’s an easy rhetorical leap to make, but it, too, misses the deeper issue: a system which values things and their acquisition over relationships and community is destructive to all of its members. Believe you me, I gritted my teeth at many faux hippies & political lesbians back in college (and I went to a very liberal liberal arts school.) They were undermining the very real lives and beliefs of those who — regardless of economic status — were living & acting authentically for social change. Well, and I found the United Hippies of Benetton riotously funny, and the hygienically defiant to be repugnant. However, I’ve learned that energy is undoubtedly capable of being used in a more constructive fashion, and it’s somewhat hypocritical of me to criticize ‘them’ for doing nothing, or being posers, while I sit back, stroke my chin, and ponder my moral superiority.

    Comment by Zak — February 10, 2006 #

  19. As always, your analysis is keen and your prose precise. A great read.

    Comment by BNA — February 10, 2006 #

  20. Well, thank you very much.
    I’m usually spitting piss & vinegar from dawn till dusk. One of the first things I do in the morning after crawling from bed is to open the window and produce a disapproving grunt at the world. My next adventure on my short commute is to watch meandering knuckleheads on cel phones cause grief to everyone behind them.
    And while steaming and growing meaner by the second, I now have to spew forth about freegans? Grrrrrr. A mind is a terrible thing.


    Comment by Dr. Biggles — February 10, 2006 #

  21. Nicely said. I always enjoy reading your stuff. BTW, congrats on getting your own domain. I’m going to do it someday when I get up the courage.

    Comment by Kalyn — February 10, 2006 #

  22. I offered up the Freeganism to my wife today, she spewed hate further than I did.
    Humans need a ‘pankin’.


    Comment by Dr. Biggles — February 10, 2006 #

  23. It seems as though I have struck a chord here.

    Fear not, this isn’t the last you have heard from me on the subject of freeganism: for one thing, I didn’t really go into the link between freegans and vegans (near as I can figure, the freegans don’t think the vegans “go far enough” and are about as distainful of them as they are of the capitalist pigs of the world), nor did I spend as much time on the kernels of truth to their philosophies.

    Besides, I like to offer positive solutions when I see problems like this, so in the next week or so, look for a second essay from me with a title something like, “What I Would Do If I Were a Freegan.”

    Next, I want to welcome those of you who have commented for the first time here, and thank you for taking the time to comment–it means a lot to me. I generally welcome everyone personally, but the comments came so thick and fast this time, I know if I try to go back and catch everyone, I will leave a string of kind of weird comments that may confuse later readers. So, suffice to say–thank you for reading, and offering intelligent thoughts to the discussion.

    Now, I am going to answer a few of your points directly, because everyone had some good ones.

    Bastlynn–I found the returns to the grocery store trick to not only be reprensible in that it was stealing, but that it was disgusting, but it was one small point that I didn’t really go into in the essay. There is so much from their website that I didn’t go into….

    Mare–don’t feel bad for departing from the food–this is a food blog, so of course I focused on that aspect, but your comment about train-hopping is just as valid and sheds more light on the unethical practices of freegans.

    It is all pertinent.

    Rose–after I read the links I found, especially, I couldn’t write about it immediately. As it was, this was a difficult essay to write, without spewing invective all over cyberspace. These people just made me so mad, it wasn’t even funny.

    But I did eventually get to it.

    Michael, all freegans are not vegans. In fact, they seem to hold vegans in contempt for “not doing enough” to walk lightly on the earth. But many of them are vegan, because vegetables and the like are more safe to take from the garbage and eat.

    Yvonne–thank you for the suggestion on the film. A couple of folks on KJ suggested it to me as well. One thing I want to note, however, is that freeganism is only tangentially related to the practice and tradition of gleaning from fields, a tradition that goes back to the Old Testament. (And this is something I should have gone into in the essay–maybe I will pick up the thread in the next essay.)

    The food left in the fields after harvest by right was the property of the poor in the Old Testament, and this tradition was carried on throughout Old Europe. I have no problems with that–in fact–I think it is a beautiful tradition.

    Freegans, however, seem to come from priviledged backgrounds, and have money enough for computers and internet access. The poor whom they compete with for food–do not have such luxuries, and that is the greatest locus of my ire.

    Raspberry Sour–you bring up another valid criticism–the fact that by not working, they once again are not putting anything into the society that they take from. One could argue that by taking items out of the waste stream, freegans are “giving back,” but more as a direct consequence of getting what they want, than because they have any community feeling.

    Molly–welcome! I am glad you are enjoying my blog–if you ever make it to Athens, you must come to the farmer’s market. It is a beautiful, bustling part of our community. Also–good on you for managing the farmer’s market!

    You know, if they wanted to live more lightly on the earth, they might try supporting local agriculture. Or, maybe, plant a community garden. You know–do something other than just for themselves.

    Noddy brings up an excellent point–one that I allude to, but do not hammer home: freegans seem to have bought into the consumerist lifestyle of getting stuff, but they want it for free….thanks for pointing that one out, Noddy! Good one!

    Zak–I think that you and Noddy are on the same wavelength here. Not surprising, mind you.

    This is why I get so irritated at the kind of coverage freegans get in the media–it is so shallow. No one seems to ask the deeper questions, the ones that touch upon ethics, and really dig into the underpinnings and philosophy of freeganism. It is all surface–look at those dirty hippies–dumpsters are nasty–I can’t believe you do that.

    And the questions are not hard. Unless, like the freegans, journalists have blinders on when it comes to the plight of the poor people who have no choice but to live out of dumpsters, unlike the freegans who do it to make “a statement.”

    Biggles–yes, well. A mind is a burden to carry around, but as I said, we are meant to use our brains for something other than keeping our ears widely spaced. If our foremothers all risked their pelvic arches and lives to push these big heads out, we might as well honor that sacrifice by using the brains now and again.

    I wish I could say I was sorry for bringing the freegans onto your radar, but well, I am not.

    As for humans needing a ‘pankin’.

    Consider this essay as a freshly cut switch.

    Kalyn–a word of advice–get the domain and move your blog sooner rather than later. The less you have to take with you, the easier it is for you in the long run.

    Comment by Barbara — February 11, 2006 #

  24. They remind me a LOT of the anarchists at my old college, all rich kids who never had to work or go hungry a day in their lives. They were convinced that squatting (theft of other people’s property) and graffiti (which the cleaning women were required by college policy to clean up) were “fighting the Man.” All they really did was whine a lot and make more work for other people. Call me an old-fashioned tool of the Man, but I like having a work ethic.

    If they said “Hey, we just like free stuff and think we’re entitled to anything we want!” I still wouldn’t respect them, but at least they wouldn’t be hypocrites claiming they’re saving the world by scamming, stealing, and abusing charity that could go to people who actually need it.

    Comment by Mel — February 12, 2006 #

  25. I’ve stumbled onto your site and this story. I wish I could actually type “BRAVO” loud enough but it stil won’t convey my sentiments.

    Amazing writing, I’m with you 250% here. Wow.

    Comment by matt armendariz — February 12, 2006 #

  26. When I pointed out the link to you and asked for your thoughts, I wasn’t expecting such a well researched and expansive critique on the subject.

    I guess I asked because I don’t know much on the subject of food waste in the US (I do know quite a bit about cityharvest but that’s about it) and I definitely can’t articulate my thoughts as well as you.

    Thank you.

    Comment by Rose — February 12, 2006 #

  27. Mel–I don’t have a lot of respect for anarchists, because they seem quite destructive and, well–not very sensible creatures, and the freegans are a fine example of this sort of anarchism in action. In other words–I agree.

    Matt–I hope you come back–and I am sure glad you stumbled in here. There are more essays where that one came from–stay tuned.

    Rose–once I read that one link you gave me–I started digging. Because it all settled wrong on me as I read it, and so I wanted to know more. Once I actually got into the writings of the freegans themselves, I knew I would have to take it on seriously and really push back against the concept, because I did see what they were doing as morally questionable at the least, and ethically bankrupt at the worst.

    Comment by Barbara — February 13, 2006 #

  28. parasites

    I am really into food blogs lately. But I came across a political post on ‘freeganism’ that I think is quite linkworthy. So, if you somehow came across our worthless blog, go to the superior linked blog instead….

    Trackback by The CardBoard Box Mansion — February 20, 2006 #

  29. Very astute way of looking at it. Two small points of reference:

    1. While I am a ‘treasure hunter’ (waste not, want not; one person’s garbage, etc..), I would never describe myself as a ‘freegan’. You mentioned that freegan behaviour doesn’t dissociate one from capitalism, it engages with and benefits from it — uncannily similar to the sort of behaviour we find in the First World, patriarchy benefitting from the existence of the Third world, no? Which leads to your point that freegans thus hyperextend the captialist problem by competing with the homeless/poor.

    2. I CANNOT STAND how “freegans” have associated themselves with vegans. The vegan philosophy is one of moral and ethical choice. It’s the recognition that in our society meat is not necessary for survival; the recognition of the economic and environmental motivations for wishing to remove meat from ones diet; the recognition of the inherent cruelty involved in eating meat. To have this pursuit sullied by freeganism (quite ironically) makes my blood boil!

    Regardless. Long term reader, keep on writing!

    Comment by emmms — February 21, 2006 #

  30. Emmms–thanks for commenting and welcome! It is nice to hear from a long-time reader–it is like finally seeing the face of an old friend one has only known through letters!

    I wanted to answer your points, because they are good ones: I hadn’t thought of it that way, but your extension of my arguement backwards, pointing out the similarities between freegan behavior to the homeless/poor and the way that “First World” and “Third World” nations interact is an apt one. I hadn’t looked at it that way–I did not extend the microcosm to the macrocosm, but I think that your analogy works.

    Secondly–the association between freegans and vegans. I mean to write another essay about this, because I didn’t really get a chance to cover this in the last one. It would have been an aside, had I done it in that essay, so I think I will just have it stand alone.

    Freegans do associate with vegans, but only tangientially. Mostly, I think they coined the name from vegan, because it was a familiar term, it was catchy and it sounded neat. If you read the writings of various freegans, you might notice something that struck me quite forcibly–freegans don’t much care for vegans. They go off on them for not being radical enough in their approach to save the earth. They talk about how vegans have bought into the consumerist, capitalist mindset, and how bankrupt thier lifestyle is.

    So, uh–yeah. I find this to be odd, on the one hand, because obviously, many freegans are by choice vegan–because it simply is less risky to eat discarded vegetable matter than dairy, eggs or meat. On the other hand–because freeganism is so obviously an anarchist philosophy–I do not find this sort of “us vs. them” kind of eliteism regarding vegans at all surprising. Anarchists, by their nature tend to be extreme individualists, and so, they simply do not work and play well with others from different groups.

    But much of the freegan literature is openly hostile to vegans, which makes the co-opting of the form of the name very ironic.

    Hence, my desire to write an essay on the Freegan vs. Vegan debate.

    Comment by Barbara — February 21, 2006 #

  31. Hi there, I’ve come via a convoluted path that involves a comment left by Lisa on a post made by Kitchen Witch that referenced a post I’ve made myself today about Freeganism. Interesting and thoughtful post (and comments!) that I’ve found myself largely nodding along with. I hope you don’t mind linking to this from my own post?

    Comment by Ally — February 21, 2006 #

  32. Welcome, Ally, and thank you for posting.

    Of course you have my permission to link to my post. Thank you for asking.

    It is really interesting to see the odd paths that my essays take when they go out into the world. Thanks for letting me in on a few of those winding roads.

    Comment by Barbara — February 21, 2006 #

  33. My mother-in-law has made her life’s work such charities as you mention – food recycling, funneling leftover bread from bakeries to homeless shelters, running synagogue-based food and clothing drives so that edible foods and wearable clothing goes to those who can use them instead of being tossed away. She’s an amazing lady.

    These people have the money to pay into the production of the food they eat. Yes, it *is* more disgusting than the food itself.

    Comment by Debra Fran Baker — February 21, 2006 #

  34. Very well put, and I agree entirely with you.

    I only became aware of so-called “freeganism” as a way of life a few days ago, but do find it astonishing that middle-class people would choose to live ike this.

    Adam Weissman has clearly read his Rousseau, but not quite moved on from the teenage fantasy that it truly is.

    As you say, it’s a parasitic existence in a land where 37 million people live below the poverty line. After all, the US minimum wage is not high.

    Comment by e — February 22, 2006 #

  35. Yes, e–he has read his Rousseau, but not processed it to include the practicalities of life.

    Comment by Barbara — February 22, 2006 #

  36. Debra–your mother in law is doing more to redress the wrongs that the freegans see than all the freegans dumpster-diving put together.

    Good on her.

    Comment by Barbara — February 22, 2006 #

  37. This is very true. Not bad for a lady who turned 70 today.

    Comment by Debra Fran Baker — February 23, 2006 #

  38. Happy birthday to your Mom, Debra. And many blessings for many more happy birthdays for her.

    Comment by Barbara — February 24, 2006 #

  39. Excellent and thought provoking. I have lived frugally all my life. I made this choice in my late teens after dropping out of school aged sixteen. I realised early on I wasn’t motivated by money. If I wasn’t going to earn a lot I had to live frugally. I’m now 51 and believe this has brought me inner contentment. Most people think I’m nuts. I work part-time and have streamlined my life to live without a lot of things other people take for granted. I have also brought up two children in this way. Recently I heard about Freegans and thought I might meet some like minded people. In truth I feel out of sync with their views because I realised a long time ago I could not divorce myself from capitalism. I can live frugally and make a small difference but I agree with so many of the views espoused in this article. Thank you

    Comment by Glenda — March 9, 2006 #

  40. Thank, you, Glenda.

    The only way one could live completely divorced from capitalism in this world is to go off in the woods, live off of the land, build your own cabin, make your clothes out of hides you’ve tanned yourself–though, even at that level of self-sufficiency, there would still be some vestiges of capitalism around the person. Unless they started absolutely from scratch and made their own tools, cookpots, etc, there would still be products of capitalism in their home.

    Besides–I don’t know how many folks could have the skills and know-how to do that anymore.

    I applaud you for living simply. I grew up in a frugal household and it has made me, in many ways, bad at being a good consumer. Even if I have the money, there are certain products I simply will not pay the money for. Jeans, for example….I will only pay so much for a pair of jeans, and once I have them, I wear them until they fall off of my person….(Actually, I tend to keep my clothes for years and years–unlike most people I know, I have shirts, sweaters and pants that are a decade old, and, yes, older….)

    Comment by Barbara — March 9, 2006 #

  41. Freegans piss me off. I work two jobs. Hubby works one and goes to school full-time. We live on a budget. I’ve glued my sneakers back together twice because we can’t afford new ones. Freeganism seems to say, “Why work? Why play by the rules?” By their standards, I guess I should steal a new pair of shoes. Except I wouldn’t. Ever.

    Comment by Amelia — March 20, 2006 #

  42. I am shocked at this page.
    First off, generalizations are always flawed and claiming that all freegans are white, upper-class men is ridiculous.
    Freegans are not stealing food from the poor, but from garbage trucks. Some freegans are poor and homeless and most engage in freeganism so as to give food that would otherwise enter landfills to those who need it. You talk about Food Not Bombs without understanding that Food Not Bombs is run and created by freegans. Of course many freegans want groups like City Harvest to pick up and deliver food to shelters, but City Harvest claims that it isn’t able to pick up the 20,000 bagels thrown out in NY every night, nor every thing else. Rather than wasting this food, when people are hungry and our landfills overflowing (in neighborhoods of people of color), freegans pick up this food to spread it around.
    Freegans who can afford to buy food do not see themselves as the priority, but instead see waste, hunger, and the attempt at building an alternative economic system as their goals. Freegans pass out food directly to homeless people, rather than through bureaucratic shelters, and offer grassroots meals, like Food Not Bombs. But rather than just serving homeless people food, freegans want to spread the knowledge of dumpstering so that homeless people can be self-sufficient.
    Some freegans believe freeganism does follow a line of traditional foraging and gleaning, such as in the bible, while others believe it only exists because the capitalist system is inherently wasteful and unsustainable. As long as people are hungry and food is being thrown out in massive, insane quantities, freegans will be around to wipe the edges of capitalism’s greedy, messy mouth. Freeganism follows a long history of living outside capitalism, which includes other alternatives such as community gardens, growing your own food, bartering, recycling and reusing, and sharing meals. One can be considered freegan if one has ever found an old chair on the street or if one has ever borrowed crayons while sitting in an art class; freeganism is really just about interacting and surviving (or flourishing) without money.
    This ‘work ethic’ you talk about is a Western capitalist notion and does not exist for many indigenous people who have a different concept of time and nor does it exist for people with a different philosophy of life, one that values the present and living in the moment. Not all freegans are anarchists, but anarchism is not centered on individuals, but believes in communities of autonomous individuals who are engaged together. Some anarchists and freegans want to create a world where ‘work’ is not separate from the rest of our lives and our systems of production do not leave us alienated and in a wasteful society. If you hate your job and are jealous that some freegans choose not to work, that means that maybe you should look into anarchism and look into creating, right now, a whole other way of living and surviving on this planet. We don’t need jobs, we just need ways to produce food and whatever else we need.
    We are not freeloaders, but are trying to build a whole other way of living, one that is about community, sharing, and being able to eat food without engaging in capitalism and the destructive hierarchy inherent within it. One day it may mean picking berries or growing food, but in cities in America, it means making sure the eggplant, asparagus, and tomatoes are not picked up by the garbage trucks, but are eaten, enjoyed, and spread out into the community. Please, come eat with us.

    Comment by olivia — May 24, 2006 #

  43. Olivia, I don’t understand why you are so shocked at my points. They are supported by facts I gleaned from the website The quotes from the essays were written by Adam Weissman, who supposedly is a spokesperson for the freeganism movement.

    If you do not agree with his points, that is good–I don’t either.

    If you are engaged in getting food to homeless people, then why is this not trumpeted on the site? Adam Weissman himself just emailed me this morning claiming that I only quoted from media sources, however, some of those media sources are linked on

    If the information that you and now Adam Weissman are giving me about being tirelessly engaged in getting food to poor and homeless people–I applaud you–because in theory, I think that freeganism is a good thing. It is only when I started looking more deeply at the information presented on your own website–the one that presumes to speak for the entireity of the freeganism movement, that I became less enamored of the ideals of the movement.

    Any movement which advocates shoplifting–stealing–is one of which I am wary. And whether you like it or not, there is an essay that advocates just that, along with scamming for foodstamps and from soup kitchens on the website.

    I also have it on good authority that the email newsletter to which my blog post is linked also has an essay on it advocating shoplifting. This continued advocacy for stealing does not endear the movement or any practitioner of freeganism to me, nor to many other people who read such things.

    I did not make any of what I posted up. I linked to the sources. And until Weissman, who as I recall, is the owner of takes down those incriminating essays and advocations of theft, I am not going to change my opinion, nor will anyone else who follows my links and sees what one vocal proponent of freeganism thinks is moral and good.

    Until Weissman changes his tune, you may find yourself and other honest, hard working freegans painted with the same brush that he has painted himself and the rest of you with.

    Remember–I used his own words to back up my opinions. You don’t like that–take it up with Mr. Weissman.

    Comment by Barbara — May 24, 2006 #

  44. I learned about freegan trash dives from a middle class trash digging junkie, who doesn’t need to dig for trash. I’m actually dirt poor and would go days or weeks with out food sometimes, so I was glad to find out about these events, even though I have to admit there are a lot of middle class people digging there hearts out in the trash, I still don’t really get that but appreciate these events. I have seen some poor mexican immigrants at free swap events, at least some other poor people know about it.

    Comment by foodgroups — June 13, 2006 #

  45. Right on, Barbara.

    The mindset of freegans is an adolescent self-purging desire for purity. They set up a false dichotomy between not working and “working for the man” – as if all jobs were corporate. No doubt someone who cared for patients as a registered nurse (or paramedic, or doctor) would be condemned by freegans as guilty of colluding with all the many serious flaws of our health-care industry; a public school teacher in the inner city would be condemned as guilty because she has to teach state-sanctioned, oppressive curricula; a worker for a non-profit advocating for women’s rights, gay rights, the arts — anything — would be judged impure because non-profits accept money from foundations, rich people, and corporate donors.

    End result: all work is impure, all products are impure, so I refuse to take part in anything that would make me impure. I will sit in a corner eating scraps (never mind that these are the same food products with terrible histories that someone else might have paid to eat) or sitting in the backseat of someone’s gas-guzzling SUV as a hitchhiker (never mind that without automobiles I couldn’t hitchhike) – and say over and over to myself, “I am good, I am good, I am good.”

    Part of being human, of growing up to be an adult who sees beyond the comforting child’s fairy-tale land in which you can only be wholly good or choose to side with utter evil, is to realize that in real life, there is no pure, 100% innocent, uncomplicated, completely righteous way to live. So you do the best you can, you give as much as you can, using your brain, your skills, whatever resources you have, to try to create as much good in the world as possible — while realizing thatyou will inevitably be complicit in some systems that are not 100% righteous. And if you have any energy after everything else you do, good for you to try to make those systems more righteous. But it’s a far cry from living fully engaged with the world and retreating to its dumpsters to eat its overprocessed shit, while declaring your own purity.

    Comment by Leisha — July 15, 2006 #

  46. Hi. I am very interested in what you had to say in this blog. I dumpster dive all the time and want to eventually learn to eat for free. However, I also love to serve people meals at the homeless shelter and food pantry. The thing is, people in my area aren’t hungry! Honestly, I love the homeless with all my heart, but they eat three square meals a day and can’t complain. Once, my friends and I went dumpster diving and came up with a whole bunch of fresh fruit and soft bread and tried to offer it to the food bank, but they denied us, turning their noses up at the thought of eating from the trash. I look at dumpster diving as a smart alternative to buying foods from big corporations, but it’s important to also become self-reliant by growing food in a garden and supporting local farmers.

    Thank you for pointing out the doctrines on, because I would have previously liked to call myself a freegan, but now I would rather not associate with such an organization. Dumpster diving for me is all about sharing the wealth and feeding other people with what you find. If there was ever competition from poor or homeless people at my dumpsters, I would certainly yeild to them. However, there is not, so I would rather glean the harvest from these stores than let it go to waste.

    Comment by Jessica — November 26, 2006 #

  47. I would like to add that if they wanted to prevent the cruelty of animals and be more conscious of production of agricultural products, would they not support the small organic producers? There are many alternatives to the large supermarkets like whole foods and trader joes. Or they could purchase foods from the small organic farms. As for employment, if they choose not to work for the big organisations, could they not work for the non-profits or the shelters or something that would make a contribution to the needy? These are just questions that I thought of in terms of how they could avoid supporting the larger organisations but could support instead the alternative smaller organic farmer, the shelters and alternative health facilities that really help society. There is a thought for the freegans!

    Comment by Joanne — May 25, 2007 #

  48. joanne-

    whole foods and trader joe’s are themselves very large and capitalistic supermarkets. while they do sell a larger percentage of organic, fairly traded products they continue to produce conventionally grown fruits and vegetables and products containing those materials. they also continue to sell animal products that are conventionally raised. whole foods and trader joe’s would not exist if the market for organic food started to decline in profits. unfortunately in midst of the current popularity in organic products the standards for producing these products has declined. meats and eggs are now labeled free-range or cage-free or organic but what people failed to realize or really, fail to see is that cage-free eggs really just means that instead of having their beaks seared off with a hot blade while completely conscious and left to suffer packed in cages without any room to walk around they are now having their beaks seared off with a hot blade then left on a concrete floor in a pitch black factory without any room to walk around. due to the unnatural ammount of food and growth hormones the chicken’s bodies grow to a size that makes them unnable to hold themselves up and they are then forced to lay in their own feces which also leads to the onset of respiratory disorders. in addition to the fact that whole foods and trader joe’s also support the same activites of the companies that people go to whole foods and trader joe’s to avoid, they also throw away pounds and pounds of edible food because they are afraid they will lose money from being sued. those are just a few of the examples of how so-called “smaller”,”alternative” supermakets are also guilty of some of the same corruption and greed as other supermarket chains.

    i also wanted to say that it is completely ridiculous to say that freegans are self-centered or hypocritical compared to someone who supports corporations, wastes, or eat animals. first of all, the terms “self-centered” and “hypocritical” are abstract and really have no meaning. every person in the world is “self-centered” in everything we do. even if doing something “charitable” such as donating money to a non-profit org is essentially self-centered because the person donating the money is trying to fullfill their own goal of doing what they want of achieving happiness. if you are assuming, as someone above did, that self-centeredness is defined by focusing only on getting food for oneself i think that would only apply to some freegans just as it would apply to a lot of people regardless of whether or not they are working for their food or getting it out of a dumpster. every freegan i have known so far shares the majority if not all of the food they find be it through friends or family living in the same household or building or programs like GRUB or Food not bombs where the food is prepared and passed out to whomever wants it regardless of any lifestyle. oftentimes, the food retrieved when dumpstering is in such high quantities that these programs are almost nescessary to insure that all food is eaten and used to its highest potential. outside of food, freegans retrieve clothing, furniture, and other misc items and offer them out to people for free through “really really free markets” or “freestores” throughout their communities. these type of events are factually more beneficial to the community as the needs are given directly to the people at no cost and with no extra consumption of resources. organizations like the american cancer society, however, use the majority of their funds to create ads on television, pamphlets, posters, billboards, etc and to cover cost of their employees while the public has no idea who is affected by their money and where it is actually going to. i am not saying that creating ads and such to raise awareness are “bad”, but compared to the freegans who create awareness usuing recycled materials or materials that would otherwise be thrown away without usuing any extra resources, without using any money, and running on a completely voluntary staff, something like the american cancer society is significantly more wasteful.

    i think freegans prove that it is possible to get what one needs without having a “job”. if following the same definiton of “self-centered” as those above, having a job would be considered self-centered as the only reason why a person would want a job would be to get more than what they need. a freegan has a job just like every other animal on the planet has a job. to get what they need to survive and make sure others in its species also have those things. a squirrel spends most of its day walking around looking for food and spending time with other squirrels and having sex but no one tells the squirrel to get a job. that is the squirrels job. the squirrels only consideres needs. the squirrel doesn’t have the ability to think “i’m going to work overtime this week to avoid to put gas in my car, how terrible my life is that i have to work so much to avoid gas”. i understand that in this society a thought process of only considering needs is extremely idealistic, but that is the reason why freegans live such an extreme lifestyle because that idealistic world without “want” is their goal.

    Comment by judy — July 1, 2007 #

  49. I was reading your article. Have you actually done your research cause I don’t believe you have. Freegans often times do something called food not bombs which they make food from the dumpsters, that normally goes to waste, and well they give it to people. Who ever. It doesnt matter rich or poor. In your attempt to discredit extremists you really really missed a big thing.

    …so i read further and you did mention food not bombs. I am a Freegan or somewhat freegan. I work with food not bombs and an organizer. Most freegan ares you should go talk to some people. I am offended by your articles lack of understanding.

    Comment by Dylan — August 1, 2007 #

  50. HI sorry in advance for my bad writting, english It’s my second language and I am pretty dislexic anyway.
    wanted to say first that I agree with a lot of the stuff that you have said, but I am happy to piss on your “defence of capitalism” I do feel sorry when a dish of food is discarted and no one is feeling their bellies with it, even if its an industralised processed, slaughtered animal. I am not a freegan because I do not eat animals or dairy not because I die to pay for it (like some people with heaps of money on this blog) but because I know is better for my if I don’t and do not agree in the way that they were produced. at the same time I can’t go and beat on anarchist freegans for being hipocritical and getting leather shoes for free, I’d rather be bashing this stuffed up system that has got us complaining on each other about small staff, yeah, small stuff and small hipocrecies that are nothing compared with the crimes of the corporate and government structures. talking about hypocrecy I cant belive the amount of middleclass people defending the system that has got it all wrong! on how they work so hard and how nobodie can’t live without the capitalist achivements, and that is what is being reclaimed by people that don’t have to feel guilty about not having a job and really achiving their human potentials through music arts as opossed to going to work to pay their car to drive to work. what ever humans take of this system was not created by this system but the people that works within the system, is not about escaping the system is about stabing the system with its sharpest bits. going to the woods would be giving up the fight. I can’t guarantee that all my food is organic and free from human suffering, I can’t afford all food so if you can get it for free and say fuck you to this system in any small way go for it, I will not go skinny to keep profetiring This fat motherfuckers!!!
    it pisses me off that some people ask us anticapitalist to get out of the system if we hate it so much… fuck this is my word as much as yours I do have a better fucking idea than go to work pop out three kids send one to war and spend the rest of my life paying the education of the other ones or buying into the stock market hopping that enslaved labour and destroying the planet brings my profits up .
    and this tools and technologies that we (people not MR capitalist) have created can be used in such a better way than they are.
    so NOT I am not selling my laptop to not be “hipocritical” I am looking at the greater picture and screwing the system that started it all that is fucking you up too and the future of your kids, not myself!

    Comment by frankbufalo — August 24, 2007 #

  51. Thank you for opening my eyes to the world of Freeganism.

    Comment by Things I'm Grateful For — October 10, 2007 #

  52. I’ve done my share of dumpster diving (NOT FOOD!) and it pains me when I have to throw away food that I feel is past its prime and might cause illness, so when I first heard of Freeganism, I thought it sounded great. And then I read further and I’ve come to this conclusion: if Freegans advocate shoplifting, then why not take it to the next level and go for armed robbery (with stolen guns and ammo, of course)? Hell, if you’re going to stick it to the man, might as well go all out and really make him hurt–literally! And if you end up in prison–even better! Free food. Rent free housing. Free medical care. You barter for what you need and it helps if you’re not too bad looking. Most transportation, what little you would need, is done by bus. It’s communal living. A very eco friendly lifestyle! The Freegan folks definitely need to add doing time to their website.

    (Keep in mind that most of what I know about prison is based on watching Shawshank Redemption several times. Then again, I guess they did do some work in that movie. Actually, the Shawshank prisoners were quite productive, come to think of it, so I doubt the Freegans would approve of that.)

    Comment by Bela Glik — October 31, 2007 #

  53. As is often the case, the truth may lie somewhere in the middle. Though Freevagans may exaggerate their cause, your article, though well written, is not free of hype. Though you condemn irrational behavior, much of your sentiment is based on emotion. Your language makes that quite obvious. By the way, I am not a Freevagan.

    Comment by Phil — November 10, 2007 #

  54. Thanks for such an informative post. I’m a little queasy about the fact that this group is so closely associated with vegans because as a vegan myself, I feel we have a hard enough time as it is “going against the norm” via our eating choices alone.

    Comment by Tara — November 14, 2007 #

  55. Oh, and one more thing. When a freegan decodes to steal, they are not just sticking it to the “man”, but sticking it to people who actually shop in the establishments they lift from. When shoplifting becomes enoughof a problem, the “man” ups his prices. This may not affect the freegans, but it affects everyone else. If I’m wrong about this group stealing please correct me on this. I hope I AM wrong because if I’m not than this group has absolutely no regard for their fellow humans.

    Comment by Tara — November 14, 2007 #

  56. I have to disagree with you. I am a freegan, not fanatical and I DO share my finds with elderly people in my building and with anyone else who needs food. So whether it is for someone else, homeless, or myself.. The main point is it is going to be wasted. I have worked with the homeless and MOST of the homeless that you speak of that we are competing with are so mentally ill, or on drugs they would never even think to wait behind the grocery store for food to be thrown away.. I do respect your article but it is a generalization and there are ALWAYS those who step outside the norm. Thank you for your article, I have shared it with many freegan friends.. There is always exception to the rules.

    Comment by Rita Book — November 27, 2007 #

  57. I am a freegan, and I know I speak for many when I say that freeganism does not support shoplifting. We are a strong community with great visions directed towards a future that consumes less and shares more. Sure, for now we use the capitalist system even though we oppose it. The reality is that our capitalist system is causing tremendous waste and is exploitative of animals. We do not compete with homeless people! There is so much waste, unfortunately, that we can take from the discarded food from the stores’ dumpsters and still there is enough for others. We do indeed pass it on. I think to call us adolescent and selfish is to misunderstand our mission. Many, perhaps even most of us, take far more than we can personally consume so that it is rescued from its destiny in a landfill to be consumed. I make it a point to share with friends, family and colleagues (yes, I have a job) from every occasion that I forage. And let me stress that this is not Nasty food. We are taking it because it is good food that does not belong in the trash. What is shocking is not that we are “eating garbage,” but that so many people can, because so much good food is discarded every night. I want to reiterate something from a previous post, too: that many freegans are associated with Food Not Bombs. We are not doing this just for an easy way to live; we are doing this to try to change a broken system. While it is still broken (there is still massive waste) we will still dumpster dive. Work in itself is not odious. People should work to leave this planet better than they found it!

    Comment by Janet — January 12, 2008 #

  58. Janet–you are a freegan with whom I have no quarrel or quibble. Mostly, I was reacting to the information presented, not in the mass media, but by freegans themselves in In these documents, and in the email list run by the same person, Adam Weissman, there are indeed statements in support of shoplifting, returning discarded food to the store for a refund, and defrauding groups like Food Not Bombs, which help the homeless and those families who are out of work and need the food more than someone with a job or who is capable of having a job, but who choses not to, does.

    I took my information right from the horse’s mouth, as it were, and was absolutely appalled at what I found.

    The truth is, the general idea of freeganism appeals to me, though I am not as anti-capitalism as most freegans would like me to be. I have no problem paying the farmer who grows my food and raises animals a fair wage for his or her work–farming is difficult, and I feel it is important to support those small farmers who grow the food I eat.

    But then, I tend not to eat much in the way of corporate grown food, myself. That is my way of “sticking it to the man.”

    I am also against food waste, which is why I support America’s Second Harvest and Food, Not Bombs, and other food harvesting initiatives that get food that might otherwise be wasted to people who need it.

    So, in essence, Janet, the person you have issues with is not myself–but Adam Weissman, and his group of freegans who support such disgusting behaviors as stealing and lying.

    Comment by Barbara — January 12, 2008 #

  59. uhu!! stealing is such a disgusting crime!, I can’t believe some humans do it.
    c’mon I am talking about big, franchises corporations not your mother’s corner shop.
    I’ll tell you what is a crime, a disgusting crime is the social welfare and security and housing in the US, as I guess most of the people here is from America, another big disgusting crime is war where all your taxes go to pay for armament and the destruction of social structures in invaded countries, feeding the world with genetically modified food without knowing long term consequence, spraying entire aboriginal populations with Monsanto’s poisonous hervi/fungycide shit
    NOW that is a fucking crime!
    I am not and nobody should feel guilty or judge someone for getting a couple of apples that came from the damn soil water and sun that I guess some of you think people has the right to own as private property

    and your beloved capitalist system doesn’t support sustain or advocates for that small farmer, that pays fare wages to workers as you are dreaming of.

    Comment by bufalo — February 15, 2008 #

  60. You made some good points. But, as has been said, took too much of the site at face value. There is a later bit on shoplifting (if not on another site. Where it says that it is not a core freegan belief, and if you are going to do it. It should not be any small , organic produce stall. But it should be a disgusting corporate soul destroying supermarket like Wal-Mart (Stateside, I’m British so Wal-Mart is the limit of my knowledge of American supermarkets) or Tesco/Asda over in Britain.

    There are two main sorts of freegans. There’s those who do it on a pure moral basis. Take part in all other activities, share their finds, grow some of their own food ect. Then there are those who (you assume from the website make up the majority) are in it to either be pretentious or just to be parasitic.
    Also the idea that stealing will hike up prices (as someone else mentioned) would not be the case with a huge corporation. Even if it got so effective they were forced to raise prices, their prices would raise above those already offered by small organic wholefood sellers, making people switch over. Gaining the small, morally shiny people money, and losing even more for the soulless supermarkets that perpetuate the wasteful consumerist society we are trapped in.


    Comment by Finlay — February 17, 2008 #

  61. […] Freeganism: What’s Up with That? […]

    Pingback by Dumpster Diving for Dinner - Freeganism explored | Crunchy Domestic Goddess — February 29, 2008 #

  62. If there are any Ohio Freegans out there please email me. Or if you know of any Ohio Freegans, please contact me. I’m extremely interested in documenting the movement. I’m a consumer reporter and I think the story needs to be told here in my area. My email is Thanks!

    Comment by TurnTo2 — April 9, 2008 #

  63. Why do you assume ‘freegans’ actually give a damn about consumerism? -chuckle-

    I eat discarded food – misshapen vegatables and fruit that have ‘unattractive’ scars and therefore not good for retail purposes.

    They are given to our local community care by several grocers, and while the food is technically ‘spoiled’ in the grocers eyes, it feeds many poor folks (such as I) who may not have the means financially to come across these things.

    Frankly, I don’t care at all about ‘saving the environment’, or ‘consumer waste’. I care about what is going into my mouth.


    Comment by Carleen — June 4, 2008 #

  64. i think you should check out the project called “food not bombs” before you say that freegans do not work to reduce the imbalance of the homeless and hungry. perhaps most freegans are gathering food for themselves, but some are looking at the well-being of others as well.

    Comment by kimberly — August 31, 2008 #

  65. I am somewhat disappointed with your analysis, simply because it’s quite clear that you’ve done little or no work speaking with the freegans in New York mentioned above.

    I have, and one thing I think you’ll notice is that “freegan” is a broad umbrella with differing levels of engagement and intersects an anarchist community that has accomplished some inspiring things. You’ll also find that the media arm of “freeganism” articulated through is quite small, and is no particular authority.

    And I think that’s the real problem here, both in your analysis, also the and media framing of the community and its voices of authority. What you’ll find is an array of differing strategies and necessity.

    Freeganism abstains from consumerism within the confines of the urban setting in New York City, but I’ve gained friends who have moved out of the city on sustainable farms, I wonder if you have disdain for these strategies. Like the media, you seem fascinated with dumpster diving, but (and you can take his authority for whatever you wish) Adam said to me recently “I’m sick of dumpsters, I really hope no freegan ever has to dig through a dumpster again, it’s not a solution, we need sustainable solutions.”

    Comment by Ivan — November 3, 2008 #

  66. Another person at the 123 community space in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn was conducting an interview with NYU students, she was asked “what would you tell people about freegans?” “most importantly, do your own thing. this is what we’re doing, and it might work for some, but look around your community and see what can be improved and how, all of us should seek more fulfilling, socially and environmentally conscious activities to enrich our own lives. This might not be the best solution for you, but it is what we have, right /now/.”

    I assure you the world does not operate in strict categories. The inspiring thing about the community in New York is it doesn’t attempt to institute such an abstraction, despite what your website review “discovers.”

    Comment by Ivan — November 3, 2008 #

  67. I’m a reporter and am looking for Ohio freegans, specifically in Toledo, Ohio. This is great subject. If you have any info send an e-mail to

    Comment by Nicole — March 16, 2009 #

  68. While some points that you have made are valid, you yourself prove that are also a hypocrite, you are judgmental and you are prejudiced. I agree that returning something to a store for money that you didn’t pay for in the first place and shoplifting are not even slightly moral activities. But neither is judging an entire group by a few “bad apples”. Pun most definitely intended. And any so called journalist should know better than to take a definition from a source like Wikipedia seriously.
    You complain that fregans are not working and are taking food away from the homeless people who need it. Yet you have no problem with homeless people being homeless and jobless or with your grandmother and others like her doing the same things. Why is it ok for some to benefit off of post consumer waste and not ok for fregans to do the same. And have you even asked the question of what many of the intentionally jobless freegans are doing with their time? Many (I conceded, not all) of them contribute time and effort to help their communities and our planet in other ways. Ways they would not be able to if they had to work longer hours to pay for the material items the rest of us buy. And while you say that they are not contributing to the solution of over-consumerism, I disagree. Freegans are the reason why so many Americans are now more enlightened about the amount of consumer waste we have. They are bringing the issues into the limelight and that in itself insights change. They are stopping things from going straight into landfills which would mean that all the materials and energy used to create those items have not gone to waste by something that was never even really used.
    Another way that freegans help is that when fewer items get sold, the manufacturers keep track of all of that data. If the freegans didn’t get the things for free, many of them wouldn’t get them at all. This helps manufacturers to make wiser production decisions. And hopefully, to try to make sure that supply does not exceed demand. Many items do have harmful beginnings, but isn’t it worse if all that harm, the sweat, toil, and materials gets used for something that goes straight to the waste system?
    Maybe before you judge this entire community so harshly you should wonder why you feel the need to judge at all. Can’t you just live and let live? If you do not want to help with a solution why beat down on the people who are at least putting in some effort? It may not be the best solution out there, but it is better than nothing. It is better than apathy and it is better than the greed that so many Americans are guilty of.

    Comment by cynthia — June 25, 2009 #

  69. Actually, Cynthia, if you read my essay thoughtfully, you would see that I agree that much of what many freegans do is a good idea. I think that using post consumer waste is a good idea–I never said it wasn’t.

    What I have a problem with is the philosophies put forth on the website and mailing list of Decrying capitalism while living off the waste of it is rather silly. How about they just dumpster dive and not make up illogical or immoral reasons for doing it?

    And I NEVER said I didn’t have a problem with homeless people being homeless–how dare you make such a judgment of my beliefs without any basis? Every criticism I made of freegan philosophy came from their own websites and their own writings and their own words as quoted in the media.

    I never said I thought anything about it being okay for there to be homeless people–you came up with that on your own.

    So, who is being judgmental here, cynthia? Someone who makes her critiques based on what freegans themselves say about their beliefs or someone who just makes crap up without any basis and slings it at someone.

    You can disagree with me all you like, but don’t slander me. I have worked in homeless shelters and helped feed the poor for more years than you likely have been alive, so don’t tell me I don’t care about homeless people.

    Comment by Barbara — June 25, 2009 #

  70. I grew up trashpicking, too, but my daddy called it “scrounging.” We did it at the local dump before it became a landfill. I used to half-seriously refer to our family as “freegans,” thinking that the definition was just up for grabs. But now I know differently. This was very informative.

    Comment by Allison — December 4, 2010 #

  71. […] 11.) “Freeganism: What’s Up With That?” at Tigers & Strawberries […]

    Pingback by 50 Freegan Living Blogs- Reduce Waste And Live Free | Green Eco Services — December 31, 2010 #

  72. 3 seconds ago
    my dad was the original freegan—in the 1960’s as a school janitor he brought home uneaten lunches, unused paper and pencils, all from the garbage and to top that, we once had our front yard tree teepeed with toilet paper…he got all he could off the branches, dried it out, rerolled it and used it for its original purpose. He was also fired before that at his first job when he took a piece of paper out of the garbage to write something on so he would not have to use a new piece…that place (Grummin Corp.) owes him a BIG apology because I bet they are going green today!!!!.

    Comment by Esbee — April 25, 2011 #

  73. […] 11.) “Freeganism: What’s Up With That?” at Tigers & Strawberries […]

    Pingback by Online Colleges » Student Savings Tips, Part 2 (Poor Scholar Edition): 50 Excellent Freegan Living Resources — May 25, 2011 #

  74. It absolutely was wonderful to read through your article. I actually enjoyed the short while which i used looking at it and needed to leave a comment to say that….Many thanks

    Comment by Aaron — October 6, 2011 #

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