What Is Freeganism?

Freeganism is an alternative philosophy for living, based on minimum participation in capitalism and conventional economic practices as well as limited consumption of capitalistic resources. The term Freeganism first appeared in the mid-1990s, combining the behaviors of vegans—persons who refuse to buy animal-based products—with the philosophy of living a lifestyle free from modern capitalism.

Those who engage in the practices of Freeganism are known as Freegans. Many Freegans are vegans who have based their beliefs on the idea that capitalistic over-indulgence is a driver for the carnivorous demand for meat. Freegans go beyond the practices of limited meat consumption by vegans, further boycotting nearly all aspects of capitalism and the over-indulgent behaviors they believe it creates across multiple economic aspects. As such, the welfare of animals ranks highly for Freegans, as does human rights, the environment, and living a simplistic life.

How Freeganism Works

Freegans aim to live outside of the capitalistic, economic system, striving to buy and sell nothing. Freegans prefer to live in less densely populated areas outside of capitalistic hubs. This helps them to fulfill goals of exclusion from modern consumer behaviors and cycles. 

To satisfy their needs Freegans choose to use alternative living strategies, often foraging instead of buying, volunteering rather than working, and squatting as opposed to renting. Freegans will typically scavenge for discarded items, barter, or create their own goods

Freeganism is practiced on a continuum, with a range of participants from the casual to the extreme. Casual Freegans may have no qualms salvaging discarded goods but refuse to eat food found in a dumpster. By contrast, a more extreme Freegan may live in a remote desert cave, refusing to participate in the use of money for philosophical reasons. 

Generally speaking, Freegans organize their lives around a few core concepts: waste reclamation, waste minimization, eco-friendly transportation, rent-free housing, and working less. Freegans embrace concepts of community, generosity, social concern, freedom, cooperation, and sharing as these things help to satisfy needs while also create a network for fighting against capitalistic extremes. The Freegan lifestyle generally protests against capitalistic extremes in the areas of moral apathy, competition, conformity, greed, excess production, over-consumption, over-indulgence, and gluttony.

Key Takeaways

  • Freeganism is a lifestyle philosophy focused on adopting alternative means to modern capitalism for the satisfaction of material needs.
  • Freegans, disciples of Freeganism, believe capitalism manifests gross over-production and over-indulgences which are ideologies they try to mitigate and refrain from in their practices.
  • Some of the primary activities Freegans seek to act against include animal cruelty, human rights abuse, and environmental destruction as well as capitalistic exploitations creating excessive competition, greed, production, over-consumption, and over-indulgence.
  • Practices Freegans use to meet their basic needs often include foraging instead of buying, volunteering rather than working, and squatting as opposed to renting.

Freegan Influences

The philosophy of Freeganism and the Freegan label was first introduced by the founder of Food Not Bombs in the mid-1990s. Food Not Bombs has been known for recovering food that would otherwise go to waste and using it to prepare meals to share in public places, welcoming all to join. In the late 1990s, a "Why Freegan?" pamphlet was written and circulated to explain the ideas and practices of an alternative Freegan lifestyle.

Around 2003, an organized group of Freegans formed in New York City. This group established the Freegan.Info website explaining the Freegan philosophy and developing resource listings for followers. A few of the top community events that have become the most popular for Freegans include “Really, Really, Free Markets,” which are community events offering a free exchange of goods, and “Freemeets", organized as gatherings for Freegan ideas.

Freeganistic Practices

There are several practices Freegans use to achieve basic needs while also protesting anti-capitalistic extremes. Common activities include dumpster diving, hitchhiking for transportation, squatting or camping for housing, and shared housing to promote working less. 

Urban, guerilla gardening is one example of Freeganism in action. In this scenario, Freegans support and participate in the transformation of abandoned lots into community-garden plots. Often, Freegans see the development of community gardens in obscure environments and low-income neighbors as offering a resource for the community with healthy produce. 

Freegans believe in focusing less on capitalistic, profit-making and more on community-building. This contributes to a "work less" mantra. Some Freegans prefer to live completely off the grid and not work at all. Many other Freegans seek some type of employment, conceding that when highly specialized services are required, such as medical care, using money is sometimes the only option. Freegans that have regular jobs often seek to extend their spirit of cooperative empowerment into their workplace, regularly joining worker-led unions.

Limitations of Freeganism

In general, Freeganism defies most developed economic theories of capitalism, some of which include Rational Choice Theory and the benefits of the Invisible Hand Theory. However, there are many casual followers of Freeganism who do believe its ideologies conceptually fight against some of the extreme excesses that capitalism can create.

In addition to limiting or eliminating the benefits of capitalism, living by the Freeganism code can also come with several other drawbacks. Chief among them are the health risks associated with dumpster diving. Rummaging through the garbage of retailers, residences, offices, and other facilities for food can lead to food poisoning and other health issues. In response, many Freegans often check the temperatures of food, wear gloves, and target produce discarded in sealed packages.

Another big risk is getting arrested. Some cities have passed laws against foraging, even if taking something that’s been thrown away is not considered stealing. Squatting is also illegal in most U.S. cities as it involves unauthorized use of property.