Freegans Dive Towards a Better Future
By: Celida Maldonado
On a recent Friday evening in April, as the sun set over the west side of Manhattan, 10 New Yorkers – some college students, some daytime professionals – met on a street corner in the West Village for an uncommon group activity.
They were preparing for a dumpster dive to save what could be recovered from the bags of waste left by businesses alongside the streets and in compost bins. They planned to rescue food that had not expired and materials that could be repurposed.
After 9 pm, as night crept into the neighborhood, the members got to work. Some wore gloves to protect their hands while others enthusiastically dug into the garbage bare handed. Within an hour, the dumpster divers had hit eight locations including a Crumbs Bakery, Le Pain Quotidien and Party City.
This dumpster dive was organized by Freegan Info, a group in New York City that reclaims waste. Some of these “urban foragers” take dumpster diving a step further and live as freegans, an anti-capitalistic movement that believes in preserving our atmosphere.
Freegans believe that we are privileged and as a society it is terrible that our supermarket shelves stay fully stocked while some are dying from starvation.
In order to get back at the system, they boycott from everything that would help out. Their strategy consists of dumpster diving, wild foraging, trading, gardening and working less.
VIDEO: Trash Tour- April 15, 2011
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In New York City , Store owners and other large businesses throw out garbage at the end of the day, leaving bags piled high on the sidewalks. Inside are items that are not fit to be purchased but for freegans, who abhor waste, they are things to be saved and used. If you dare to unleash what is hidden in these garbage bins, the findings are vast.
From dozens of fresh rolls to pastries barely 10 hours old, this group will rescue and share it. Freegans believe this practice is one way to aid in preventing pollution. They cite research by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that one cause of air pollution is the rotting food and waste building up in landfills.
However, people who are part of this movement do not believe that it’s the only way to solve this worldly problem. By consuming less and conserving more, they believe it will make a big difference to our future in terms of protecting our environment
During the dumpster dive tour management stepped outside to try to interrupt the search. After a little hesitation they permitted their trash to be dug through as long as everything was put back in its rightful place. One bakery employee who asked not to be identified said, “The owners can’t risk anyone getting sick and getting a lawsuit.” He explained that he had strict instructions to not allow anyone to dig through the trash during store hours.
In New York City, the freegan community is small and keeps in close circles. Dumpster dive tours are held frequently throughout the month along with freegan feasts, next-day gatherings of meals prepared with the findings from the night before. Every few weeks a dinner is hosted by someone who believes in the notion of not wasting. People who are curious about participating, along with “regulars,” gather together to cook a meal from the food that was meant to be thrown out.
At a feast held the day after the West Village dumpster dive, a photographer/web designer, Gary Rissman, expressed his opinion towards those who might be disgusted by cooking food from the trash. “A science experiment proved that NYC tap water with ice cubes has more bacteria than water from the toilet, we wash all the food we rescue and barely get sick. If you eat at a restaurant, you shouldn’t judge. If you are going to be a germaphobe then be that way with everything in your life.”
AUDIO SLIDESHOW: Freegan Feast and Dive
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At the event, held in Whitestone, Queens at a private residence, nine people showed up with salvaged food, along with recycled kitchen tools and table cloths. Everyone helped to make a meal to feed more than a dozen people but since the weather was treacherous, the attendance was smaller than expected.
Most freegans are vegans and do not eat any animals or animal bi-products because of their ideology that it harms the earth. Considering produce was a big find at the dumpster dive, most of the dishes made were filled with vegetables.
On the menu that night was a roasted beet salad with yellow tomatoes, mixed spring peas, fava beans and fresh basil. A mixed green salad was served with peppers, cucumbers, green beans and lemon vinaigrette. A “throw it all together” vegetable soup was slowly cooked on the stove for a few hours and served before a stir-fry of bok choy, broccoli raube, kale, red peppers, and garlic in a ginger-soy reduction.
Half of the guests were freegans and the other half were people who were looking to join the movement. Frederick Dsouza, 47, is a yellow taxi cab driver for the city who is interested in changing his way of life. He said he feared what the world would come to in years ahead because New Yorkers and other Americans do not take the precautions needed to protect our habitat. He doesn’t consider himself freegan since he still makes commercial purchases but he tries to limit what he buys.
Frederick stated, “I offer free two-mile cab rides to anyone who is part of the freegan community, all they have to tell me is that they live this lifestyle. They say you have to be the change you want to see in the world and that’s my bid.” He has recently become a pescatarian, with the hopes of eventually giving up fish and dairy. Dsouza has attended one dumpster dive and a freegan feast. He hopes to actively become more involved in the movement but believes it will happen one step at a time.
Janet Kalish, a high school Spanish teacher, has been a freegan since 2004. Along with many others that share this belief, she tries to salvage and share all she can from what other New Yorkers consider to be trash. Kalish tries to rescue any food, household products and clothes that are necessary to live. “Not all freegans dumpster dive and not all dumpster divers are freegan. If we all make small changes for humanity our future will be something we can look forward to and not fear.”