Being the ever frugal student I frequently apply the look/sniff/prod/lick test to food that may have past its ‘use by’ date. So far I’ve found that this works fine, and as a result, I have never yet given myself food poisoning. However, this is not the case for supermarkets and other food retailers, who have to abide by legislation and cannot sell food that has passed its ‘use by’ date. This results in supermarkets throwing away 1.6 million tonnes of food per year. It’s not just supermarkets either; restaurants create an estimated 600,000 tons of food waste per annum. Although this food is past it’s ‘use by’ date, more often than not it’s still perfectly edible.
In some cases the ‘use by’ date is an artificial creation, dictated by legislation rather than reality. Cheese is a classic example where the actual nature of the product and its long (albeit smelly) shelf-life is not reflected in legislative demands for a precise date.

Cue freegans, who go ‘bin diving’ in supermarkets’ rubbish for their food, since they’ve realised that they can pretty much eat for free (if they don’t mind a little bin juice). It’s not just food that freegans scavenge either – they’re not fussy and will go for whatever they can get their eco-hands on, including squatting in empty housing. Hard-core freegans even go ‘table diving’, where they wait outside restaurants for cooked food that is about to be thrown out. For obvious reasons freegans don’t spend much on living costs, so they try to work as little as possible so that they can use their time to “make the world a better place”, instead spending their time giving and receiving, although what they have to give when they ‘scavenge’ is questionable.

Many freegans moved into freeganism when times were hard; they lacked money and so turned to bins for food. Frequently this happened when they were students and found that their inadequate loan just didn’t stretch. For example, whilst the rest of us opt for Sainsbury’s Basics or Tesco Value, Harry Peters* doing Environmental Studies (no, really!) at Edinburgh describes himself as “… one of those students who looks to save as much money as possible”, and scrimps and saves by ‘bin diving’. Furthermore with the enormous increase of tuition fees set to come into play in 2012, it looks like many more may follow his lead.

However, as freegans are keen to point out, being a freegan isn’t just about ‘bin diving’; they believe in an anti-consumerist and anti-materialistic lifestyle, hoping that their way of life will reduce wastage, and that ultimately we will not need to live in a society governed by money. Communism for hippies then!
This all sounds well and good, and it’s very admirable of freegans to try to live an anti-materialistic lifestyle, but no-one seems to have pointed out to them how fatally flawed freeganism is. Whilst being anti-materialistic and anti-capitalist and believing in sharing wealth (well, so would I if I didn’t work), they need to live in a capitalist and materialistic society for freeganism to work. If we didn’t produce so much wastage, then they’d be a bit stuck for stuff to live off and have to get jobs, thus fuelling the economy they so hate. Furthermore, they concede that their aim of creating a society in which a monetary system does not force people to buy or do things might not actually work, and that perhaps money is an inevitability. So we’d be back to where we started.

Whilst something needs to be done about the amount of wastage we generate (an area the size of Warwick is now landfill), eating leftovers out of bins is not going to feasibly solve this problem. A long term solution is required. We need to rethink what we buy, since the average household throws away a quarter of the food it buys, and supermarkets throw away an obscene amount. Maybe freegans could use their time allotted to ‘giving back’ to work on the solution to this. For example, they could pressure retailers to dedicate their unused goods to charities or the homeless. A good example of this is Pret A Manger, which distributes its leftover food to the homeless at the end of every working day. What’s stopping other companies doing the same?

If freegans really do just want free stuff, they could log onto a computer – scavenged or otherwise – and use the wireless they’re probably thieving, and visit Free UK, a website which really does give stuff away for free. After a bit of searching you can find some pretty good give-aways. Or they could just do what those of us without the gall to go bin diving do, and head to the supermarkets late at night to buy the clearance food that’s going to be past it’s ‘use by’ date the next day.

Alex Binley

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5 Comments on this post.
  • Every person with a brain
    16 March 2011 at 19:24
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    you are the most wonderfully ignorant imbecile i have ever come across. look just beyond your narrow judgmental views and stop trying to marginalize people for living more ethical lives than yours with demeaning stereotypes like the word “hippie”.

  • bathsheba
    16 March 2011 at 19:50
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    Firstly when you talk about ‘they’ who is this? I don’t see how you can talk about ‘they’ when freeganism is obviously a loose term and could describe many different people with differing views. This kind of sweeping generalisation is obviously offensive to those people who practice freeganism but disagree with the views you have ascribed to them.
    You make the point that freeganism requires capitalism to exist and thus condescendingly assume that freegans must have somehow missed this. Seeing as this is blindingly obvious, I doubt very much that anyone would not have thought of this. Your mistake is in assuming that freegans see their lifestyle as a long-term solution. I think it is fairly apparent that the idea (if you are a political freegan) is to not contribute to the vast profits of supermarkets such as Tesco by not buying from them, but instead utilising their waste. It’s not an ideal world, and the idea is to slowly change it to something better and make a difference. Personally I don’t feel we should ridicule those who want to ‘make the world a better place’, as though this is, as you seem to think, a somehow ridiculous aspiration.

  • dan
    16 March 2011 at 20:05
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  • Becky
    1 October 2011 at 00:16
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    Wow you have got things so wrong. You’re making freegans out to be anarchistic, selfish and lazy, when in reality plenty of freegans are MORE inclined to give back to the community. Maybe next time you should do the same instead of wasting your time writing an article which is of no use to anyone.

  • Sam
    25 February 2014 at 10:02
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    I do not feel like Freegans are anarchistic, they have just set their own life choices and values. Which is something you completely over look in your bias and defensive article.

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