The Raw Vegan: Thoughts on Freegans and Dumpster Diving

Freegan HaulOprah had three Freegans on her show. In my part of the world, they are known as Dumpster Divers. This isn’t something I’ve ever done but one of my forum members does it regularly. I have read up on it some but that’s as far as I’ve gotten.

I found this by googling “freegan”. I couldn’t get to the site (it comes up “forbidden”) so I clicked on “cached” and there was the portal.

The word freegan is compounded 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.

I would say that’s a very good description of the people I saw on Oprah except for the fact they aren’t vegan. Not even close. So the title seems to me to be a misnomer. Dumpster Diver fits better.

I have relatives who have made a living dumpster diving. They used to have a junkyard in the middle of a small town until it was condemned and they had to vacate the premises. Neither the couple or the woman diver I saw yesterday are taking it to that extent.

The recently married couple is well educated—one an optometrist and the other a (I think) chemical engineer. The woman has a career paying six figures and she spent six months becoming a freegan. They all three routinely tour the dumpsters and discarded items on the curbs to get their food, clothes, and furniture. Except for shopping in resale stores, the woman hasn’t bought any clothing for three years. The female part of the couple admitted to buying clothes occasionally.

Lisa Ling, the reporter, had gone on a Trash Tour with a group of Divers and was excited with her haul of muffins and a box of cereal. Not something I would be interested in except to share with someone who would eat them. But would they eat them if they found out they came from a supermarket’s dumpster?

The couple showed off their pantry and refrigerator. The pantry was well-stocked with canned goods (most without labels), boxed and bagged items. The fridge had frozen foods, eggs, milk, juices, and one tiny drawer of fruit that would last a raw vegan for maybe a day. I’ll have to say it was beautiful and appeared to be perfectly sound but not the quantity I would need.

The supper they treated Lisa to was pizza (frozen) and peas (from one of the mystery cans). They had gotten bagged salad out of the trash, too, so I would assume they had salad as well.

It is an admirable way of life but I have misgivings about trying to fit it into my routine.

First, I would need to suit up in clothes I would have to buy because I don’t own them already. That would involve time and expense. Required are a heavy jacket, heavy pants, heavy gloves, and sturdy shoes. These must all be items I wouldn’t care to get dirty and/or torn. Essential is a flashlight, or to keep my hands free, a headlamp. I could view these items as an investment.

Second, I would have to be up past my bedtime because most successful diving takes place at night. There are too many people around in the daytime. Plus that’s when the garbage trucks make their pickups. It would be heartbreak to get all suited up just to find an empty dumpster.

Third, it would be necessary for me to learn the schedules of shipments to the supermarkets (that’s where I’d start). Supposedly, all the current food is pitched when the new shipments come in. I say “supposedly” because one I usually shop leaves disintegrating food in the bins along with the fresher stuff. Do they actually think I would take the old produce off the top rather than the fresh farther down in the pile? The other will mark the older fruit and veggies down and try to sell it before it’s thrown out. In either case, I don’t think these would be good sources.

Fourth, I would have to go farther afield to find better gleaning. With gas prices as they are today and the fact that the supermarkets are miles apart, that could add up to a lot of driving, cost, and pollution. To me, the metropolitan areas are where the best pickins’ are.

Fifth, This isn’t something I would want to do alone. Dumpster divers don’t go around telling people that’s what they do after dark so I don’t know how I would find anyone who is into this extracurricular activity. That could be a problem. Maybe I could talk to my friends and suggest it to them. But how would I broach the subject? “Hey! I’m on my way to go dig in garbage tonight to see if I can find food for tomorrow! Wanna go with me?” I might have to come up with another line.

Sixth, that brings up something else. My first trip out, at least, I would want to go with someone who is experienced and knows the ropes. Far as I know, there are no classes offered in dumpster diving. There are web sites that specialize in charting dumpster locations but my search of good ones in my zip code came up empty. Which would mean there aren’t very many divers in my neck of the woods. Or they are keeping their “top picks” secret.

Seventh, when I do hit paydirt (is that a good way to describe it?) I’d want to be sure the food is reasonably fresh. Even if it is, some supermarkets pour bleach on the stuff they throw out to discourage diving. No way could I redeem that and make it edible. If anything is past its prime, I don’t want to eat it, anyway, so produce that is squishy, smelly, or brownish (unless it’s kiwifruit or Bosc pears) would be out. That’s already on its way to being compost. My forum member got 84 pints of blueberries on one of her forays. She had to pick through to dispose of the bad ones. Would I have time to do that? That’s 10 and a half GALLONS!

Eighth, I would have to decide if I’m diving for food I would normally eat or if I’m going to try for things I could share with my friends and neighbors. My FM (forum member) once happened upon a lot of broccoli and mushrooms. She gave them away. I’d have to, too. I might use a small amount but not much.

Ninth, I would have to learn where the dumpsters are I’d need to avoid. Some stores use compactors. Dangerous. Others string razorwire or barbed wire around theirs. Another deterrent is locks. Could be more trouble than its worth for a few apples or lemons.

Tenth, Dr. Graham’s mantra is “whole, fresh, ripe, raw, organic, fruits and shoots…” Seems getting food out of a dumpster might violate the fresh part of this.

Conclusion: This is something that could take a lot of time and effort as well as maybe not being suitable for a raw vegan. I’m short on time and effort while I’m working a full-time job and trying to keep things going at home. Seems it might fit someone who cooks better. I’m not sure this is for me. Maybe when I retire I’ll look into it…

On the list of recommended reading is The Art and Science of Dumpster Diving and the article Dumpster diving: an Introduction.

6 Responses to The Raw Vegan: Thoughts on Freegans and Dumpster Diving

  1. Dee February 29, 2008 at 11:28 am #

    I go garbage picking – is that the same??? I scored a full length broken mirror and 56,000 toothpicks this week from my neighbor’s trash. One thing different, my “finds” are not going to be consumed, they are for my mosaic crafting- I wouldn’t even use the toothpicks (plastic wrapped sealed in boxes )for anything else but glue application.
    OY! Dumpster Diving puts a lump in my throat- I’m with you, I don’t think this would be for me either! Have a great weekend!

  2. Tommie February 29, 2008 at 8:34 pm #

    I’m no expert on this subject. Seems any amount of gleaning from the garbage could make you a participant. And it isn’t that you wouldn’t have gone out to buy the items. If you can use it (or give it to someone who will) it isn’t winding up in a landfill somewhere.

    Did you count all those toothpicks or are you related to Rain Man?

  3. dee March 2, 2008 at 7:37 pm #

    ….Rain Man 🙂

  4. Tommie March 2, 2008 at 9:22 pm #

    Aha! Now we know. They’ll keep an eye on you in Vegas!

  5. NOB September 18, 2014 at 1:37 am #


    • Tommie September 18, 2014 at 8:01 am #

      And a good morning to you, NOB.

      My parents have both passed away so I can’t get their clothes but thanks for the suggestion. Oh! I do have my mother’s warm scarf. Would that do?

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