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blog by The Canisius Griffin  • 

It’s Sunday night and closing time for gourmet shops, restaurants and supermarkets in New York City. Dozens of bursting garbage bags are whipped over the dumpster walls like a shot put. The doors close, lights shut off and that’s when people come crawling towards the dumpsters like they’re approaching Mecca. These people proceed to “dumpster dive,” as we call it now, and get to their business. They rip open the newly disposed trash and dig up hundreds of Italian bread loaves, bagels, fresh produce and dozens of different mixed pasta salads and greens.  They basically uncovered a full-blown picnic capable of feeding a small army. They walk away with enough food to sustain themselves for a while—or at least until their next dive.

Now you might be thinking, these people are homeless—obviously they’re going to eat out of the trash. Wrong. Most of the participants are job professionals living in big cities, like New York. They are called freegans. Yes, this word is compounded from “free” and “vegan.” Freeganism began in the mid ‘90s and consists of people who employ alternative strategies for living by minimal participation in our economy and consumerism. They recognize that our complex industrial and mass production economy is ultimately driven by profit. The factors used to produce goods, including sweatshop labor, animal abuse, and air and water pollution, all contribute to our unethical society. Hence, they started boycotting the purchase of products. Freegans also take part in other protests such as “squatting.” This is when they “squat” in abandoned or unused buildings because they feel everyone should have shelter. They believe society is wasting these unused buildings, only giving them up for a profit in return when in reality, they could be put to good use and shelter the homeless.

When I first heard about freegans and dumpster diving, I thought it was a little absurd; there is no need for such extreme measures as eating out of the trash. Little did I know that the trash they are eating is some pretty gourmet garbage. Freegans definitely do not skimp on expensive food. Think about all of the gourmet prepackaged and prepared salads that supermarkets have, or all of the prepared meats, pizzas and subs you can also purchase. Most of these items are thrown out with the rest of the trash at the end of the day, although they are still perfectly edible.

Supermarkets also have restrictions on produce and farm-grown products. For example, tomatoes must have a certain shape, weight, size, color and formation in order to be sold at a supermarket. So what happens to the poor tomatoes that don’t meet these standards? Garbage. Think about when you’re buying fresh produce: you always look for the best green pepper or the shiniest apple on display. Why would you buy a pepper with a bruise the size of a fingernail when you could buy a perfect pepper? Sadly, these veggies with fingernail-sized bruises are thrown out. The same goes for all produce, meat, fish, etc. Restaurants also have these restrictions, and some farms won’t even pick crops if they are not up to par. I work in a restaurant, and I see the gallons of soup and sauce we throw out weekly because we have no use for it. Obviously I snag some soup before this happens… does that make me partially freegan?

If you add up all the pounds of wasted but perfectly edible food that is thrown out each year in America, you’ll get around 96 billion pounds. After hearing that statistic, I took back my feelings towards the dumpster divers; I guess they truly are diving for a reason. There’s no need for this food to be thrown out.  It’s just as good as it was twenty minutes earlier, when it was sitting on the shelf at the supermarket.

Now knowing all of this, why not fight American hunger with all of this wasted food? Thousands of Americans go hungry every day.  Why not have more supermarkets and restaurants give away the food they consider “trash” to those who really need it? It would save a few lives, I’m sure, and it would save these freegans from digging through trash.

The trend of freeganism is catching on in many major cities. College students, young professionals and environmentalists seem to be leading the pack of freegans toward free nourishment. I wish them happy dumpster diving, but my appetite and my wallet are completely content with the dollar menu at McDonald’s. I’m definitely on a budget, but I don’t think I’m on the brink of garbage picking just yet. Who knows, maybe some time from now the freeganism trend will catch on; instead of your mom asking you to run to the store for a loaf of bread, maybe she’ll say “can you run to the dumpster and find some wheat bread?”

By Bridget Schaefer
The Griffin

TAGGED: bridget schaefer, canisius college, canisius griffins, freegans, supermarket waste, the griffin

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