I don’t know about everybody else, but I’m still stuffed from Thanksgiving. It’s making me wish I was like a snake, and I could take months to digest one meal — that way I could overeat when it’s available and then not eat for weeks.
Unhinging my jaw and having infrared vision would be pretty sweet, too.
Anyway, this whole week got me thinking about food, its value, monetary and otherwise, and, in particular, about the freegans, a movement I’ve admired from afar for a year or two now.
The basic freegan concept is that our current food production system is wasteful and exploitative, so as an ethical statement, freegans eat only food that they don’t have to pay for and opt out of participation in the whole thing.
There are many ways to do this, including plate scraping, theft, gardening, wild foraging and bartering. But the most famous technique is Dumpster diving — or foraging, salvaging, bin diving and skipping (UK lingo) in the movement’s endless new lexicon.
In general, freegans are united by the fact that they don’t have to scrounge out of necessity. They do it for reasons of environmental consciousness or political activism.
And because of this, they tend to only eat food that hasn’t been too contaminated by other Dumpster fillings, only scrounging fully packaged or minimally touched food.
All this dependence on others’ waste means freegans tend to congregate in large cities, where waste is plentiful and of high quality (who knew there was such a thing!). New York City is often seen as the capital of the movement, but it has also spread around the world to places like South Korea and Sweden.
Much of the communal aspect of freeganism relies on the website freegan.info.
While the Dumpster food is the most intriguing part of freeganism to me, many extend the idea to their whole lifestyle. This can mean squatting on land, hitchhiking and scrounging everything from furniture to electronics.
There are people who succeed in buying literally nothing — and still get by in life just fine. With such reduced expenses, freegans are also free to work less or not at all. Instead, many spend it volunteering or being politically active. They envision a more community-centered, smaller-scale and slower-paced life, some even arguing for a return to pre-agriculture hunter-gatherer systems.
The more I learn about freeganism, the more I admire the movement’s ideals. But I have an off-topic and probably naive question: What do freegans do for Thanksgiving?
Perhaps they hitchhike home to relatives’ houses and put aside the ethical objections to eating bought food for a few days. Somehow, I can’t imagine explaining to finicky grandparents that, really, the peas from the Dumpster are perfectly fine to eat and the stuffing most likely isn’t harboring E. coli.
Or maybe they dismiss family traditions and have community potluck dinners, each bringing a different foraged delicacy.
It might make for an odd assortment of dishes, but most freegans are vegans anyway, so Thanksgiving for them would probably be a little different regardless.
The one thing I know is that it would be hard for a freegan to go hungry, Thanksgiving or no.
Thrown-away food is more than plentiful; in 2009, it was estimated that about 1,400 calories worth of food are wasted per person per day, along the entire chain from farms to consumers. This accounts for 40 percent of our total food supply. The United Nations even asserts that the amount of food we throw away every day could feed the entire African continent.
Maybe we should all try to put a little more free in our food and a little less squandering in our snacks.
Vivian Underhill’s Boulder Frugalista runs every Tuesday in the Colorado Daily.