Are Freegans ‘freeloaders’?

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.

This entry was posted in Community Initiatives, Economics, Education, Energy, Food & Agriculture, Housing, Protest, Recycling, Sustainablity, UK, Urban, US, Waste. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Are Freegans ‘freeloaders’?

  1. Pete Smith says:

    I’ve got a lot of time for Freegans. They are of course doing what they do to make an eco-political point about waste, but they are ‘just’ scavengers, in the nicest possible way. They’re the human equivalent of worms or woodlice or carrion crows, the animal kingdoms tidy-uppers. While the Freegans we see in the media seem to be nice, young middle-class types who could probably afford to buy all that stuff, there’s a large underclass of homeless, unemployed, street dwellers, who eke out a living scavenging Freegan-style because they have to. Not to mention the millions world-wide who live on garbage dumps in the developing world.
    This kind of activity is going to get more popular. Witness the growth of the Freecycle movement (not for food, admittedly). Channel 4’s recent series ‘Dumped’ had a similar theme.
    All we need now is a change in the law so that it’s no longer technically illegal to take stuff out of someone else’s skip or dumpster.

  2. matt says:

    I can’t help hear Free-gun (get ya free guns here ladies & gentlemen in the land of the free. it’s your constitutional right). But I digress.

    Good point about the millions around the world living off dumps and sleeping on the streets. I guess this is what had me getting a tad weary about this Freegan thing. It’s a little bit like veganism itself. Many poor people hanker after a slab of juicy bloody meat but can’t afford it. As soon as they join the growing middle classes of the developing world (if they do) they’re off to McDonalds.

    Food waste is however an appalling reality that needs resolving somehow. For that I commend the Freegans publicity machine (no doubt an unintended side effect of their stage act).

    I wonder how many of these Freegan individuals creep away from their squats as family life besets them!

    Reality has a habit of slicing through idealogy with cruel effect.

  3. Pete Smith says:

    Good Housekeeping has launched a campaign ‘Too Good To Waste’. An article in the October edition highlights the problem of wasted food going to landfill and producing the dreaded methane. The GH website at promises hints and tips on waste-avoidance shopping, storage, meal-planning and managing leftovers.

  4. earthpal says:

    I very much like the idea of Fareshare (from the Guardian article) and I was relieved to hear that some of the stores participated in this scheme because their food wastage is phenomenally unethical when left for the landfill sites. Fareshare schemes should be extended and even, dare I say it, put into legislation so that all stores must, by law, dispose of their food waste more ethically.

    As for the freegans, I fully agree with Pete. Well said Pete.

  5. matt says:

    Fareshare is an excellent idea.

    More of this sort of initiative is needed.

    Producing grossly excessive volumes of food in the first place seems plain wrong in my book.

    Taking good food out of supermarket bins on the other hand as the so-called Freegans do shows just what an excessive, greedy society we have. I still do not see their ideas as solutions. But of course they’re doing what they can as individuals.

  6. Pete Smith says:

    It’s not all about greed, a lot of it’s down to ignorance.
    Shopping habits have changed. People shop in a one-hit rush and don’t plan weekly menus, ending up with more food than they need.
    They can’t be bothered to check sell-by/use-by dates. My experience at the local Sainsbury’s is that they are reducing expiry leadtimes, or just leaving food on the shelf longer. Same difference, people suddenly find they’re lumbered with expired food and have to buy more
    OTOH, shoppers are obsessed with food dates. Once they’re aware an item has ‘expired’ it’s straight in the bin, regardless of its condition.
    Cooking and home management habits have changed. The decline of the ‘housewife’ and home cooking means a loss of awareness of how food works and how to use it efficiently.
    A final word about Freegans: they’re no more freeloaders than someone who buys their clothes cheap in Oxfam. The logic’s the same, get stuff cheap by using someone else’s discarded stuff. And if their activities increase awareness and reduce landfill, so much the better.

  7. matt says:

    > Shopping habits have changed.

    Yes, the weekly shop as opposed to the daily shop has a lot to do with increased wastage. Some old folk around my neck of the woods still shop daily.

    > OTOH, shoppers are obsessed with food dates.

    H&S. I came across some butter recently about a month out of date. It was perfectly fine so I finished the product. People are out of touch with food. They don’t even know what’s fresh or off any more. It’s crazy. Obviously all those food programmes have taught viewers nothing useful at all.

  8. Pete Smith says:

    Absolutely reinforces my point about loss of knowledge and skills. As for health and safety, why do products like jams, pickles and sauces have to be kept in the fridge nowadays? They’re preserves, for God’s sake.

  9. judithgr says:

    I’ve been in many countries where disabled and sick or otherwise disenfranchised people have no choice but to use the leavings of others to survive. For that reason, I would respect the Freegans a lot more if they collected what is usable and took it to groups who can redistribute it to the really poor.

    While that won’t work with food from a dumpster, IMO no one should be eating food from a dumpster unless it is still sealed inside a tin or a sturdy packet. How much better it would be to recruit the shops to donate to community kitchens and shelters before it becomes only binnable.

    Best by doesn’t mean “this will kill you if you eat it the next day.” If best by intimidates you, you’re being hoodwinked. We are each of us responsible for using precious resources wisely. We are each of us responsible for educating ourselves to what is need and what is desire. Every single thing at the grocer, the clothing shop and the variety shop represents the consumption of petroleum, electricity, minerals, human work hours and infinite details. It breaks my heart to see the waste proposed and undertaken in every part of our lives. Example: I gave a cookery student the job of chopping finely a stalk of leafy celery. She chunked a six inch piece out of the middle and proceeded to mince that. How would someone think that was right? How would they not know that they were throwing away the most flavorful part? She knows now.

  10. matt says:

    Hi Judith

    I think your points on your blog should be central to our attitudes to food;

    ‘Eat seasonally.

    Buy the best ingredients and treat them with respect.’

    There is an organisation in the UK working hard to re-distribute supermarket food that can no longer stay on their shelves. It’s called Fareshare.

    Agree with this point that you made. You’ve hit the nail on the head!;

    ‘I would respect the Freegans a lot more if they collected what is usable and took it to groups who can redistribute it to the really poor.’

  11. Pete Smith says:

    We are each of us responsible for using precious resources wisely
    Yeah… sadly, much of the food we buy is (a) priced too cheaply to reflect the real costs of producing it and (b) shit. This can make it a bit difficult to recognise it as “precious”.
    We are each of us responsible for educating ourselves to what is need and what is desire
    Seems to me that kind of awareness develops very early, in a domestic environment. By the time people reach the point where they can take responsibility for their own actions the damage has been done.
    I would respect the Freegans a lot more if they collected what is usable and took it to groups who can redistribute it to the really poor
    There are groups already doing this. The “really poor” are free to copy the Freegans if they want to.
    I would respect Greenpeace a lot more if they stopped using their inflatables to harass whaling ships, and used them to give free trips round the bay instead 🙂

  12. judithgr says:

    Frankly, I am repelled by healthy, middle class people dumpster diving for themselves. When you see tiny children standing in a marketplace in the Andes with puss running from their eyes, it’s very difficult to see these people as other than selfish opportunists.

    When I lived in the US I did buy things for soup kitchens, but I never thought of collecting trash for them. My take is that we each should avoid waste so that the pressure on resources is relieved somewhat and there’s something the desperate can actually have. If you cherry-pick after buying, and throw half of it out, what will they eat? With dwindling petroleum and costly electricity and potable water at the edge, how soon before there’s nothing to do?

    I am glad to hear that distribution is beginning to be tackled, because of course that is key.

  13. Pete Smith says:

    Frankly, I am repelled by healthy, middle class people dumpster diving for themselves
    I’m sure this is genuine and heartfelt, but I really don’t understand it.
    When you see tiny children standing in a marketplace in the Andes with puss running from their eyes, it’s very difficult to see these people as other than selfish opportunists.
    Not for me! I find it quite hard to see any connection between a stale sandwich in London and a malnourished child in South America. What should we do? Say “Yes this food is going to waste, but because I shouldn’t be eating it while someone on the other side of the planet needs it more than I do, I’ll just let it go to landfill”?

  14. matt says:

    Poverty would normally be associated with going through the bins. Only in America and Europe do we think it ‘cool’ that the middle classes do it for a lifestyle choice.

    Perverted and inverted logic in my books.

  15. judithgr says:

    Disconnect. I meant that they should use that energy to work out how to prevent the waste before it becomes a stale sandwich.

    I find nothing cool at all about “getting mine first.”

  16. Pete Smith says:

    Sorry guys, we’ll never agree about this. I see nothing to despise and plenty to admire in the Freegan manifesto, as documented in the original post in this thread. As I see it, they’re addressing the core waste reduction problem by highlighting the end of the chain. Quite how taking positive action to publicise a problem becomes “cool” and “perverted” escapes me I’m afraid. It’s not “cool”, it’s sensible.
    Extending your logic, I’m not allowed to go out and collect wild blackberries if I can afford to buy them (cultivated, high emissions, food miles) because I’m depriving a genuinely poor person.

  17. Pete Smith says:

    Not from where I’m standing. You’re saying it’s immoral to use free things in my local environment because I can afford to pay for them and I’m depriving people who can’t. Wild food or waste food, same difference.

  18. matt says:

    > Wild food or waste food, same difference.

    Don’t disagree with that. Our difference remains on the Freegan concept and as you say, we’re not going to agree on that me thinks.

  19. matt says:

    The linked article within the above post about Freegans mentions their greater success at finding food within M&S food bins. Other supermarkets either lock them and may even throw some sort of chemical over the dumped food.

    My local Sainsbury’s is always pricing down near to date food and also has a shelf where such goods can be found. M&S was asked why they don’t do this. They replied that it wouldn’t look good or fit in with the M&S image.

    I think this is an area that campaigners should focus on! It would most certainly reduce their waste as everyone loves a little M&S treat. Even better at a knock down price (particularly as their prices have sky rocketed over the last 18 mths).

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