LOS ANGELES—Freeganism is the act of taking discarded food and turning it into meals that can sustain individuals, families, and local charities. Its name combines the words “free” and “vegan.”  However, identifying as vegan is no longer a necessary trait in being a freegan.

Freegans unite over the ideologies of reducing wastefulness, minimalism, and the evasion of capitalism and consumerism. Freegans choose to consume the ‘undesirable’ foods to protest food waste in America. The USDA’S Economic Research Service estimates that, “133 billion pounds of food in the available food supply goes uneaten each year.”

The origins of freeganism can be traced back to the establishment of Food Not Bombs in Cambridge, Massachusetts during the early 1980s. The group initially protested nuclear investments by serving meals made entirely from scrapped ingredients outside of the Federal Reserve Bank. They questioned the financial resources that could be used for war yet not for food to feed starving peoples. Food Not Bombs have continued to fight against poverty. “We recover food that would have been discarded and share it as a way of protesting war and poverty,” as stated on the Foot Not Bombs website.

Foot Not Bombs in Harvard Square, 1981.
Food Not Bombs in Harvard Square, 1981.

Common demographics of freegans range from college-educated students to middle-class families. Many freegans will venture to the dumpsters of their favorite health food stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. While both companies have business agreements with local agencies to donate excess food, large amounts of food that do not meet their health standards are still often thrown out, according to the Los Angeles Times. Freegans will often go dumpster diving in the late evening as most of them work regular day jobs. Websites such as Meetup.com provides a group experience for freegans to go on food tours throughout the city.

Freegan Meetup group in Los Angeles.
Freegan Meetup group in Los Angeles.

Some speculation on the health risks of freeganism has been expressed by public health officials because of the potential contamination of different foods placed together. “… A risk of foodbourne illness from pathogenic bacteria like E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria etc., especially in the summer, the dumpsters themselves breed bacteria, pests such as flies, roaches, rodents and some dumpsters are sprayed routinely by pest control operators with pesticides,” stated Jim Chan, of the Health Inspector’s Notebook. Freegan has a list of appropriate freeganism precautions on their website at: http://freegan.info/.

Freeganism is not only to promote self-awareness against consumerism, but to give back to the less fortunate. Many people are Freegan by choice and not because of financial burdens. They are able to use their yearly income to pay off mortgages or donate to homeless individuals.