Photo: narnua, Flickr
Three journalism students at St. Michael's College in Vermont have made a documentary film that examines the nocturnal adventures of "freegans" – people who rummage through dumpsters in search of discarded, but still edible, food items.
Carolyn Smith, one of the filmmakers, said that when she took to the streets with freegans in New York City and Burlington, Vermont, she expected to see garbage bins filled with the likes of half-eaten pizzas.
Instead, she was amazed by "the amount of good stuff" that was pulled from the trash, including fresh fruit and vegetables, intact eggs in cartons, and packaged foods (some of it not yet past the sell-by date), all of it tossed out by various food markets and eateries.
"It helped me understand the statement freegans are making," Smith explained.
Indeed, the freegans featured in the film are dumpster diving not because they're too poor to buy food, but because they're making a point.
"I don't think people in our culture understand the impact their consumption and waste choices have on the environment," says one freegan featured in the 50-minute film, titled "Best if Used by Freegans."
"It's a lifestyle choice of living off the excess waste of...American Western society," explains another.
Such pronouncements prove that today's freegans – a blend of the words "free" and "vegan" – are staying true to the founding principals of freeganism, which is rooted in the anti-capitalist and environmental movements of the 1960s.
Renewed interest in the freegan lifestyle in recent years may be a sign of the times, according to Madeline Nelson, who appears in the film and organizes a freegan meet-up group in New York.
"I think people are now more aware of waste than ever, and more willing to take more radical steps to change the system," she said.
At one moment in the film that many would consider radical, freegans in New York sit down to a dinner made with ingredients found in the garbage. Smith, who partook in the meal, said it included a green bean and hummus dish along with a potato and carrot casserole.
"When I was actually eating the food I thought, 'this isn't bad at all," she said. "And, I didn't get sick."