First; what is a Freegan? The word freegan is compounded from “free” and “vegan”. However the term appears to be more loosely used by some to describe a lifestyle and a belief. It is said they are people who ’employ alternative strategies for living based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources. Freegans embrace community, generosity, social concern, freedom, cooperation, and sharing in opposition to a society based on materialism, moral apathy, competition, conformity, and greed.’ More on Freegans here.
Second; what’s the definition of a Freeloader? Freeloader – someone who takes advantage of the generosity of others. Source.
Freegans are a concept that grew out of the United States, that place that loves to label every movement, idea, concept with a name. And not long after the marketers grab the latest ‘cool’ movement/idea from the streets and make it their own. Radical agenda … dead in the water.
What do Freegans like to do that makes them so ‘radical’?
These following points are quoted from the Freegan website;
*Waste Reclamation – 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 which are disproportionately situated within poor, non-white neighborhoods, where they cause elevated levels of cancer and asthma.
Perhaps the most notorious freegan strategy is what is commonly called “urban foraging” or “dumpster diving” . This technique involves rummaging through the garbage of retailers, residences, offices, and other facilities for useful goods.
* Waste Minimization – Because of our frequent sojourns into the discards our throwaway society, freegans are very aware of and disgusted by the enormous amounts of waste the average US consumer generates and thus choose not to be a part of the problem. So, freegans scrupulously recycle, compost organic matter into topsoil, and repair rather than replace items whenever possible. Anything unusable by us, we redistribute to our friends, at freemarkets, or using internet services like freecycle and craigslist.
* Eco-Friendly Transportation – Freegans choose not to use cars for the most part. Rather, we use other methods of transportation including trainhopping, hitchhiking, walking, skating, and biking. Hitchhiking fills up room in a car that would have been unused otherwise and therefore it does not add to the overall consumption of cars and gasoline.
Some freegans find at least some use of cars unavoidable so we try to eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels by using cars with desiel engines converted to run on “greisel” or “veggie-oil” literally fueling our cars with used fryer oil from restaurants – another example of diverting waste for practical use. Volunteer groups are forming everywhere to assist people in converting diesel engines to run on vegetable oil.
* Rent-Free Housing – Squatters believe that real human needs are more important than abstract notions of private property, and that those who hold deed 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. In addition to living areas, squatters often convert abandoned buildings into community centers with programs including art activities for children, environmental education, meetings of community organizations, and more.
* Community garden plots and wild foragers – In neighborhoods where stores are more likely to carry junk food than fresh greens, community gardens provide a health food source.
Wild foragers demonstrate that we can feed ourselves without supermarkets and treat our illnesses without pharmacies by familiarizing ourselves with the edible and medicinal plants growing all around us. Even city parks can yield useful foods and medicines, giving us a renewed appreciation of the reality that our sustenance comes ultimately not from corporate food producers, but from the Earth itself. Others take the foraging lifestyle even farther, removing themselves from urban and suburban concepts and attempting to “go feral” by building communities in the wilderness based on primitive survival skills.
* Working Less / Voluntary Joblessness – workers, we are cogs in a machine of violence, death, exploitation, and destruction. Is the retail clerk who rings up a cut of veal any less responsible for the cruelty of factory farming than the farm worker?
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.
So, are Freegans freeloaders. Going by the definition of freeloader (‘someone who takes advantage of the generosity of others’) it appears we could end up split down the middle. They are taking advantage but not from the generosity of others, rather the wastefulness of others. However, some may feel that these lifestylers are simply living off others hard work, that there will always be waste and like pigeons, rats and cockroaches, Freegans are simply taking advantage of a free lunch. Take away the workers and well … Freegans would have to go out and … work!
For a Guardian journalist’s account of hanging out with the Freegans check out this article.