"The Ones Who Walk Away from Consumerism"
or,
The Most Shocking Thing Is That They Published This At All!


FREEGANISM. Now this is delightful: a movement to drop out of the wasteful, consumerist system America lives by, and by which we're destroying the world.

My description of our system just there won't seem radical to anyone who sits left of Limbaugh, but what these people are doing will seem radical to almost everyone:

Freegans are scavengers of the developed world, living off consumer waste in an effort to minimize their support of corporations and their impact on the planet, and to distance themselves from what they see as out-of-control consumerism. They forage through supermarket trash and eat the slightly bruised produce or just-expired canned goods that are routinely thrown out, and negotiate gifts of surplus food from sympathetic stores and restaurants.

They dress in castoff clothes and furnish their homes with items found on the street; at freecycle.com, where users post unwanted items; and at so-called freemeets, flea markets where no money is exchanged.

...

— the freegan movement has become much more visible and increasingly popular over the past year, in part as a result of growing frustrations with mainstream environmentalism.

Environmentalism, Mr. Torres said, “is becoming this issue of, consume the right set of green goods and you’re green,” regardless of how much in the way of natural resources those goods require to manufacture and distribute.

“If you ask the average person what can you do to reduce global warming, they’d say buy a Prius,” he added.

I read this and I know they're right. But living off garbage? Is that safe? Is that sanitary? Is that viable? Could I ever in a million years possibly bring myself to do that?

A freegan interviewed in the article advises:

“Opening that first bag of trash,” he said, “is the biggest step.”

And boy I believe it. It's a psychological barrier more than anything else. I mean, isn't trash... "dirty"? Isn't it the cast-off stuff? Metaphorically, it is like poo... it is unclean, out-caste.

Yet this story's description of what people are throwing away -- working ipods, televisions, half-full bottles of laundry detergent, fresh, even fancy, food:
The haul had been astonishing in its variety: sealed bags of organic vegetable medley, bagged salad, heirloom tomatoes, key limes, three packaged strawberries-and-chocolate-dip kits, carrots, asparagus, grapes, a carton of organic soy milk (expiration date: July 9 [ie: still fresh]), grapefruit, mushrooms and, for those willing to partake, vacuum-packed herb turkey breast. (Some freegans who avoid meat will nevertheless eat it rather than see it go to waste.)
I was especially pleased to see this last bit, since Brian and my current logic is that we "avoid" meat but will not turn it down if we're offered it -- an approach some people find odd. But then there's this strange expectation that if you're going to care at all, if you're going to take any action at all, if you're going to be "non-norm" in any way, you must then be "pure" or you are a hypocrite:
These contradictions and others have led some people to suggest that freegans are hypocritical, making use of the capitalist system even as they rail against it. And even Mr. Weissman, who is often doctrinaire about the movement, acknowledges when pushed that absolute freeganism is an impossible dream.
No, you can't live off consumer waste unless consumerism exists, that is true. But we don't live in a world of ideals. I find what these people are doing to be admirable. In a much more mild way (ie: when it comes to my non-edibles) I try to do the same thing. Most of my furniture, most major purchases I make are of used things, usually located through craigslist. But my household cleaners? My food? Those things I buy new. I'd never considered doing otherwise.

Our America is not Walt Whitman's America: I cannot like him just go naked through the woods and eat from the earth and trees -- at least not around here. Maybe if I move to Montana? But our economic system is so entrenched it seems unlikely that even in a more remote part of America I can find land that doesn't belong to someone, a way to thrive without being a part of this system. Like Ginsberg, I can only wander fully-clothed through the all-night supermarket and wonder at the full ripe fruit there available in exchange for coin.

One freegan who gave up a high-paying corporate job and the luxuries of class privilege in order to live this way:
...has learned that fruit tends to get thrown out more often in the summer (she freezes it and makes sorbet), and that businesses are a source for envelopes. A reliable spot to get bread is Le Pain Quotidien, a chain of bakery-restaurants that tosses out six or seven loaves a night. But Ms. Nelson doesn’t stockpile. “The sad fact is you don’t need to,” she said. “More trash will be there tomorrow.”
Lordy-loo, does our society throw away so much good food that you can reliably find it every day, from the same locations?

Perhaps Walt's America is still here after all -- for those willing to wander through the dumpsters and trashbags, our new natural landscape, the new bosom from which something new must be born....


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