Among the annual dumpster divers, the treasure hunters and the homeless people, there are “freegans.”
Freegans, a term that combines free and vegan, dumpster dive for food, though not always because they need to, but to make a political statement about the wastefulness of society.
“Freeganism — it’s a consciousness about the system of consumption in the post-industrialized world and praxis built on that knowledge,” said freegan Gio Andollo, who volunteers to show media the ropes of freeganism and dumpster diving for freegan.info.
Though always frugal with his money and resources, Andollo said he never considered himself a “consumerist-type person.” In the beginning, he mostly dove for economic reasons.
“(Dumpster diving is) something we’re seeing some people do not by choice, just because of the economy and the way it is,” said Colin Baumgartner, communication director from the Mid-Ohio Food Bank. “Folks are struggling to make ends meet.”
Jordan Myers, a second-year in zoology, wouldn’t call himself a freegan, but strives toward the philosophy of freeganism.
“I’ve been a vegan for two years and that’s a very huge part of my life,” Myers said. “I’m also an anarchist, so the whole freegan part, the whole anti-consumerism, basically sticking it to capitalism and not buying anything — that really appeals to me.”
He volunteers for the Columbus chapter of Food Not Bombs, a non-hierarchal organization that dumpster dives for food and then donates it to the less fortunate.
“Diving for food, you associate that more with the homeless or less fortunate,” Myers said. “But there are also just some trendy and frugal people out there who just really want to appreciate everything.”
Trash tours, organized within the freegan.info group and the Food Not Bombs organization, happen during the night when most businesses are closed. They are normally planned out ahead in groups and are scheduled a couple times a month.
Items such as potatoes, celery, bread, dairy products and even eggs can be found in the dumpster and, according to the freegans, are perfectly edible.
Whatever food that freegans or the volunteers of Food Not Bombs find are used the next day for a potluck.
Freegans mostly find packaged foods and although not all freegans are actually vegan, most tend to stay clear of meat products due to risk of bacteria.
“We take the food back to the site and prepare a meal,” Myers said. “(Food Not Bombs) volunteers eat alongside the less fortunate and talk and get to know each other.”
On Myers’ first trash tour, he was taken to several different grocery stores on state Route 161.
Myers always knew food was wasted, but was still shocked when he and his friend were able to fill his car to the brim with food found from dumpsters.
“Every single point of my car was full to the point that (my friend) was stooped over the console with food on his neck,” Myers said. “I was just blown away because we didn’t pick up all the food and we only hit (some) places.”
There was another instance when he was able to get several commercial-sized bags of bakery items from a grocery store.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website, almost 100 billion pounds of food is wasted each year in the U.S.
“There’s no such thing as ‘away.’ It doesn’t just disappear, it’s somewhere,” Andollo said. “We don’t have an unlimited amount of space to put all of our waste.”
Dumpster diving is not the only part of the freegan philosophy.
Andollo said hitchhiking, or “couchsurfing” (a network of travelers who lend a couch to those who need one) are perfect examples of the freegan philosophy.
“What freeganism is about is not just the consciousness, but then using that knowledge to influence the way we live our lives. It’s not just consumption; it’s everything,” Andollo said. “There’s the whole reduce, reuse and recycle (idea).”
It’s legal to dumpster dive in Columbus, according to the Columbus Police Department, as long as there are no signs stating that it is private property or the dumpsters are not fenced in.
“I don’t really care to look up the laws,” Myers said. “If it was illegal, I would keep diving, regardless.”
While most people would worry about bacteria and food poisoning from dumpster diving, Myers has never heard of anyone getting sick. Andollo said what is disgusting is how much food is wasted.
“As long as the food is properly washed and cooked, you can avoid such complications,” Andollo said. “The same is true whether you got a food item off the shelf or the curb.”