In the following interview Kymberly Matthews talks to Adam Weissman, well-known New York City animal activist and leader in the growing freegan movement.
Kimberly: Adam is not homeless or unemployed, yet he chooses to use and eat discarded things. But it’s not that gross. Delicious fruits and vegetables, fresh bread, yoghourts, unopened bags of chips, these are just some of the perfectly good foods freegans find and consume. Okay Adam, what is freeganism?
Adam: Freeganism is a strategy for reducing waste , saving money so we can work less, and minimizing the impact of our consumption. Freegans are building a culture where people help and share with one another instead of competing for resources.
Kimberly: For many people, it seems an impossibility to live a freegan lifestyle. I completely understand why you do it, but how do you do it?
Adam: We concentrate on urban foraging, recovering wasted food, books, clothing, office supplies and other things from that shops throw out.
Kimberly: But aren’t most of those things old or broken?
Adam:Actually, no. Most things are frequently discarded in brand new condition. Many times they are thrown out simply because a new model has come in and customers no longer want the old one.
Kimberly: Where do you usually go for breakfast?
Adam: My refrigerator. I fill my fridge about once a week during our foraging expeditions. I constantly find far more than I can use at city supermarkets. In fact, I usually find so much that I pick up all that I have the strength to carry, give as much as I can to people I run into on the street on my way to the bus station. I often give away about 30 pounds of food, and still am left with enough food to last me a week!
Kimberly: So you live exclusively on what you can pick up in the streets?
Adam: Not exclusively. We also pick wild plants and medicinals. These can be found everywhere from the deep woods to a city park.
Kimberly: I have heard that you also participate in free markets. How does that work?
Adam: In fairs like the “Really, Really Free Market” and in permanently established “Free Stores,” people donate things they don’t want and others find things they can use. We also repair and mend items instead of tossing them out and organize workshops to teach others to do the same.
Kimberly: What about housing? What kind of places do you live in?
Adam: We typically squat , finding abandoned, decrepit buildings and restoring them into homes and community centers.
Kimberly: But isn’t squatting illegal?
Adam: Squatting fights against a system where homeless people freeze to death on the streets while landlords and municipal governments keep thousands of buildings closed.
Kimberly: In addition to not participating in consumerism, how else does freeganism help the environment?
Adam: We see automobiles and the petroleum economy as a social and ecological disaster and promote more sustainable methods of travel.
Kimberly: Like, for example?
Adam: Bicycling is healthy and doesn’t generate pollution, so volunteer groups called bike collectives teach people to repair abandoned and broken bikes.
Kimberly: But sometimes it is necessary to use cars, right?
Adam: Freegans who need to use cars avoid petroleum dependence by converting their diesel engines to run on used oil from restaurants, turning a waste product into an ecologically-friendly fuel.
Kimberly: Is it true that freegans support the idea of working less?
Adam: By buying less “stuff” and taking care of essential needs without paying money, we are able to work less or not at all. This is motivated not by “laziness,” but by a desire to spend time in community service, activism, caring for family, etc.
Kimberly: The word ‘freegan’ is a combination of ‘free’ and ‘vegan’, which means ‘strict vegetarian’. Does that mean freegans don’t eat meat, eggs or milk products?
Adam: I don’t, but I have no objection for those who recover discarded animal products. Living beings have always consumed dead beings, keeping matter and energy a constant part of the life cycle. Personally, when I die, I want my body abandoned in the woods so that it can feed other animals.
Kimberly: What inspired you to take on this lifestyle?
Adam: As I became more aware of the ways my consumer life was influencing other people, I started to make changes in my lifestyle, first I became vegetarian, then I became vegan, then I decided to eat only organic foods.
Kimberly: But that wasn’t enough?
Adam: It was until I realized that “organic” did not mean “animal-friendly.” Organic farmers will shoot, trap and poison mammals, birds and insects as much as non-organic farmers—they just don’t do it with pesticides.
Kimberly: The ideals of freeganism—and you in particular—have been in the media quite a bit lately. What has the public response been?
Adam: Literally millions of people are learning about freeganism and seeing freegans as serious people rather than as freaks rummaging in garbage. And because TV programs have shown that the things we recover are of really good quality, people’s expectations of dirty and decaying food are changing.
Kimberly: Okay, Adam, let’s get a little personal now. If you had a date, would you go to a restaurant or…?
Adam: Dating? Who has time for dating? I spend almost every day doing interviews like this!
SATYA, online magazine about vegetarianism, environmentalism, animal advocacy and social justice.