Friday, June 22, 2007

Not Buying It

Steve got worked up over this piece in yesterday's NY Times on Freegans, a movement I had not heard of. As he is very busy, he asked one of us to take it on. From the article:

"The site, which provides information and listings for the small but growing subculture of anticonsumerists who call themselves freegans — the term derives from vegans, the vegetarians who forsake all animal products, as many freegans also do — is the closest thing their movement has to an official voice. And for those like Ms. Elia and Ms. Kalish, it serves as a guide to negotiating life, and making a home, in a world they see as hostile to their values.

Freegans are scavengers of the developed world, living off consumer waste in an effort to minimize their support of corporations and their impact on the planet, and to distance themselves from what they see as out-of-control consumerism. They forage through supermarket trash and eat the slightly bruised produce or just-expired canned goods that are routinely thrown out, and negotiate gifts of surplus food from sympathetic stores and restaurants.

They dress in castoff clothes and furnish their homes with items found on the street; at, where users post unwanted items; and at so-called freemeets, flea markets where no money is exchanged. Some claim to hold themselves to rigorous standards. “If a person chooses to live an ethical lifestyle it’s not enough to be vegan, they need to absent themselves from capitalism,” said Adam Weissman, 29, who started four years ago and is the movement’s de facto spokesman."

I guess I am as skeptical of mindless consumerism as anyone, but each of us has our own definition of what "mindless" is, don't we? I'll quote from the article on the nature of the internal contradictions in freeganism that drove Steve crazy:

"Not buying any new manufactured products while living in the United States is, of course, basically impossible, as is avoiding everything that requires natural resources to create, distribute or operate. Don’t freegans use gas or electricity to cook, for example, or commercial products to brush their teeth?"


"These contradictions and others have led some people to suggest that freegans are hypocritical, making use of the capitalist system even as they rail against it. And even Mr. Weissman, who is often doctrinaire about the movement, acknowledges when pushed that absolute freeganism is an impossible dream."

If you want to make your living by dumpster diving, that's fine - please spare us the holier than thou moralizing.


Steve Bodio said...

The two things that made me craziest were:

The woman who was making a six figure income and quit, but not before she bought herself an apartment in a nice part of Brooklyn outright so she wouldn't have to pay rent (and a Louis XVI armoire to go in it!) but calls herself anti- consumerist and anti- capitalist.

And the Vegans who eat meat if they find it in the dumpster so it won't go to waste.

I am working on getting Eagle aloft and having a terrible time with computer connections (new phone switches in town?) -- this is the second time I have tried to post this and I have been disconnected twice! Took me 45 minutes and twenty- plus disconnects to order a book at Amazon this AM.

But I'll be back.

Henry Chappell said...

Reid, like you, I'm skeptical of mindless consumerism, and I also believe it's poisoning our culture. But for me, it's more a matter of scale and balance and the way our consuming habits, and the values they reflect, have pretty much wiped out our local economies and any semblance of local independence.

I have no problem with folks taking advantage of second-hand clothing and furniture and even maintaining a sub-economy based on swapping used goods. I admire that sort of thrift and think we ought to be passing it along to our kids. I've never believed we have a patriotic duty to consume.

But what the Freegans don't seem to grasp is that, to a large degree, Western Civiliztion is based on economic interdependence. Unless we're willing to live at the barest level of subsistance, we have to depend, to some degree, on goods produced by someone else.

If everyone adopted Freegan philosophy, we'd soon be out of second or third-hand goods. Nothing would be getting done.

Even the most independent farmer has to purchase or trade for tools and so forth.

I suspect that Freeganism is just more of the kind of puerile disaffection so common among young lefties.

I'm sure they'll talk about sustainability, but, on a large scale, their own practices are unsustainable.