Monday, January 11, 2010

Pig Nation 2: Do 'Freegans' Have An Answer To Food Waste?

By Manifesto Joe

The day after Thanksgiving, I put up a post that generally got good responses, but special vitriol from one person who questioned the science involved. The crux was that, according to one recent study, 40 percent of all food produced in the U.S. is wasted, enough to feed tens of millions of people across a hungry planet.

There has been more than one exhaustive study that came to such conclusions. And, a sad aspect is that most of the waste, perhaps 60 percent, is by individual Americans. The other 40 percent is said to be about equally divided between bad production practices and distribution waste.

In the November post, I emphasized the guilt of individuals. But there's evidently also a great deal of absurd waste built into the capitalist system itself. How does one fight this?

After that post, my wife told me about a group of Americans I'd never heard of before: "Freegans."

Who are the Freegans?

These are folks who, for reasons of thrift, but often more of conscience, do their best not to exchange money for food, and live largely off the waste of a profligate system. Here's one of their links.

As you will see from this site, Freeganism involves more than salvaging food. The bottom line is, why send a perfectly usable consumer item of any kind to a landfill?

Something I realized after reading up on this is that I've been sort of an amateur Freegan for most of my life, and so was my mother. If there was something she couldn't use, for one reason or another, be it food, toothpaste, etc., she was always giving it to me or my wife. At work, I'm always the one who, after some Thanksgiving or Christmas office orgy, is putting the perishables in the nearest refrigerator and planning my lunch, and hopefully that of a few other employees, for the next couple of days.

Freegans aren't always vegans, although some are. I probably would never be able to go full time as one, because I like dead animal flesh too much. But, Freeganism does encourage vegetarian eating in an important way: Meat spoils quickly. Not so with veggies, or even cheese. I never understood why so many people don't know that, when cheese acquires mold, they can just scrape the moldy surface off and eat the rest quite safely.

Bohemian tradition

One practice associated with Freegans, going back to 1960s hippies and older bohemian movements, is "Dumpster-diving." The Wikipedia article on this has some discussion of the practice.

This made me realize that my wife has been sort of an amateur Freegan for most of her life as well. Earlier in our marriage, when we would be out and about, she would Dumpster-dive -- not for food, but for all kinds of other perfectly useful items. She says she once found a small fortune in sunglasses and reading glasses in a Dumpster behind an optical shop, and gave many of them away, since obviously she couldn't use but a few pairs. These things weren't discarded en masse because they weren't good anymore. They were just no longer fashionable.

In New York, Freegans are very well-organized, and they've discovered that supermarkets and food production centers are sources of enough wasted food to feed countless people. It's not a mystery, once you think about it: several eggplants or bell peppers that have bad spots on them, but would be made edible with a simple pocketknife; canned goods that are a month past their expiration date; tortillas that were tossed by the factory because they weren't perfectly round; for that matter, baked goods of all kinds that have similar imperfections.

The possibilities are almost endless, once you consider all the food and other consumer stuff that goes into U.S. Dumpsters, then into landfills -- that is, if enterprising Freegans don't step in first.

An alternative to consumerism

So, what of the consumer economy? We're taught, practically brainwashed, from early in life that spending is the engine that drives the American way. But we're 5 percent of the world's population, using perhaps 25 percent of its resources. Oink, oink?

And we're learning slowly, too slowly, that our planet is vulnerable, and that the way we live individually and locally makes a big collective difference.

And this lifestyle change really doesn't mean having to give up most of what we enjoy. I don't know if I can produce this link right now, so I'm not going to try. But I read that at a recent Freegan Christmas party somewhere in the Village, guests feasted on gourmet cheeses and crackers for appetizers, then all sat down to a big helping of eggplant Parmigiana and an ample tossed salad, all salvaged from U.S. food waste.

The Aussies seem to be getting into this excellent habit, too, and this article offers good tips from Down Under.

I am the first to admit that, being a Texan, and a native South Texan, who savors dead animal flesh for dinner and juevos rancheros y jamon for breakfast, I know I will never be a faithful, practicing, full-time Freegan. Hell, I even love menudo. But this movement involves principles that we can all learn from, and live by. Judging from what I've seen in America, even a confirmed carnivore like me has a good head start.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.

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