Freegans: The New Hippies

06Squatters-t_CA1-articleLarge A comment thread on a previous post reminded me of a fabulous article on Freegans in the NYT.

Kit is a freegan. He maintains that our society wastes far too much.
Freeganism is a bubbling stew of various ideologies, drawing on
elements of communism, radical environmentalism, a zealous
do-it-yourself work ethic and an old-fashioned frugality of the
sock-darning sort. Freegans are not revolutionaries. Rather, they aim
to challenge the status quo by their lifestyle choices. Above all,
freegans are dedicated to salvaging what others waste and — when
possible — living without the use of currency. “I really dislike
spending money,” Kit told me. “It doesn’t feel natural.”


Eventually, Kit and I arrived at the house that he’d picked out for
himself. It was a tall, narrow structure, with boarded-up windows and a
front lawn in desperate need of mowing. There was no “for sale” sign,
but that hardly mattered, because Kit simply planned to move in.
Buffalo is fertile ground for squatting. Kit’s house was one of 10,000
such abandoned structures in the city. As far as Kit was concerned,
this rust-belt city, hit hard by foreclosures, was a veritable Eden for
freegans.

Apparently, the freegans are settling in old rust belt cities with their bountiful abandoned homes. They're part of this neo-hippie movement that is spawning chicken huts in suburban developments. 

I remember when the East Village was full of squatters. I was once on the fringes of a squatters riot around Thompkins Square Park. I like knowing that the squatters haven't disappeared. They just gone upstate.

14 thoughts on “Freegans: The New Hippies

  1. I have always been a big fan of division of labor. I know what I’m good at, and know what I’m not good at — and gladly charge for the former and pay for the latter.
    “Do it yourself work ethic” sounds nice (well, not to me, but I see how it could), but it just seems like if you’re doing it all yourself, you’re not getting very good at any part of it.

  2. Yes, but not all rust belt cities have been hit hard by foreclosures* and not all neighborhoods in rest belt cities have an appreciable number of abandoned houses.
    *Pittsburgh has plenty of plausible houses you can buy with a $600/month payment, so the exotic financing didn’t happen much. The neighborhoods with the abandoned houses don’t have many foreclosures because they never had many mortgages. Landlords were the only people buying.

  3. I’ve never understood people who don’t like using money as a method of trading goods and services, and basically suspect them of mostly being motivated out of a desire to avoid taxation (even when they wrap up the behavior in more elegant language).
    Re-using, do it yourself-stuff all sounds fine (for someone else), but the money thing seems a useful conceit. After all, avoiding sales + fed/state income tax + SS tax can be a 37% tax break, even if you’re in the lowest bracket (15+12+10). And, even if you earn under the exemption limit for Fed income taxes, we have a 22% cut “stolen” from the government on every transaction.

  4. I agree that not wanting to use money is very stupid, but I don’t think taxes has much to do with it. Freegans are taking ununsed things for free, which isn’t taxable regardless.

  5. ” Freegans are taking ununsed things for free, which isn’t taxable regardless. ”
    Yeah, and that’s great. But, I suspect that anyone who doesn’t use money is also doing work for barter. Maybe not. Maybe they’re like monks/holy beggars men doing a life exercise where they have to live on the bounty of others. But, than they’d be beggars.
    There’s an old story of a guru who was required by his aegis, or whatever the right word is, to ask only one person for food each day. If that person didn’t give him food, then he would go hungry. I’ve always thought it an interested story. Presumably, it’s purpose is to make the person asked feel the weight of responsibility , to avoid the hope that someone else will bear the burden.

  6. They’re neither bartering nor begging. They are scavaging. They dumpster dive for nearly everything. We throw out tons and tons of good stuff every day. They go to dumpsters behind restaurants and supermarkets and gather it.
    I actually think it’s rather cool in an abstract sort of way.

  7. I do not believe that they can scavenge for all their needs. It’s kind of like the biosphere thing. Although I think we throw a lot of things out, I don’t think that we actually throw out enough for someone to sustain a money-free, work-free, donation-free lifestyle. Some seem to find the theoretical idea ethically pleasing (as with the biosphere), but I’m suspicious.
    I’d love to see it documented, though, a blog by a “freegan” on their scavenging scores and choices. I’m always willing to be convinced by the data, and it would be fascinating to see documented evidence that a person (even just a single, able-bodied person) could live on the detritus other leave behind.
    Now, I’m suggesting they blog, and that would require someone’s money, but you could have a free blog, and access it in a library (which isn’t free, but you don’t personally have to pay for).
    Can you guys tell that I don’t feel any sympathy or romanticism about this lifestyle? It seems to share some features with Hindu/Buddhist cultural/historical/religious practices, but those involve living on the bounty of others. Living on others’ trash is a different experiment.

  8. “I do not believe that they can scavenge for all their needs. It’s kind of like the biosphere thing.”
    I think you could, as long as not too many people were doing the same thing. I remember listening to an undergraduate conversation about freeganism several years ago–one of the college kids had made it through a summer internship (???) dumpster diving at either Trader Joe’s or Whole Food’s in DC. Whichever one it was, the beauty of it was that the store packages their produce, so it is more suitable for safe scavenging. Apparently the golden rule of dumpster diving is, no meat, no dairy! This kid was probably paying rent, though, so it wasn’t a totally pure exercise. Even house squatters would need to at least hook up their water with the water company, to avoid living in squalor.
    Speaking of which, here is the Hippy Endurance Test:
    http://www.everythingisterrible.com/2010/04/hippie-endurance-test.html
    I couldn’t watch much of it (it’s 101 minutes of hippies singing in the woods), but I bet that nearly all of the people featured can get through their day using no more than a 5 gallon bucket of water.

  9. I saw some kids that I took for freegans, just before the G-20. I may have mentioned this. They were eating from take-out containers from the street-side trash cans. I wanted to buy them a sandwich, but I was in a car with a sleeping three year old. They must have been new to the whole thing because they wore very nice, new outdoor clothes and because the Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s dumpsters were almost certainly full of much better food and barely a 45 minute walk away.

  10. Oh, driving home in the car, I realized that I do believe that one can “live of the earth” (i.e. live in the woods, eating nuts & berries & doing subsistence farming in a home-built shelter). I haven’t actually decided that the earth is incapable of sustaining human life without modern human civilization.
    After all, the earth is actually a biosphere.

  11. When I worked in a grocery store we had a compactor that all the trash went it. I must admit that it shocks me that any decent sized grocery store in a city wouldn’t have one, thereby rendering the trash uneatable. (That wasn’t the purpose of the compactor, just to not take so much space and have to have pick-up so often.)
    More importantly, though, I hope they are finding some bars of soap that someone is throwing out, though I sort of doubt it.

  12. Now that you mention it, I think our Whole Foods keeps its trash inside. The deliveries go to an indoor dock and the trash must go out the same place. The back of the store is right against other buildings or the busway.

  13. Apparently the golden rule of dumpster diving is, no meat, no dairy!
    From the article, apparently you get your meat from road kill. Dairy was not mentioned, but I didn’t get clear to the end.
    Living on others’ trash is a different experiment.
    A large part of the idea is to get everybody to stop being so wasteful by pointing out how much is wasted.

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