Is Freeganism Contributing to society in a positive way?

Is our consumer culture leading to disaster?


“The Uighurs considers it haram (forbidden) to waste food, when they kill an animal each part of it is used. This frugality extends right from the slaughterhouse down to the kitchen. If food in the home is leftover, it is customary to offer it to neighbours or to take it onto the street for the poor. To leave food on your plate is an insult to the host, to the cook, to the farmer who grew it and to Allah.” Stuart, T (2009). P200-201

Food is wasted through numerous stages of the food industry including production, processing, retailing and consumption. ‘Worldwide about one-third of all food produced the equivalent to 1.3 billion tonnes gets lost or wasted in the food production and consumption systems, according to data released by FAO.’   WRAP.(2014). Almost 50% of the total amount of food thrown away in the UK comes from our homes. We throw away 7 million tonnes of food and drink from our homes every year in the UK, and more than half of this is food and drink we could have eaten. Love Food Hate Waste. (2014). If we planted trees on land currently used to grow unnecessary surplus and wasted food, this would offset a theoretical maximum of 100% of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion, a scarily simple fact which could save our planet. With an estimated 20%- 40% of food being rejected before even reaching the supermarket due to size or cosmetic blemishes. Stuart, T. (2009).  Breaking down in landfill, food waste can produce methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than CO2 – and a liquid, called leachate (essentially bin juice), which can contaminate water supplies. The food waste network. (2014).

With one billion people malnourished in the world, why has it become acceptable to disregard food simply because of its appearance whilst still perfectly edible? I will be investigating why this is an issue, is it due to greed or simply stupidity that our planet is overproducing food whilst seeing our fellow humans die of hunger? To be specific 2.5 million children die every year of malnutrition. (Food Waste- A story of Excess, 2013)
Our resources are precious which means so is our food, nutrition is the key to a healthy life and we are lucky to have the nourishment we do. If people were less gluttonous and only bought things they needed not wanted there would be a lot less waste.

‘It is clear that the amount of food that society wastes is dependent on cultural attitudes. There are legal, fiscal and logistical measures that can be taken to reduce food waste- but their strength will derive from what society deems acceptable. In this sense, the solution to food wastage lies in our hands. If we felt as intensely as the desert-dwelling Uighurs do, that food is a finite, invaluable resource to be cherished, our situation would be very different.’ Stuart, T (2009). P200-201

In 2008 Gordon Brown attempted to make consumer waste his principal response to the food crisis, urging people to waste less stating that ‘wasting good food wastes money’. Dalmeny, K. (07/07/2008).
‘This gave the impression that Brown was pointing the finger of blame at individuals, rather than all the innumerable other factors creating waste in the food industry. He was called fatuous, patronizing and hypocritical.’ Although he was attempting to make a change for the better the nation fought back with savvy arguments one reporter wrote, “Umm. I think I remember paying for my stuff the last time I went to Tesco’s. I Paid for it. I can do what I want with it after that. Get it?” Stuart, T (2009). P202-203

The majority of the public seem to be very unaware of the current issues involved in the food industry as no one questions how and why they have access to perfect looking produce more than 12 hours a day all year round regardless of the season and instantly became defensive when Gordon Brown brought light upon this subject.

 “It would be nice to believe- despite evidence to the contrary- that people would not maintain such an attitude if they realized that throwing food away deprives someone else of eating it.” Stuart, T (2009). P202-203

Drawing on the notion that food was rationed during the war there were huge campaigns ensuring people made use of every last scrap, with a waste not want not attitude people were extremely precious with the materials they had whilst ensuring no one went hungry. I will be questioning when and how we became so fussy and less appreciative of our resources; It takes 1000 gallons of water to produce one gallon of milk and by saving 15% of the food we usually throw away we could feed more than 25 million people a year. By educating people on the importance of being less wasteful and the impact it could have on our environment, introducing solutions to the problem is the next step forward.  (Food Waste- A Story of excess, 2013)

Food Waste and Supermarket secrecy

Back in 2012 Tesco, Asda and Morrison’s all refused to reveal their food waste figures to channel 4 news, ‘Sainsbury’s was the only one of the four big supermarkets to publish its food waste figures and told Channel 4 News it generated about 44,000 tonnes of food waste in 2011.’ channel4news. (2012).
The amount of secrecy involved makes you question if there is something more sinister behind the huge corporations,  after all is it not a consumers right to know what happens in the line of production of which they are funding? After contacting all the largest supermarkets myself I was surprised of the response;

From Tesco I received a short summery of information which I didn’t really expect but definitely didn’t cover many of the questions I had asked, “Our market-leading store ordering system ensures that we generate very little food waste and if there is a small surplus, our reduce-to-clear schemes are effective in further minimising waste. Where there is waste, we make every effort to recycle it or use it for energy. We recycle store bakery waste as animal feed and process cooking oil into biodiesel. We’ve recently announced that we will donate all surplus fresh food from our dot com stores and distribution centre to food redistribution charity FareShare. This will result in 7 million meals donated to over 1000 charities over a year.” –Tesco

Asda informed me that they could not share any information whatsoever but pointed me in the direction of their website, Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer were also the same but apologetic to not share information with me. Aldi told me the same thing but encouraged me to write a letter to head office regarding my queries. Morrison’s took the longest to reply but with the most detail although mostly came across as a way of promoting their store to me, informing me of how they make their food as well as just stock it,

“Through careful stock management and discounting products close to their best before date we are minimising the level of food that ends up as waste. We also work with charities to put this surplus food to good use in local communities. The redistribution of surplus food from stores present a number of operation and food safety challenges.  However, we are developing processes to overcome these issues and allow donations of this type to be made.” –Morrisons

Although this has come from the direct source I would like to believe what they are telling me is true however there is huge amount of evidence which contradicts this. The anti-consumerist subcultures of freegans are able to survive off food only found in the bins of these supermarkets. Produce which is not only edible but also of a high quality.



Freeganism Subcultures
(Investigation into the work of relevant practitioners)

“Freeganism is creative living outside of capitalism it’s a combination of the words free and vegan, both living freely, free from the oppression of a wage slave economy and free in that you’re not paying for things and not participating in the money of economy” –Cindy Rosin Freegan.  Thrash Lab. (2012).

As the subculture of freeganism is growing so do most of the definitions and perceptions, most freegans have a bad name as dumpster divers and scavengers even though they have a strict etiquette of leaving things exactly as they found them usually even tidier, they ensure that bags are untied and never ripped open as they are respectful of the waste and land. Many of the freegans in America seem to follow a vegan diet although my research has lead me to believe that the majority of freegans  in Britain tend to be people who are penny pinching and cannot afford to buy the food they would like, such as students and the homeless so meat is usually consumed if still appearing edible, the over packaging of our food makes this a lot easier as contamination is near impossible through the many layers of plastic we seem to unnecessarily need.

“Freeganism does not equal dumpster diving, there are Freegans who don’t dumpster dive, people who garden, people who wild forage, people can grow their food and there is lots of dumpster divers who aren’t Freegan. so I just want to make it clear as these two often get made into synonyms in the media and that is not the case. We’re not just opting out of participating in the economy on a purchasing level but for many of us were opting out in the standard work a 9-5 job level and so there is economic need even if it is by choice.” Cindy Rosin Freegan, Thrash Lab. (2012).

There will always be a controversy based around freeganism, the pro that it is contributing to society through an environmentalist perception, avoiding good quality food ending up in landfill whilst feeding those around them. Being a freegan is a political statement against consumerism following the ideology of living for free, living by the motto of ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Reducing their carbon footprint by finding a use for almost everything and producing next to no waste themselves.

“Freegans embrace community, generosity, social concern, freedom, cooperation, and sharing in opposition to a society based on materialism, moral apathy, competition, conformity, and greed.” Freegan info. (2008-2014).

Although there is always the risky element of living off the waste of others and the argument that it is unhygienic to eat food out of supermarket bins. People who are unaware of the situation almost always react with a large case of snobbery as with the behaviour of rummaging through bins comes a social stigma.

“Freegans believe in living ethical, free, and happy lives centred around community and the notion that a healthy society must function on interdependence. Freegans also believe that we need to take back control of our time. We can do that by turning our backs on corporate pressure to consume, and to work and take on debt to enable that consumption. We prefer to repair and maintain the goods that already exist, share what is surplus, refuse to buy things we don’t really need, and acquire the few things we really need through recovery of wasted goods and networks of mutual aid.” Freegan info. (2008-2014).

Although there has been issues of the public/police perceiving this as criminal activity due to the trespassing on land. Three men were arrested earlier this year for taking £33 worth of tomatoes, mushrooms and cheese out of Iceland’s bin. The average Freegan states that ‘once someone has thrown something away it is no longer theirs and therefore have no control over its existence.’ Although there are no actual laws against this way of life the majority of consumers seem be highly offended by it.

“On the issue of food waste more generally, we work very closely with all our suppliers to minimise the amount of waste food Iceland generates. Products are only designated as waste when they have passed their use-by dates and are considered unfit for human consumption. We utilise secure storage areas and/or locked waste bins to dispose of such products because allowing them to be consumed by members of the public would constitute a significant health and safety risk. All our food waste is ultimately disposed of through an environmentally friendly process of anaerobic digestion.” Moore, D. (2014).



Thrash Lab. (2012). Freegans: Creative Living Outside of Capitalism. [Online Video]. 17 October. Available from: [Accessed: 06 October 2014].

Stuart, T (2009). Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal. London: Penguin Books Ltd.

Freegan info. (2008-2014). What is a freegan?. Available: Last accessed 06/10/2014.

Moore, D. (2014). Men To Appear In Court After Taking Food Waste Discarded By Iceland Branch. Available: Last accessed 10/10/2014.

Kurutz, S. (2007). Not Buying It. Available: Last accessed 10/10/2014.

Persson, H. (2011). Life from a Freegan Perspective A Veteran “Dumpster Diver” from Brooklyn Explains What It’s All About.Available: Last accessed 10/10/2014.

Dalmeny, K. (07/07/2008). Gordon Brown urged to tackle supermarkets on food waste. Available: Last accessed 13/10/2014.

 Food Waste- A Story of excess. (2013). United States: visually.

channel4news. (2012). Why the supermarket secrecy on food waste?.Available: Last accessed 13/10/2014.

WRAP. (2014). Global Food Waste Reduction. Available: Last accessed 13/10/2014.

Love Food Hate Waste. (2014). The facts about Food Waste. Available: Last accessed 13/10/2014.

Stuart, T. (2009). Food Waste Facts. Available: Last accessed 13/10/2014.

The food waste network. (2014). Why recycle food waste?. Available: Last accessed 13/10/2014.


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