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"Freegan" Dumpster Diving Reveals America's Colossal Waste of Food

Posted 10/4/04

>From Grist Magazine <>

New environmental trend: eating other folks' leftovers

Here at Grist we love reporting on new environmental trends,
especially when there are gimmicky new terms coined to describe them.
Herewith, we give you the "freegan," someone who subsists entirely on
food other people -- usually restaurants or grocery stores -- have
thrown out. Though freegans can often be found rooting through
dumpsters around closing time, for the most part they are not jobless
or homeless -- they are simply protesting a culture that discards
tons of edible food while people starve elsewhere in the world. Adam
Weissman, a part-time New York City security guard who has lived
almost entirely on free, discarded food for some nine years, says
freeganism is "about being aware of the insane waste by our culture
of overproduction and overconsumption." He claims he has never
gotten sick from discarded food: "When you throw out food from your
refrigerator, it's at the point where it's gross. That's not the
case with stores." Freeganism is not without its risks, though. As
adherent John Phillips explains, "People go crazy because they find a
50-pound bag of doughnuts. Restraint is a problem."

straight to the source:, Nicole Bergot, 29 Sep 2004
One man's trash . . .

Freegans say they dine well - and make an important political statement < by
eating food thrown away by stores and restaurants

Nicole Bergot is a freelance writer.

September 29, 2004

Leaning over a black garbage bag on a recent cool night, Adam Weissman uses
his bare hands to scoop steaming brown rice and veggies into a plastic
container. Alongside him, two friends pull muffins, pasta and sweet
potatoes, still warm from a hot buffet, from the pile of trash bags outside
Lifethyme, a natural foods market in Greenwich Village.

The trio meets at 9:30 p.m. - about the time grocery stores close and put
their trash out - and rummage through one store's leftovers before moving on
to the next. Picking through garbage bags, they fill their knapsacks with
enough fruit, vegetables, loaves of bread and packaged goods to fully stock
their shelves and refrigerators.

They're not homeless, and they have jobs. They call themselves freegans,
and though some fill their fridges with food from garbage bins to save
money, many choose not to buy food for philosophical reasons.

"Freegan" comes from the term vegan - a person who does not eat meat or
animal products for health or ethical reasons. Freegans take it one step
further by eating food thrown away by stores and restaurants, to avoid waste
and limit their impact on the environment. They say that by not buying food,
they're boycotting a capitalist consumer society that needlessly slaughters
animals and harms the environment by mass-producing nonessential food, much
of which ends up in landfills.

"It's about being aware of the insane waste by our culture of
overproduction and overconsumption," says Weissman, 26, who wears oversized
jeans and a baggy T-shirt he "recovered" from the trash. He is a part- time
security guard and a full- time freegan. He and his friends salvage "large
quantities of unsold items, not half- eaten food off someone's plate,"
Weissman says.

Trash du jour

He's lived on a diet made up almost entirely of trash for nine years, he
says, and when he doesn't forage near his home in Hackensack, N.J., the
trash of New York City provides him with more edible food than he can carry

Like Weissman, Alexis Cole, a 28-year-old jazz singer from Manhattan, rails
against what she calls an unjust capitalist society gone mad with greed at
the expense of the environment and other humans less fortunate than
prosperous Americans. "This culture makes me sick," she says.

Dressed in a white top and blue cords - all recovered - Cole, who says she
is writing a cookbook called "The Decadent Dumpster," rides her bike to
choice grocery store garbage bins several times a week. On each trip she can
count on filling the two baskets on her 21-speed with bags of lettuce and
spinach, bread, bananas, apples, kale, bagels and packaged goods. It's more
than enough for her and her two roommates, who, according to Cole, "have
never eaten so well."

Tonight the freegans start at Garden of Eden, a Village health food store,
where they find two whole fresh salmon in the trash outside, before heading
west. They visit Century Market, Gristede's, Lifethyme and other food stores
along the way, if the trash looks promising.

"After I started doing this I gained, like, 60 pounds," Weissman says. Now
he's more careful about what he eats and bypasses the trash outside Dunkin'
Donuts for the healthier bags filled with produce outside Gristede's.

He's not worried about the safety of the food; he says stores throw out
goods long before they've gone bad. "When you throw out food from your
refrigerator, it's at the point where it's gross," Weissman explains.
"That's not the case with stores."

Glynn St. Juste, a manager at a Greenwich Village Gristede's, says the
store throws out only food that is no longer edible. But during one tour,
the freegans find still-usable wrapped cheese sticks, sealed cottage cheese,
bread, croissants and even peach cobbler outside the supermarket. (They
argue that food is usually still edible on, or just after, the printed
expiration date.)

John Phillips of Manhattan, an 18-year-old freegan, says none of his
freegan friends have gotten sick from eating food from trash. The only
health problem he says is overindulgence. "People go crazy because they find
a 50-pound bag of doughnuts," he says. "Restraint is a problem."

Not all freegans are strict vegans, but most are vegetarian. Freegan
meat-eaters say that as long as an animal is being killed, it's better to
use the meat than let it go to waste.

Dr. Ruth Kava, director of nutrition at the New York-based American Council
on Science and Health, calls the movement "fascinating" but says it raises
concerns. If food has been "sitting in a pool of sauce ... anything could be
on it," she says. "The quality might be compromised to a point where it
could pose a risk."

Brian Halweil, a senior food and agriculture researcher with the
Washington, D.C.- based environmental research institute Worldwatch, knows
about food waste. "It's astonishing how much food at restaurants and
supermarkets is wasted," he says, "often because the food doesn't look

Halweil says he's not surprised freeganism is catching on as people become
more aware of food production. America's obesity problem is a common story;
"Fast Food Nation" was a bestseller, and the documentary "Super Size Me" was
a box office hit. "All over the country we're finding people are rebelling
against mass- produced food," he says.

Even so, there's no central freegan organization, and no statistics are
available on how many people have adopted the practice. Freegans tend to
hear about one another through word of mouth, often meeting at environmental
activist gatherings. (Weissman has started a Web site,

Some freegans have reasons for feeding themselves from trash that are more
practical than ethical. During one tour, outside the gourmet food store Dean
& Deluca on Broadway, Sue Nowaczyk, a home health aide who earns about $650
a month, finds wrapped sandwiches that sell for about $6 each. For her,
finding free food is a necessity. "It's economical," she says. "I've just
gotta be careful about the meat, because it could spoil."

Free for the taking

Wendy Scher, a 25-year-old videographer and musician from
Bedford-Stuyvesant, says she gets nearly all of the food she consumes from
trash. "I don't have to buy food to get food," she says, as she rummages
through a bag full of sloppy pizza pies outside of Due Amici, an East
Village pizza restaurant. "I'd rather take it than waste my money paying for
exactly the same stuff I can get right here."

The freegan movement is not limited to New York. Luna Tic, the name by
which he's known in the freegan world, is a 27-year-old entomology student
at Seattle Central Community College and a member of Food Not Bombs, an
organization that feeds people with food that otherwise would be wasted. He
says one day of "Dumpstering" can yield enough food to feed the six people
he lives with for a week. "There's mountains of perfectly good food out
there," he says.

The best spots are garbage bins outside upscale grocery stores and fruit
stands. His freegan loot includes more than food. Luna Tic recently
converted his car to run on the cooking oil discarded by restaurants; he
collects it from vats outside Chinese restaurants. He says he gets 12 miles
to the gallon and recently drove from Salem, Ore., to Seattle burning
nothing but recovered vegetable oil.

Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.