World Wide Words logo


The idea behind freeganism is that you get as much of your food as you can from stuff that has been thrown out by supermarkets, restaurants and street markets. Though the practice is also known as voluntary simplicity and monetary minimalism it’s only partly about living cheaply. It’s more a political philosophy, a statement of defiance against what freegans regard as the wasteful consumerist culture of the developed world, which is why it has also been called ethical eating and the ultimate boycott.

The name is usually said to be a blend of free and vegan, since early practitioners were either vegetarian or vegan (not least because it is much more dangerous to eat discarded meat or fish than vegetables and grains). But it has also been argued from a political perspective that it’s short for free gain. The evidence is that some normally vegan freegans will take animal products, since there’s another term, meagan, for vegans who will eat meat if they can get it for nothing.

The culture lives on the edge of illegality, since many firms regard taking food from skips or dumpsters as theft. Some extreme freegan practices would be considered unacceptable by most people, such as table diving, in which freegans hover in a restaurant and grab discarded food from diners’ plates after they leave.

Freegans come from a larger community of young, do-it-yourself punks. Many are anarchists, opposing all forms of government and embracing ideals such as individual freedom and cooperation. Some, though, don’t identify as anarchists — or as punks — or they resent being labeled. But all of them despise the American-style consumerism they call destructive.

The Sacramento Bee, 27 May 2003

An unwritten rule of freeganism is that you leave enough for people who genuinely need the food. So when I found discarded boxes of carrots, I only took a few handfuls.

The Observer, 23 Nov. 2003

Page created 27 Dec. 2003

Support World Wide Words and keep this site alive.

Donate by selecting your currency and clicking the button.

Buy from Amazon and get me a small commission at no cost to you. Select a site and click Go!

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved. See the copyright page for notes about linking to and reusing this page. For help in viewing the site, see the technical FAQ. Your comments, corrections and suggestions are always welcome.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–2014. All rights reserved.
This page URL:
Last modified: 27 December 2003.