So this weekend I read an article in Satya Magazine about freeganism. I'd never even heard of the notion before (color me unhip), but I was initially intrigued by the idea. Basically, freegans try to live off of the consumer wastes of others--they recover things from clothes to household items to food that has been tossed out as wastes and use it to sustain themselves. The idea is to make use of the huge amounts of wastefulness our consumerist society produces. Interesting, I thought.
To quote the Freegan website ((http://freegan.info/)):
"Freeganism is a total boycott of an economic system where the profit motive has eclipsed ethical considerations and where massively complex systems of productions ensure that all the products we buy will have detrimental impacts most of which we may never even consider. Thus, instead of avoiding the purchase of products from one bad company only to support another, we avoid buying anything to the greatest degree we are able."
"The word freegan is derived from "free" and "vegan". Vegans are people who avoid products from animal sources or products tested on animals in an effort to avoid harming animals. Freegans take this a step further by recognizing that in a complex, industrial, mass-production economy driven by profit, abuses of humans, animals, and the earth abound at all levels of production (from acquisition to raw materials to production to transportation ) and in just about every product we buy. Sweatshop labor, rainforest destruction, global warming, displacement of indigenous communities, air and water pollution, eradication of wildlife on farmland as "pests", the violent overthrow of popularly elected governments to maintain puppet dictators compliant to big business interests, open-pit strip mining, oil drilling in environmentally sensitive areas, union busting, child slavery, and payoffs to repressive regimes are just some of the many impacts of the seemingly innocuous consumer products we consume every day."
But the more I read, the more it seemed to me that while the idea of putting consumerist waste to good use is a noble one, the actual ideology of freeganism seems to be structurally unsound.
What I don't get is this: Freeganism REQUIRES A SUSTAINED CONSUMER SOCIETY IN ORDER TO EXIST. If freeganism were to succeed in its "dismantling" of consumerism and consumerism were to collapse, then freeganism would fold in on itself because WITHOUT consumerism, there can be no freeganism. If Adam Weissman were correct and "If significant numbers of meat-eaters start recovering rather than buying their meat [and] a significant drop in sales [left] stores ordering less […] result[ing] over time in less production" then essentially, freegans would be left high and dry as to how they would sustain themselves. Freeganism (and Adam Weissman) becomes unable to support its own logic here. Like a host is to a parasite, consumerism is necessary for an individual to exist as a freegan. So it seems to me that just as freeganism is seeking to rise up against consumerism, it is essentially reinforcing its necessity in the same swift move. And that strikes me as a bit frightening.
In the world of veganism, the motivating idea is that we should strive towards replacing an animal-consuming society with one that lives peacefully and ethically off of the earth.* In the world of feminism, the idea is that we strive towards replacing a patriarchal society with one where everyone is treated equally.* Wouldn't the logical action against consumerism be likewise to dismantle it and then rebuild something in its place? Freeganism seems to want to dismantle consumerism, but that's where it breaks down--from what I've read (and please, do correct me if I've just not *read* that which disproves this), and as Weissman states in the Satya article, freeganism strives towards a community of "people [who] voluntarily help and share with one another rather than competing for resources" and Freegans claim to "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) and yet freeganism offers no ideas as to what to rebuild in the place of a consumerist society if this "voluntary sharing" were to succeed and destroy consumerism, or how this community of "generosity, social concern, freedom, cooperation and sharing" would be sustainable when there are no longer waste-products to be shared, or how, once we all become freegans, we are going to be able to sustain ourselves if we have no consumerist waste to live off of. FREEGANISM DEPENDS ON CONSUMERISM TO SUSTAIN ITSELF AS BOTH A PHILOSOPHY AND A WAY OF LIVING. So I find myself wondering how effective of a response to consumerism it can be...
But that's just my two cents. I will readily admit that I'm not super well-read on the subject matter (my comments are based on what I've read from Adam Weissman and from the Freegan website), so I encourage any freegans who happen upon this to address my concerns as they are intended moreso as questions and critiques rather than condemnations.
All quotes are from "It's Not That Gross! Freeganism and the Art of Dumpster-Diving" or Freegan.info.
*Clearly these two statements are SUPER-reductive over-simplifications of two much more complex philosophies, but I done reduced them down to make my point simpler to understand. Wanna make something of it?