Living with Less
On the upper floor of the Whole Foods supermarket in New York’s financial district, a group of about 15 people sat at a rectangular table snacking on stale, gluten-free bread with organic peanut butter and blueberry jam. The group was discussing “Trash-Picking 101,” a place where people interested in learning how to dumpster dive can learn the basics. The refreshments for the meeting, of course, came from the garbage.
More than 100 blocks away in Washington Heights, another, smaller group headed out at 9:30 p.m. in 30-degree weather, on the hunt for a few day’s worth of meals. At the first stop, it took a lot of digging through rotten lettuce heads and discarded corn husks to get to the gold: two boxes of unopened Ritz crackers; 30 Oikos peach, strawberry and vanilla yogurts; and a dented can of white beans.
“Right now, I am living pretty much 100 percent of food from dumpster diving,” said Gio Andollo, 28, a self-described struggling musician who organized the uptown group of trash pickers.
Both these groups of people call themselves “freegans,” a term combining the words “free” and “vegan.” Freeganism is about more than food. Its adherents describe it as an anti-capitalist, environmental action that challenges America’s endless consumerism.
Freegans avoid participating in what they view as a destructive and wasteful modern economy. That means dumpster diving, bike riding and squatting instead of shopping at supermarkets, driving and paying rent.
“The strategies we employ strive to minimize waste and to honor the life and dignity of people, animals and the environment,” Andollo said.
Since he was 16, and growing up in Florida, Andollo said, he has been conscious of waste problems in America. When his friends threw out half-eaten slices of pizza, he would tell them it was wrong because “tens of thousands of people die of starvation every day.” He was a freegan before the word existed.
“Freeganism is about educating people and saying, ‘Look at this waste! It isn’t okay!’” Andollo said.