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I Dream of Freegan Chic (or Who’s Afraid of Freeganism?)

my freegan summer art project

my freegan summer art project

I’m bummed (no pun intended) that I missed out on the NYU Dorm Dive that The New York Times reported on last week in their feature on freeganism. I’ve been trying to re-create Dutch designer Tejo Remy’s “You Can’t Lay Down Your Memory” drawer chest for some time – that would have been the perfect spot for me to collect all the different drawers I need.

A co-worker told me about the article by asking, “are you going to be one of those people in The New York Times who eat trash?” Sadly, that’s how people often describe freegans, just as people often define vegans in terms of what we don’t eat (“oh, vegans? they don’t eat anything – no meat, no cheese, no eggs, no butter…”) instead of our commitment towards living without contributing to animal suffering.

Most people share the freegan ideals of reducing waste and impact, but there’s a psychological “ick” factor that a lot of folks have trouble getting over since the first things that come to their minds are trash and trash bins when they think of freeganism.

I think it should be considered derogatory to refer to freegan treasure hunts as “dumpster diving.” I like to think of freeganism in terms of freebies – you would have to be an idiot to refuse free stuff, especially free food! is what I’d say. Not to mention that folks like Tejo Remy demonstrates that freeganism can be oh so chic and stylish – here’s more creative ideas on what to do with broken plates, empty bottles, discarded paper, bicycle rims and wood scraps, and rags.

Ready to sign up? Here are some upcoming freegan workshops and treasure hunting events in NYC.


  1. Comment by


    on #

    Derogatory? The actual people doing this have referred to their act as dumpster diving for years, well before “freegan” was coined.

  2. Comment by


    on #

    Many self-proclaimed “vegan” freegans eat discarded animal products–they say they’re not supporting the industry…

    I’m just impressed that it took the Times more than a year after Dateline and network news coverage, plus a cover story in the New York Press, to realize this might be some decent copy-stuffer. Freeganism is a marketing tool created by a man who lives with his parents in New Jersey.

  3. Comment by

    Jason Das

    on #

    I’m not afraid of dumpster diving, but Freeganism can go suck a battery cage egg. It’s pretentious, bourgeois, nonsense (and not in a good way); if there’s anything good about the NYT’s late arrival to the party, it’s the implicit affirmation of this sentiment. Plus, Freeganism is bad for veganism because of the name association.

  4. Comment by


    on #

    Freegans make easy targets for vitriol, but they ought to be generating a serious debate as to if and how and why anybody with a developed moral sense should make an effort to use what’s being discarded or just blithely go out and keep buying new stuff while the landfills continue to overflow and people are worked nearly to death in poor countries to keep it all going. Some freegan bashers use the over- (and incorrectly, I might add) used term “pretentious” to taint them, but “bourgeois,” now that’s truly interesting. I wonder if Jason has read Marx, or if he understands precisely what Marx meant by that term? Probably no on both counts, as to connect freegans with the mainspring of capitalist production is a breathtaking failure of comprehension. Freegans may not be doing much to change the system, but they’re certainly not to be conflated with the corporate types who constitute its core, and must be credited for being among the few to call attention to its excesses.

  5. Comment by

    Jason Das

    on #

    Marx didn’t coin the word “bourgeois” (nor did any of his buddies). But etymology aside, the point is that Freegans are invariably people with means and a safety net. They have options, and they’re making a choice, almost invariably a temporary one.

    I’m all for generating a serious debate about our stuff-n-garbage problems (not to mention our class-n-money problems). But in that debate, Freeganism is at best an obnoxious distraction, and at worst a self-righteous hiding place for rich kids with guilty consciences. (So is most Marxism, come to think of it, but at least the Marxists don’t debase veganism by stealing the name.)

  6. Comment by

    Adam Weissman

    on #

    With regards to the argument that freegans who eat animal products claim to be vegans:

    Many freegans are strict vegans. Other freegans are not strict vegans. But I’ve never heard nonvegan freegans claim to be vegans. Why would they? What most people don’t seem to understand is that freeganism is a CRITIQUE of veganism–the term freeganism is a take-off on veganism intended to challenge veganism’s moral myopia and failure to offer a holistic of oppression and injustice under industrial capitalist production. Freegans aren’t “lazy vegans” or “wannabe vegans”–we are people who thing that vegan shopping fundamentally misses the point– that if you think you can save the world through vegan shopping, you don’t understand the economic forces driving things like factory farming in the first place. It’s ironic that the implication of these remarks is that freegans cut corners on making ethical lifestyle choices, because this is precisely the view that most freegans take of vegans who buy commodities.

    I suggest reading these two seminal essays on this point:

    Oh, and for the “all I care about is animals” crowd, please read this:

    And y’know, while I can argue against the blatant hypocrisy of those who rail against the fraction of the freegan population that chooses to recover wasted animal products while paying zero attention to how their own consumerist vegan diet is in no way, shape, or form cruelty free, I’d much rather ask this question– why are some vegans so utterly stuck on this point that they haven’t figured out that freeganism isn’t really about food? That it’s a very broad lifestyle ethic that relates to changing relationship with all facets of the capitalist economy to live in more ethical or sustainable ways?

    Freeganism is as much about wild foraging, guerilla gardening, bike and clothing repair workshops, Really, Really Free Markets, Freecycling, avoiding disposables, using human powered and mass transportation, squatting, mutual aid, and gift economics as it is about dumpster diving.

    Frankly, responses like this give the suggestion that retail vegans either don’t have no understanding of the problems with capitalism and industrialism and therefore can’t comprehend that there’s A LOT more to ethical lifestyle choices than choosing tofu over steak, or otherwise simply get defensive when it’s suggested that maybe being vegan isn’t enough– that maybe their CO2 spewing cars with non-leather seats and overpackaged, overprocessed Not Dogs are part of the problem, too. In other words the party whose oppressive practices are pointed out tries to shoot the messenger by mocking and finding any whiff of hypocrisy on the part of the accuser. Sound familiar? It should– it’s exactly what meat eaters do to vegans.

    I think part of the problem here is that over the years the definition of freeganism has changed somewhat to the point where often when people debate the term they are actually using it to mean entirely different things. Some still have the sense that freegan means “someone who cheats on veganism by eating nonvegan stuff if it’s free.” It’s doubtful the term was EVER used this way by self-identified freegans, but in any case, this is not the definition that most people who define themselves as freegans use these days– certainly not

    Being freegan IN NO WAY means not being a strict vegan. A person can be a freegan and a vegan in the same way a person can be a vegan and Democrat, a vegan and a Jew, or a vegan and a Mets fan. Simply because not all freegans, Democrats, Mets fans, or Jews are vegan doesn’t mean that these categories and veganism are mutually exclusive categories.

    But doesn’t freeganism imply it’s ok to use animal products if they would otherwise go to waste?

    Many freegans take the attitude that ALL commodities produced under capitalism are oppressive, but that the oppressiveness of some products is just a bit more obvious than others. Most vegans have seen films of factory farms and slaughterhouses, so they make the connection between meat and dairy and eggs and oppression. But should we be less concerned if our products fund and cause war, pollution, global warming, indigenous genocide, and shooting, poisoning, trapping, and displacement of wildlife?

    Is your tofu really so cruelty-free if it was sprayed with pesticides that kill insects and other wildlife, genetically modified, grown on rainforest land that was clearcut for a soy plantation, transported thousands of miles in fossil fuel burning vehicles that contribute to wildlife killing oil spills and provide the impetus for war in Iraq, packed in nonrecyclable plastic containers that will end up in a landfill, and refrigerated using power from a dirty coal-burning power plant that contributes to acid rain and global warming at the same time?

    But if everything we buy is oppressive, then really we can’t claim a cruelty free life by continuing to buy stuff. Moreover, with vast quantities of usable resources being wasted, does it really make sense to finance more socially and ecologically destructive production.Considering all of this, for some freegans, it’s more a matter of recovering waste vs. financing oppressive production than of vegan vs. nonvegan. They recognize that both vegan AND nonvegan goods contribute to exploitation and prioritize eliminating waste through resource recovery while avoiding financing oppressive commodities production. For further exploitation of this point, visit these links

    But again, this question over dumpstering only vegan goods vs. dumpstering vegan and non-vegan goods is not a central concern of freegans. Most of us see it as a fairly irrelvant question and consider it a matter of personal choice. Freegans are not “anti-vegan”, though we are VERY critical of retail veganism (veganism based on shopping), a lifestyle we see as hypocritical and myopic. On the other hand, many of us see a vegan diet as a very wise and healthy choice and are repulsed by the idea of consuming animal products.

    For those who’d like to adopt a freegan lifestyle but absolutely want to avoid any confusion that you are anything less than a strict vegan, here is a rhetorical device you can use– “I’m a freegan, not a meagan.” The term meagan specifically refers to a freegan who chooses to recover and consume discarded meat. You can make it clear that you are a freegan, but one who choses to remain strictly vegan.

    Finally,the claim that I “invented” freeganism is also just flat out wrong. The term freegan has been around for decades, and was most likely invented by members of the group Food Not Bombs. Food Not Bombs co-founder Keith McHenry claims to have been around for its creation.I had nothing to do with its creation. In fact, I didn’t even call myself a freegan for many years after practicing the freegan lifestyle.

  7. Comment by

    Adam Weissman

    on #

    What annoys me about people like Mr. Das is they generalize from very limited experience and speak with false authority on topics they actually know little about.

    Many self-identified freegans are people from far from privileged situations. Many are people who’ve are or have recently been homeless or are recent immigrants with little or no income.

    Implicit in Mr. Das’ critique is a level of condescenscion that reveals his own bourgeois thinking. He surely knows that there are many people of limited means practicing a variety of freegan survival strategies, yet discounts them as “valid” freegans. Perhaps Mr. Das assumes that only people from privileged backgrounds (like himself, I suspect) are capable of applying an anti-capitalist analysis when finding strategies for survival that don’t involve shopping or employment?

    If Mr. Das truly beleives this, I’d be more than happy to introduce him to people who will shatter his illusions–people who live a freegan lifestyle, are passionate about freegan politics, but are far from the Trustafarians that Mr. Das envisions.

    Finally, before slagging others with the label bourgeoise, I suggest Mr. Das look in a mirror–for is there anything more bourgeois than the “save the world by trying out new restaurants and overpackaged convenience foods” brand of veganism?

  8. Comment by

    Patrick Kwan

    on #

    Blog commenting etiquette: Don’t make your comment 4x longer than the blog post. It’s an eyesore and inconsiderate to other commenters.

  9. Comment by

    Adam Weissman

    on #

    Patrick is right of course, and I apologize.

    Also, two links in my post got mangled–here are the corrected links.

    Why Freegan

  10. Comment by

    Adam Weissman

    on #

    2nd corrected link didn’t display for some reason– maybe Supervegan doesn’t link links in immediate succession. Anyway, here’s the other: Veganism

  11. Comment by


    on #

    Let’s get to the real essence of this now belligerent argument:

    Immigrants and the homeless aren’t freegans, they are just trying to stay alive! They are making due with the things they can find. Being a “freegan” means identifying with a label that was born from and truly belongs to stupid kids from the suburbs who decide that they are “punks” and they buy some used concert tees, wear skinny leg jeans, write “XXX” on their hands with a Sharpie and freeload as much as possible, to avoid growing up and getting a fucking job.

    Don’t even begin to merge real class and race struggles with this bullshit. Also, get off your high moral horse about freeganism if you live a life where you surf vegan blogs and have internet access. Please.