Have you ever heard of freegans? Dumpster-diving? It’s all part of a movement to work within what participants call “the free economy.” And it’s fueled by excessive waste, particularly wasted food.
You don’t have to look far to realize just how much food gets wasted every year. How much do you personally buy, only to watch it wind up in the trash or a compost pile when it’s past its prime? Now add in the waste from supermarkets, restaurants, and unharvested crops. All total, nearly half of the U.S. food supply goes to waste according to Timothy Jones, an anthropologist at the University of Arizona who spent ten years measuring food loss.
Freegans are people who tap into that constant supply of wasted food when it’s still fresh and edible. They rescue the food in order to redistribute it, feed themselves, or even turn it into compost if it’s not safe to eat.
And for your viewing pleasure, I’m serving up TWO videos today. One is a CNN report on freegans, and another is an on-the-scene look at a massive haul some folks had at a single Trader Joe’s dumpster.
The first time I’d heard about dumpster diving for food, the people doing it were hippies living up in the mountains of Oregon. I dismissed their legendary finds as myth. People didn’t throw away perfectly good food, did they? Surely something was wrong with the food? Otherwise they’d be giving it to food banks or soup kitchens, right?\
Because of an interesting mix of laws, retailers are often forced to throw away perfectly good food.
Check out the promised videos and see if your “Ick Factor” for dumpster-diving still remains high.
Here’s the CNN report on Freegans:
And here’s the haul from ONE Trader Joe’s (WARNING: There is a small amount of profanity in this video.):
(Did you notice the three unopened gallon jugs of Seventh Generation laundry detergent they scored in addition to all that food?)
But digging through the trash isn’t the only way to rescue food.
I remember the first time I saw an orchard go unharvested. I traveled past it every day, waiting and waiting for a horde of migrant farm workers to descend on it and pluck the ripe peaches from the trees. First a few peaches dropped to the ground, then more and more.
One day we decided we couldn’t let the peaches go to waste, so we went and harvested them ourselves. Being conscientious, we only collected the fruit that had fallen and yet remained mostly unbruised and pest free. That way, if the orchard were actually scheduled to be harvested soon, we wouldn’t be stealing the “good” food still on the trees.
Looking back, I wish I’d been a little less conscientious. That orchard wasn’t harvested that year. Hundreds of trees, thousands of pounds of plump, perfect peaches simply fell off the trees to rot.
Whether it’s dumpster-diving, gleaning, or foraging wild foods, the freegan culture has tapped into something important (and not just an elevated sense of frugality). They are, in their own small way, revolutionaries opting out of the dominant food system simply by not supporting it with their money.