Political Dumpster Diving Trivializes Poverty

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The U.S. Census estimates 1 in every 7 Americans lives in poverty. In 2009, a reported 31,000 Ohioans were impoverished. The grim reality remains that many Ohio families still struggle to find adequate food, shelter, and basic necessities. Social agencies and organizations are always trying to bring attention to the plight of the poor and some groups are creating innovative ways to highlight poverty.

In recent years, a trend has emerged that combines environmental justice with poverty issues. It’s called “freeganism”. Freeganizm, in theory, works to shed light on economic and environmental justice. In practice, it just trivializes poverty.

The concept of “freeganism”, which combines the terms “free” and “vegan”, developed within the past decade as a way to critique capitalism and consumer waste. Freegans aim to diminish their own personal waste habits by dumpster diving for discarded food from grocers, bakeries, and restaurants. Through their filtering of garbage, freegans live off the waste of “big businesses” and illustrate the amount of waste produced in American society.

In a way, their actions critique capitalism and consumerism. Freegans also work to create environmental awareness about recycling and sustainability. Freegans have slowly gained momentum nationally and in Ohio. The Cleveland Dumpster Divers group come together via the website meetup.com. And the freegan collective Food Not Bombs, which serves vegan meals made from pilfered dumpster food to Ohio’s homeless, has more than 10 chapters across the state.

I understand the political implications of freeganism and agree that we should pay attention to wasteful consumer habits. But living free off of other people’s waste inappropriately trivializes the stark reality of deprivation that some Ohioans experience on a daily basis. While freegans choose to dumpster dive as a political stance, some people don’t have a choice.

Food banks and shelters do an excellent job feeding hungry Ohioans, but the truth is that some still rely on the discarded leftovers from restaurants and grocers. Eating dumpster food to make a political statement diminishes the harsh actuality of those who have no other choice.

Furthermore, vegans choose to eat a diet void of animal products, oftentimes for political reasons. Yet, being so selective about one’s diet is elitist, not anti-capitalist. Our society is so wealthy that we can choose to avoid certain foods in order to live the political lifestyle we desire. We are so rich that we can eat “poorly”.

So by embracing the dumpster-diving diet, freegans mimick the lifestyle of those in poverty without actually living in poverty. Not only are they “free” of consumption, but they are also “free” of worry about hunger and shelter.

Clearly, freeganism was formed to instigate social activism and awareness about economic and environmental injustice, and I agree that encouraging individuals to be aware of food waste and recycling is important.

True, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, but dumpster diving for vegan meals is in poor taste . . . in more ways than one.

  • TCE

    So it’s automatically poor taste if you do something voluntarily that someone else is forced to do? I don’t see any real arguments why dumpster diving is immoral here, only annoyance at the type of people who do it.