In the globalized corporate version of capitalism under which we now live, all things are reduced to commodities to be bought and sold. People, animals, and the Earth are viewed solely in economic terms, assessing their value as they relate to profit margins without appreciating their intrinsic and interdependent value.
Our society is in a collective state of denial of the fact that it is dooming itself and much of the rest of life on the planet. We laud mass over-consumption as “economic growth” and the destruction of wilderness as “progress”. As we come closer to reaching the carrying capacity of this planet, our assumption that the Earth has unlimited resources and can take unlimited pollution is choking the life out of everything. Already millions of humans die of starvation. Already countless animals die as a result of the destruction of their native ecosystems — forests cleared for timber or cattle-grazing, rivers dammed, fertile plains turned to deserts through punishing agriculture. Already Earth and her inhabitants are set ablaze as oil barons and their pawns in government wage one imperialist war after another.
Already animals are treated as machines in factory farms — not chickens, but “egg-laying units”. They are viewed little differently than the workers who handle them, usually poor people subjected to miserable conditions, poor wages, and long hours. The most miserably exploited of workers are poor people of color, reviled and scorned by the white working class who enjoy one degree more privilege than they and who are taught to blame immigrant workers and mothers of color for their economic hardship and the emptiness of their lives.
It is that very emptiness that marketing executives, military recruiters, televangelists, pornographers and teabaggers seek to exploit, offering an illusion of power and someone to blame. But this emptiness, shared even by those at the upper strata of political and economic power, is the emptiness of an animal far from home, separated from family and community, detached from a history of eons lived as part of a tapestry of life. We hear faintly the call of that which we were part of, that which we were and maybe can be again. But rather than answering it, we seek to silence it, relishing and guarding our own, often meager slice of privilege and status by applying the boot fiercely to the next one down — the Irish cop who brutalizes Latino youth, the son of a Holocaust survivor who orders the bombing of a Palestinian home, the immigrant worker who finds entertainment in cockfighting.
Freegans say enough of this. We reject it all — the drive for status, the lust for wealth, the sense of power and accomplishment from the purchase of needless commodities. We provide for our needs without feeding the monster. In a system tied to oppression, our jobs will ultimately harm others, the money we spend will be cycled into an economy that harms others. This is inevitable because it is this cutting of corners, the lack of consideration for others, this margin sliced out of equal sharing to provide for need that defines profit and that fuels this economic system.
We view the commodities being marketed to us and see them for what they are — misery and suffering with a clean coat of paint. For instance, a pair of Nike shoes is a teenage sweatshop worker who knows that standing up for basic dignity, challenging the toil and cruelty and starvation, will mean being fired into an even greater starvation and hardship.
We also look askance at the range of products sold to us as “socially responsible”. Corporations never seek to include the impact of their social and ecological cost – what they call “externalities”. For argument’s sake, let’s look at vegan Boca Burgers.
Freegans see the card stock wrapper and think of the serene forest erased from the future. They look at the bleached stock and think of the tons of carcinogenic organochlorides invading waterways. They note the inner plastic “freshness seal” and see barrels of petroleum, some as oil spills killing fish and birds, some as climate-changing carbon emissions from the fuel for shipping and factory power, some processed into plastic that will choke our rivers and seas for thousands of years after its one-time use. Freegans remember the deer shot and insects poisoned as “pests”, and the worms, voles and other creatures crushed by the enormous machinery used by modern agribusiness. They remember the farm worker, underpaid and overworked, sending funds home to a country impoverished through imperialism by a government serving the interests of the wealthy corporate elite. They realize that most industrially-produced soy is genetically modified, and that the genetic code of those plants is “owned” by a corporation. Finally, Freegans realize Kraft Foods bought Boca because it saw the huge profits it could make off people who are trying to eat more healthily and responsibly.
Freegans know this system cannot be shaken at its roots if we spend our dollars in one store or another, buy one product or the next, or vote for one corporate-backed political candidate over the other.
The sickness is as old as the idea that anything on this Earth can be owned by one rather than shared by many, as old as the idea that living beings and sections of the Earth can be owned at all.
We want to tear down the barbed wire of this system’s laws, the stone edifices of its economic precepts, and to break the chains of its ideologies.
We harken back to older ways, where people lived as participants, not masters in the continuum of life. We remember our nomadic foraging ancestors. Living in the cities and suburbs that have replaced the wild, we forage, recovering the usable goods wasted by a society that values artifice and image over substance and value, a culture that views the massive over-production of waste as another opportunity for profit through the garbage disposal business.
So freegans rescue capitalism’s castoffs from the jaws of the garbage truck compactor, defying capitalism’s definitions of what is valuable and what is worthless. Since the goods are salvaged and therefore do not support the destruction behind the market, freegans can have a clear conscience about enjoying these goods. But we need to be mindful not to be too charmed by their allure. We know the history of what we consume and always remember the ravages of the culture that produced them.
As freegans we liberate not only goods but also the moments of our lives. Hours not spent carrying out the hollow directives of bosses are instead spent free, since we don’t need to make money to acquire goods that we won’t buy. Instead, we spend our time directly acquiring, repairing and making the things we need, working to share skills and create alternatives—and just plain enjoying our time.
We believe that our consumption practices, while important and even revolutionary if practiced en masse, must be one small thread as we weave the fabric of a new society and mend the garment of the old.
We envision and strive to create a world where humans recognize that all sentient beings have the right to live their lives on their own terms in appropriate ecosystems. We work to create a world where we, as people, recognize our kinship and solidarity with all life. We envision a world where people reject the arbitrary boundaries that have been used as justifications for oppressions. Regardless of our species, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, or any other constructed boundary, we are all one.
We believe another world is possible because another world is necessary — because too much suffering has transpired for too long, and more awaits unless we change course. We seek to live consistent with our beliefs of minimizing harm to others while seeking to help, heal, and enrich lives wherever we can.
In truth, freeganism is seeing beauty and value in that which is ignored, seeing horror behind the lies of the powerful, and seeing an enduring vision of hope for a world alive, flourishing, and free.
Free the trash!