A brief look at the Freegan lifestyle

Vegetarian, vegan.. and now, freegan. Aren’t these labels we apply to ourselves great? One of the occupational hazards of being a highly gregarious animal I guess. I hadn’t struck this term before, so with curiosity piqued, off I went to discover a little more about the Freegan lifestyle.

The term Freegan is the marriage of two words – Free and Vegan. A vegan is someone who avoids all products that originate from an animal; and I believe that with some vegans, it goes as far as insects as well, including honey.

Freegans take things a step further. They are people who limit the amount they participate in purchasing and selling and strive to consume as few resources as possible. They live their lives based on progressive principles and oppose materialism, conformity and greed. All sounds pretty good, except whenever you take on a label and abide by a set of guidelines set down by others, that’s, well, conformity. It’s a minor point though in the bigger picture of a Freegan lifestyle.

I can most certainly understand how Freegans feel. The more I learn about living a greener life, the more I find that our society has evolved in such a way that everywhere you turn and everything you buy these days has some sort of negative environmental or societal impact. It can be a little disheartening. For instance, people foresaking meat and switching to soy could be contributing to the destruction of the Amazon or other habitats. It’s quite a web we’ve weaved for ourselves environmentally speaking.

Freegans approach these kinds of issues by not only growing their own food, but also by supplementing their diet via food that others throw out – yes, dumpster diving. As gross as that might sound, I pretty much applaud this. I’ve been involved with the food trade a couple of times in my career and something that used to apall me was the waste.

In my last food related job, we were expressly prohibited by the parent company from giving excess food to local charities because of legal issues; i.e. the threat of being sued if the food should cause poisoning in any of the recipients. It was disgusting – at both ends of the equation. Night after night, perfectly good food thrown out, amounting to tons a year; meanwhile someone in the world dies of hunger every second.

Back to the Freegans; aside from food, they also engage in other forms of scavenging and recycling the refuse of others. Nothing wrong with that at all, although I think I’d find someone scrabbling through my garbage can late at night a little unnerving.

Other admirable practices of Freegans include, recycling and composting of their own waste, eco-friendly transportation and they appear to have strong sense of community – giving as well as taking.

They are also known to ‘squat’; which is the illegal occupation of abandoned or disused buildings – that’s a point I’m not too keen on as I’m a believer in respecting the law or changing it. I do understand their viewpoint; i.e. that to own a building and not use it is not only environmentally irresponsible, it’s a social issue given there are so many homeless people who need a roof over their heads. I was homeless for a while many years ago and it was a terribly degrading experience.

Freegans also limit the amount of paid employment they are involved in, often not having any sort of job and would appear to be for the most part anarchists; and I don’t necessarily mean that in a negative way.

It sounds like a bit of a feral lifestyle, but as is the case with people of all belief systems, there’s much to learn from the Freegan approach. As I was reading over materials, it did reinforce with me something I do strongly believe – it’s very hard to live a truly green lifestyle in an urban environment.

If you’d like to learn more about the Freegan lifestyle, and there is a quite a bit to it, Freegan.info is a good resource to use as a starting point.