Friday, June 22, 2007

Chinatown, June 2007

The New York Times had an interesting article yesterday about “freegans,” or people who live intentionally off other people’s trash. I can dig that to a certain degree - I’ve certainly picked up my share of cool stuff from the sidewalks of Manhattan on trash day.

The freegans (here's their Web site) go dumpster-diving together at places where there’s likely to be good trash - outside NYU dorms at the end of the semester, for example. They find furniture, art and working televisions. It’s amazing what people throw out.

The freegans go a little too far for me, though. They even eat out of the trash, retrieving discarded food from supermarket refuse.

They’re making a comment about our wasteful society, and it is remarkable that people can live pretty well off what their neighbors throw away. Are Americans wasteful? For sure.

But I’m not sure being a “freegan” really changes the system or makes an effective point. I like the fact that they’re using what would otherwise be wasted, but they’re still living off the same wasteful society.

I think a better answer is to buy carefully. Go ahead and consume, but use restraint in your consuming. Then you’re using your economic power to direct the market toward fulfilling important or essential needs.

And on that subject, I found this very interesting set of maps on Flickr. Check them out. They’re quite illuminating.


  1. If it's perishable, it must be purchased fresh. Eating out of trash can is truly awful.

    But I'm a believer in barter. I put old stuff out on the sidewalks here on Capitol Hill, and often pick up stuff other people leave on their sidewalks. I shop at used clothing stores.

    Mostly, I just don't shop, though, the best way to change the system. I dislike shopping so much.

    I think the consumer mindset is a combination of our culture being spiritually impoverished and trying to fill that vacuum with stuff, along with an identification with the Norse myth cycle. In that harsh climate, at that harsh time, you ate as much as possible, gathered as much stuff as possible, whenever possible since you never knew when you would have the next chance. Oh yeah, and drank as much as possible!


  2. Good morning Steve. I agree with Reya that much of our materialism is symptomatic of an emptiness in our lives.

    I live sixty miles from the Mexican border, so still useful discards are often recycled by second-hand store owners from Mexico.

    Best wishes.

  3. freegans...well we should all embrace our inner freegan a little bit.

    thanx for the linx.

  4. I admit a mix of reaction to this one: part of me says "bravo" and part of me wants to barf. ;-) I think your idea of "proper consumption" by ALL people is right on, though.

  5. I remember when we had to clear out a deceased great aunt's rent-controlled apt in Queens. We carried the TV downstairs into the recycling/common room basement of the bldg and by the time we came back with more stuff from the apt (up and down three floors) someone had taken the television tube! It was amazing how quick things went.

  6. people leave great stuff on the pavement here and it goes in a flash. but the freegans sound feral to me, and i bet they are a bit annoying. your sensible shopping idea is the way forward, not eating out of the dustbins! yuk

  7. For me buying carefully is the better answer, especially thinking carefully about whether I really need to buy whatever I am considering. As for the thrown out food, not a good idea.... although I did see a movie a couple of years back ( The Gleaners or a title like that) part of which showed people in Paris who survive on thrown out food.

    Ms Soup

  8. looks like an american flag composed in

  9. i've got a really nice mat in our hall at the mo., retrieved from someone's housefront on bin day.... not sure where it will go...
    Its also a great way to embarrass my daughter - she hates it when i look in skips.