Would you scavenge your food from somebody else’s garbage? A group of people who call themselves freegans do this (and more) every day. This video describes their methods:

The current issue of Newsweek (dated 01 Oct 2007) features a story by Raina Kelley describing the month she spent living as a freegan:

I had nine rules: I would be a vegan who bought nothing but local and/or organic food. I would use only ecofriendly transportation, cut my electricity bill in half and erase my carbon footprint. My mantra would be “Recycle, reuse, renew,” while never forgetting to reflect on my impact on the Earth before acting. Any money I saved would go into a “Freedom Savings Account” and be used toward allowing me to quit my 9-to-5 as soon as possible.

That’s tough work for an eBay-loving, omnivorous, cigarette-smoking shopaholic. But I was determined to change my profligate ways. I would transform myself into an eco-princess — a green goddess.

That’s not exactly what happened.

Kelley’s article includes excerpts from the diary she kept during this experiment. The posts at her blog, Freegan Girl, are more forthcoming than those in the magazine, however. In the same issue of Newsweek, Jerry Adler writes about the noble scavenger on the living-room couch, offering a sympathetic yet critical look at freegan culture:

[I]t’s hard to argue with their outrage, or their broader critique of the excesses and wastefulness of postindustrial consumerist culture…But that’s not the same thing — in some ways the opposite — as counseling people to drop out of the economy altogether. The hungry African doesn’t care what kind of soap you use; he just wants you to help him eat. The freegans, most of whom are educated and capable of contributing to the economy, aren’t sharing the surplus wealth of the West with those who are destitute by circumstance rather than choice. They are competing with them for it.

The freegans’ Edenic myth is seductive, but there is no way to put the technological genie back in the bottle, or the demographic one either. Six billion people, however much we may deplore their impact on the environment, cannot sustain themselves by foraging for nuts and tubers. The way out isn’t backward, but forward, by using our wisdom, and even our much criticized technology, to forge a better and more humane society.

I found both articles fascinating. But while I sympathize with freegan ideals, and support their efforts, this brand of extreme frugality is not for me. I’ll work to reduce my role as a consumer in other ways.

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