Twice a month, a dozen or so New Yorkers who we met recently go hunting for food…in the garbage bins of supermarkets and convenience stores. They are not homeless and most of them come from decent economic situations. Dumpster diving, it seems, is part of their philosophy. They are part of a movement called Freeganism.
Freegans are environmental and anti-consumerist activists who essentially want to drop out of capitalism. They believe our economic system creates vast amounts of waste while it eats up the earth’s limited resources. To combat such waste, Freegans try to live outside the economy, purchasing as little as they can. In New York City, a lot of them favor walking over public transportation; they repair their used clothes instead of purchasing new ones.
And when it comes to feeding themselves, many live off our waste.
With more than 1,400 members on its Meetup page, Freegan Info is New York City’s largest Freegan group. Its trash tours— a two-hour stroll during which long-term Freegans show newcomers how to dumpster dive—often attracts between 15 and 30 people.
And the activists among them who have been dumpster diving for many years say it’s always pretty easy to find good food in the trash.
Cindy Rosin, 37, is a Freegan who has been dumpster diving for almost 15 years.“I hope that in five or ten years I learn to grow food,” she said. But meanwhile, she adds, dumpster diving “is still a very viable option for feeding oneself in the city right now.”
Freegan Info website keeps an updated list of New York City supermarkets that are most likely to have plentiful garbage.
Americans discard up to 40 percent of their edible food, according to a 2013 study by the Natural Resource Defense Council. “And it’s an upward trend,” said Jonathan Bloom, who has been researching this topic since 2005 and who published the book American Wasteland in 2010.