Wednesday, February 27, 2008


I don't watch Oprah very often but happened to today and I'm intrigued. Are you familiar with the Freegan lifestyle? The first half of her show was about it. I had never heard of this way of life. It's an environmentally friendly lifestyle that flies in the face of consumerism and materialism. Seriously, I kind of want to try it.

This way of life promotes not only frugality but also decreasing waste. They get things out of dumpsters! Those interviewed mostly get food and products from dumpsters outside grocery stores or retail stores. I was amazed at the quality products that were tossed because of expiration date, damage, bruises etc. One lady interviewed said that a dozen eggs will be thrown away because one is broken. The same lady told about how she found 100-1 lb. bags of coffee beans in a dumpster. The packages were intact but they had expired. As she pointed out - do roasted coffee beans actually expire? And even my mom has commented that companies are forced to put expiration dates on products that don't expire or certainly have a longer shelf life than listed.

The people interviewed are not doing it because they are poor. It seems that it's not uncommon for it to be quite the contrary - in fact, one couple represented are employed as a doctor and engineer. They are working to pay off their mortgage and they donate a fair amount. It seems that freegans choose that lifestyle because they want to avoid the materialism that is so prevelant in our society and conserve the environment. It was mentioned several times about how much waste is generated throughout our country.

It sounds gross to eat things out of a dumpster but it seemed that they were careful to only take things that were still packaged without punctures, still sealed, etc., cleaned fruits & vegetables very well (not necessarily in packages), and were conscious to not endanger themselves. [Side note: After reading the NY times article below, maybe this doesn't fully apply - some found 1/2 eaten jars of peanut butter that they were happy about it.] While it seems the movement may stem from the Vegan lifestyle, I noticed that the people interviewed today had dairy products and didn't necessarily follow a vegan diet.

It totally makes me want to just try it one time to see how it works. The freegans certainly did not seem to be lacking in good quality food and their basic needs were met. Their cost of living is low (they did note that they spend a little per month on what they cannot find). I was amazed at their dedication to this lifestyle. Those interviewed today were humble, simple-living people that are living out their values. As with any movement, there are extremes and some of those are definitely reflected in the article below. And it does sound like there can be legal ramifications if your city or state does not allow dumpster digging or if you are trespassing, of course.

Anyway, as I stated at the beginning, I'm intrigued. It was an interesting program and an interesting idea. Andrew and I are constantly discussing sustainable living - architecture, food, etc. and this certainly relates to those concepts although it is probably a little extreme for us. :) For further information, here are some websites that focus on this way of life: Freegan Kitchen,, and a NY Times article.


Mob said...

I had seen a show about this. I thought it was really neat too. Its amazing and saddening the waste that our country contributes to. My hubby serves on a food ministry and they get all the food donated from grocery stores. Same thing, its food that is almost or has expired. Its perfectly good food. I say, you go girl!

Monica said...

How interesting. I, myself, have never done this, but I did save some plants that were by the dumpster at Kroger once. They all died:(

I heard there is a list you can get on at Panera to get bread and then share it with whomever.

Heather L. said...

I'll go with you!!! Actually, I'm a secret dumpster diver for furniture, etc. out of the trash. We've furnished quite a bit of our house from our neighbor's throw aways!

jeneflower said...

I am a new convert to the simple-living lifestyle. It is a work in progress. I would have absolutely no problem with dumpster diving and my husband is a Radiologist.

Jenna said...

So does than this mean if you found sealed tofu in the dumpster you would take it too?? :)

Katrina the Magnificat said...

There's a cool name for it now! Back when my brothers forced me to do it for "fun", it was dumpster diving........;)

Smith Family Blog said...

I think I need to leave a comment, just to be contrary. :) I think it sounds gross. I don't care how much I would wash something-- dumpsters are dirty and carry disease, and I would know it while I was eating! lol

And considering I have an OCD husband who washes his hands 400 times a day, I am sure it would not fly in our household. :)

Plus, when I consider all of the other whacked out ideas Oprah supports, I like to distance myself from everything Oprah. If it wouldn't be entirely wasteful, I would buy something and throw it out immediately, just to spite her. :)

Alaina said...

Yes, I suppose it would mean the tofu, Jenna!

Hey Mailee! I do have to say that Oprah was not saying that people should dig through trash - she thought it was pretty out there and even stated something to the effect that they weren't promoting the viewership to do such. It was a show entitled How Far Would you Go or Living Life on the Edge - something like that. :)

I also got the impression that at least some of the people were pretty careful about what dumpsters they went through. Though I agree that it would be hard to get past the fact that it's dirty etc. :)

I will also agree it's kind of crazy and seems gross but I do think it would give some amazing perspective on the amount of waste in our society. And really an unopened box of cereal wouldn't be so bad. :) I think it would be an interesting experiment and it really did make me think about ways I can do better at conserving and decreasing waste etc. But yeah, K probably wouldn't be into that if he's OCD. :)

Here's the thing I don't quite get - how do they know if something that should be chilled has been constantly chilled? It seems like you would run a pretty high risk of at least eventually getting sick...

Jenna said...

Hey, I just got my weekly "Vegetarian Time" magazine and e-mail and there was this recipe for "Cheese-Free Stuffed Shells" that uses tofu. Obviously I haven't tried it but it looks pretty good and I have liked many of the recipes I have tried from the magazine.

Andrew said...

Yeah, I don't care how much I love ice cream or yogurt - I'm not eating any that's been in the dumpster.

Merrilee said...

I once found a free wire shelving unit by a dumpster. Does that make me a "freegan"??

I think that there must be some clear line that you won't cross if you wanted to do something like this. For instance, if the store threw out meat in July, leave it in the dumpster. Side note: the last time I was in our little grocery store, there was a package of deeply discounted steak "priced to move", which had expired nearly two weeks before and was in the process of turning a lovely greyish brown. That needed to go into the dumpster and stay there.

Oh, and does picking up fresh roadkill count?? I didn't do it but I saw someone else do it.

Yes, I live in a very rural area.

Rachel said...

I didn't see the program, but I've heard of this group before (on the web) and the idea of limiting our waste is very popular right now. I know of, and sometimes read, several blogs that are all about leading a simpler life and/or being frugal and cutting out waste.

And just for full disclosure, there is a part of me that is very attracted to this idea as well. I fall on the side of being frugal most naturally. Maybe it's how I was raised, I don't know. But the older I get the more I wonder what the point is. Reading this article:


was the first time I really thought about it Biblically.

Everyone is to be good stewards of what we are given. And we're all given different amounts. I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with dumpster diving and I especially like the idea of getting food that would otherwise be thrown away and giving it to people who have very little, but is it ever wrong for someone who, for instance, can afford to buy eggs in the store to get them out of the dumpster? I don't know.

In the days of Ruth and Boaz, Ruth would glean the fields to get grain to eat. The workers were required not to pick up what fell on the ground for those less fortunate. Is that like taking eggs from a dumpster and using them for ourselves, when we can afford them in the store?

Is it ever wrong to "waste" something? Use more than we need? Have something luxurious and expensive? Mary poured expensive oil onto Jesus' feet and was accused of wasting it. And then Jesus rebuked them.

I don't know all the answers here and sorry if this is hijacking, but I guess I don't think the freegan lifestyle is balanced. There are people who have to eat out of dumpsters and I don't think it's wrong, but choosing to? I don't know.