Why I Became a Freegan Why I Became a Freegan

Why I Became a Freegan

by Meredith Lanoue

May 10, 2013

What started that night has grown into an obsession with the mountains of black trash bags left outside food establishments night after night. Walking home from school, I inconspicuously kick at the bags, guessing at the precious food that will never get to be savored—bagels, muffins, apples, avocadoes. I pass, stop, someone approaches. I quickly jump up, pretending that I wasn’t about to pick through trash.

Why does this feel so wrong? What's wrong is that edible, valuable food is in the trash—not my efforts to save it. People need to know about it.

I shared stories of my Freegan adventures—the pristine bags of organic baby greens, delicious bagels, perfect red peppers and abundant apples—and recruited partners to plunder the black tower behind the high-end market on the path from school. I showed them my strategy to feel the bags for the rounded outlines of whole fruits, and we dug through organic apples mingled with bright oranges, tangerines and grapefruit, an occasional plum, peach or nectarine, a few lemons and limes, a trio of mangoes. Even when we filled our bags with more than we could carry or possibly eat, our efforts barely made a dent in the mass destined for the landfill. 

My adventure in Freeganism is really not about free food. It’s about changing perceptions and reframing how we think about and value food. Seeing the magnitude of food waste and becoming aware of the dirty secrets concealed by the city’s black trash bags raises a new respect for food and a true connection to the problem. I can tell you how 40 percent of all food grown in the U.S. is wasted, how commercial food businesses in NYC generate 1,640 tons of food waste every night, or about the methane this food waste generates in the landfill and how reducing this waste could alleviate hunger. But does this move you to act?

To me Freeganism is a catalyst, a tool for communicating a problem, for letting people see, touch, smell and experience the issue. It’s not about facts and figures; it’s real, it’s here and solutions are within reach. This is at the heart of the Design for Social Innovation program I'm in: communicating a problem effectively and powerfully so your audience gets on board.

So who’s up for some free apples?

This post is part of a series from MFA students in the Design for Social Innovation program at the School of Visual Arts.

Dumpster image via Shutterstock; trash sorting photo courtesy of Meredith Lanoue

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Why I Became a Freegan