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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

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 27 Dec. 2003

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/turnsofphrase/tp-fre2.htm
Last modified: 27 December 2003.