Fear not the Freegans

It is so seldom you phone at some ungodly hour that Pete was quite frightened for a moment, thinking thoughts of death and disaster; the kind of things that leap to mind when brought from a sound sleep by the sound of a telephone ringing.

Dear Uma:

It is so seldom you phone at some ungodly hour that Pete was quite frightened for a moment, thinking thoughts of death and disaster; the kind of things that leap to mind when brought from a sound sleep by the sound of a telephone ringing.

He stayed awake, anxious, after handing me the phone until I could reassure him with one of those wordless marital communications that all was well. Then I went into the kitchen; I didn’t want him to hear me laughing. He wouldn’t want to know what the joke was; he would merely be irate that it was being told at three in the morning.

You will notice I did not laugh over the phone, not immediately; I listened and made a proper response, as a good friend does.

You could have called me as soon as Jason told you he and Sara are becoming Freegans, because I happen to know a bit about that movement and could have reassured you sooner, saving you hours of fevered imaginings.

I think you and Jason have been spoiling for a fight ever since he started living with Sara, and the pregnancy has stepped up the tension; there is a lot you have been feeling about this romance that you have not expressed to Jason, and face it, Uma – you haven’t really talked to Sara at all about anything meaningful.

Your biggest argument, that becoming Freegans may harm the baby, is fairly groundless. Jason and Sara are not remotely stupid, as you well know, and they are not going to do anything to jeopardize having a healthy child.

Uma, it really is sort of funny, Jason and Sara becoming Freegans. They are not stupid, but they are young; to adopt a Freegan philosophy is a brave thing and the basic premise of the movement is not without merit.

The cult of consumerism is destroying the planet. We buy, then we toss. The average person is disposing of four and a half pounds of garbage a day, which is twice as much as we did 30 years ago.

Most shameful is the 40 to 50 per cent of our food which never sees a plate. An average family of four currently tosses away $590 per year in meat, fruit, vegetable and grain products.

Watch the Story of Stuff to see what happens to nonfood items – it’s gross.

Freeganism is all about discovering and accessing alternative ways of meeting our needs. It’s about not buying anything; opting out of the consumer culture by bartering, trading and, yes, scavenging.

Years ago, a Vancouver artist, Ted Dave, initiated Buy Nothing Day, a day in November when a great many people spend no money for an entire day. It began as an informal protest against capitalism, but caught on in a big way and is now an internationally observed day.

Many people, including Pete and I, observe it and have gone further by making it one day a week. In doing so we have learned what an effort it is to buy nothing even for a single day.

I must admit, it is very easy to do in Watson Lake because we stock up on just about everything; our cupboards look as though we are fully expecting the end of life as we know it, being crammed with every possible foodstuff as well as necessities such as laundry soap, toilet paper, shampoo and wine.

It took considerable attention and was a lot harder to do in the city. One had to plan ahead; buying a bus pass, for example, and taking coffee to work instead of Starbucking on the way.

Freeganism is Buy Nothing Day taken even further to Buy Nothing All Year Long.

The Freegan website will tell you they espouse “community, generosity, social concern, freedom, co-operation and sharing in opposition to a society based on materialism, greed, moral apathy, competition, conformity and greed.”

It’s a noble statement and a noble enterprise, to attempt to boycott a system where the profit motive has eclipsed ethical considerations and where the production systems ensure that everything we buy has detrimental impacts.

It’s not a new idea; there have always been individuals who found value in other people’s trash, and the increase in flea markets, garage sales, thrift shops and consignment stores suggests the concept has been accepted in mainstream behaviour, with some reservations.

The movement is attracting more and more people, of all ages and backgrounds and even economic positions. You don’t have to be poor to practise Freeganism.

Jason and Sara live in the right part of the country to be embarking on this lifestyle because, of course, Southern California leads the way with things like “trash tours” where they can learn to dumpster-dive properly. The tours offer such valuable tips as remembering to always take a friend with you in case a dumpster lid falls on you, or wearing rubber gloves for protection from sharp and gooey objects. They also recommend finding out if dumpster diving is legal in the area you live as many places have banned it.

They won’t be lonely in their new life; there are six million people who subscribe to the philosophy, with two websites, FreeSharing.org and Freecycle.org helping each other source the best places for free stuff.

Most people participate in a Freegan act once in awhile; accepting hand-me-down baby clothes, for example.

Here are a couple more stats from Annie Leonard to make you feel better about what your kid wants to do.

Eighty per cent of the world’s original forests are gone.

One per cent of stuff that we buy is still in use six months after we purchase it – 99 per cent is trashed.

It is a good thing they want to do, and I applaud them from the safety of my small northern town where there are no overflowing dumpsters behind dozens of restaurants and grocery stores.

There is a ‘share shed’ at the recycle centre and I have looked at it. My spirit is with Sara and Jason. OK, OK – my flesh cringes. I am decidedly not Freegan material, though I may re-examine the movement when they figure out a way to access free (factory sealed) bottles of tequila or unopened bags of Thunder Crunch potato chips.

I laughed because, Uma, they are living with you and Andrew. How much of the more discomfiting Freegan activities are they likely to be involved in? They live rent free, trading help with the horses and garden for accommodation.

They are vegans, living mostly out of the garden outside their door and the orchard on the property. You have given them furniture, household appliances and stuff like bedding and towels; very little of it new. You gave them lots of things so you could justify buying new for your house, you anti-Freegan you.

Relax, go out and buy (secondhand of course) some baby clothes for the grandkid.



Heather Bennett is a freelance writer who lives in Watson Lake.

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