Becoming a freegan goes much deeper than adopting a name or joining an organisation. It has more to do with changing our attitude, priorities and lifestyle to become more sustainable. It is important to recognise that no one does this perfectly and that there are many paths to greater sustainability.
We have reached a point in human history where fundamental changes are necessary, both in our relationship to one another and to the environment. However, it is much better that we take small steps than choose to take no steps at all. Each step we take toward greater sustainability should increase the likelihood that we choose to take further steps, as our lives become positively affected by the previous steps we've taken. It's been said 'a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step'. How true!
Freegans see the current socio-economic system as being unsustainable mainly due to the irrational policies that underline it. These policies are short-term in nature and are generally based around preserving the vested interests of the ruling elite (e.g. gaining popularity/votes in a democratic system), rather than the long-term good of the entire planet.
We regularly become complicit with the irrationalities of this system, usually at two main points of interaction: (1) How we spend our money; and (2) Who we give our time to. Freegans look for ways to reduce the damage caused by their involvement with this system, by spending less and by using their time positively rather than in the pursuit of more money.
Freegans would like to see a world where money is not used any more, as people come to realise that it really is not needed. Money only exists because of mankind's distrust and greed. The alternative to this is trust and sharing. The more we share with one another, the more our trust grows and the more we make the alternative a reality rather than just a theory.
Ultimately, freegans would like to see the complete breakdown of the current, flawed economic system and a replacement to be set up, based around such precepts as community, altruism, and long-term thinking.
This isn't going to happen overnight. Unless radical changes are made, and made quickly, it is more realistic to expect that the environment will force us to make fundamental changes before people in power will choose to do so! However, freegans see the need to lead by example, because waiting for others to do the right thing only serves to perpetuate the problem.
A CHANGE IN ATTITUDE
Is it possible to separate what we think/believe from who we are? Not if we wish to be sincere. If we're not living it, then our words become hollow and hypocritical. However, the truth is, that we are all hypocrites to some degree. But we can reduce this inconsistency by making our lives more consistent with our beliefs. As we do this, we will become a clearer example and greater source of help to others.
In the West we are bombarded by an extremely individualistic, 'wants-rather-than-needs' ideology each day. We are heavily conditioned from an early age to carve out a life for ourselves and our families, without truly considering the impact our way of thinking and living has on the wider world.
The truth is that we are all interconnected and interdependent. In addition to this, the world has a finite amount of resources. As we near the end of the earth's oil and mineral resources, this is becoming more real to most of us. So when we choose to take more than our fair share, we need to think about how it will affect others (those who go without because of it), as well as how it is going to affect future generations, as there are less resources to go round for us all.
Consciously choosing to think about the negative impact that selfishness and greed has on us and others is an important step in the process of changing our attitudes. The knock-on effect of this should be that we will just naturally WANT to be more sustainable, and it will result in real changes.
A CHANGE IN PRIORITIES
Once our attitude changes, it is likely that our priorities will change too.
Most of us in the West are encouraged to accumulate enough wealth to become financially secure so we can afford the luxuries that we have come to take for granted over here. It is easy to for us to believe that this is quite acceptable, without ever questioning whether it is right and/or sustainable.
A good, basic definition for sustainability is a situation where everyone can indefinitely maintain the same lifestyle/practices as ourselves. If it does not work for everyone, and if it cannot work indefinitely, can we really say that it works at all? Regularly asking ourselves this question should lead to changes in our priorities.
Re-prioritizing our hierarchy of needs to become (more) sustainable is an intrinsic aspect of freeganism. At the top of most people's priority of needs in the West are such things as material prosperity, respectability, security, and good health; whereas freegans see such things as having purpose, a clear conscience, good relationships with others and with the environment, as being more important. Paradoxically, when we choose to put these more intrinsic rewards higher up on our list of priorities, usually we end up discovering that we don't need many of the material things we were pursuing previously.
A CHANGE IN LIFESTYLE
Changing our attitude and priorities is an important steps in changing our way of life. Below are some ideas and principles to assist this process further.
(1) Sell and Simplify
It's healthy to take a long, hard look at everything we own and to ask ourselves questions like, 'Do I really need this?'; 'When was the last time I actually used it?'; and/or 'Could someone else benefit more from having this item than me wasting it by letting it sit idle?'
Selling stuff increases the chances that it will go to someone who will use it, but giving stuff away feels good, as long as you know that it is going to someone who will make good use of it. Usually, once we've responsibly discarded useless junk, and/or re-distributed useful items that we currently have no need of, we end up forgetting about these material items soon afterwards. Occasionally you will regret that you parted with something that you later needed, but it is usually offset by the benefits of having simplified your life. A great Internet tool for facilitating this simplification process is 'Freecycle', which enables people to advertise items they wish to give away for free to the first person who comes along to pick it up. Alternatively, donating items, or the proceeds of selling unused items, directly to needy people is a great way to feel good while simplifying our lives.
Being surrounded by clutter creates an untidy, disorganised feel. It also makes it harder to find items we need, from amongst so many other belongings. Have you ever bought something because you couldn't find what you were looking for, only to have it turn up later, leaving you with an extra that you do not need? This is another way that having too many possessions can create waste.
If we experience a genuine need to purchase items, it is much better to buy good quality, second-hand goods, that have been made to last. We live in a disposable, 'throw-away' culture, where goods can often be bought cheaply because they have been made to break down. Because they cost so little to begin with, we often miss the point that their disposal represents a much higher cost to the environment. Millions of cheaply-made, often unrecyclable items are discarded in landfill each day.
(2) Recycle and Re-use
Being creative with what we have, not only saves money and resources; it's great fun too! Getting the most out of an item is another form of waste prevention. When we buy a replacement item because we are too lazy to continue using or mending the existing one, our increased consumption negatively influences both the environment and ourselves.
There is a wonderful joy in being a good caretaker of what we have, in contrast to what is collectively called 'consumerism'. The buzz we feel by engaging in unnecessary retail therapy (shopping sprees) is often followed by feelings of emptiness and disappointment. Much of what we buy fails to live up to our pre-shopping expectations.
Advertisers, marketeers and retailers spend literally billions each year on elaborate campaigns and strategies aimed at deceiving people into spending billions more than they need to spend. They play on our fears and greed, and use our natural urges (e.g. the sex drive) to manipulate us into purchasing unnecessary luxury items. We need to recognise this and consciously resist it.
The fact is, we need very little to be content. The best way for us to see through the lie of consumerism is to realise that we don't have to play by the rules of this game at all... a game that isn't actually favourable to us anyway.
A popular freegan practice which embodies this concept well is 'dumpster-diving', or 'skipping', where usable resources, such as groceries, are liberated from the backs of supermarkets or industrial skips. This is the aspect of freeganism which has attracted the most media attention, although it is probably the one least used by the masses (often for fear of what others will think of us, but just as often because of ignorance or misinformation about such things as the dangers connected to it). Many freegans have found that they have been able to live almost entirely using this form of provision. There is much more information available for those who are prepared to take this next giant leap toward reducing their own consumerism and recycling the waste that an affluent society is guilty of.
Summing up, a major aspect of freeganism is learning to be resourceful and responsible with what we have in order to get the most out of it. Choosing to do this will naturally lead to us reducing our consumption levels.
(3) Communication and Community
Considering the impact our life has on the wider community should lead to us investigating how others live, what their needs are and how we can help to fill them.
The experience, skills, and expertise of others is often overlooked and wasted in today's individualistic, divided world. Helping one another and learning from one another are two simple ways to be more sustainable, and more fulfilled. Sharing in this way can be extremely energy efficient too. For example, a few people cooking up a meal for many others on a rotational basis can lead to drastic savings in gas, electricity, water, time, money, materials etc.
Communication is also important in terms of developing positive relationships. In our pursuit for more wealth and possessions, relationships often suffer and we end up having less time to enjoy life. It is better to work less and to enjoy the time we spend working and playing, than to slave away in a job our heart is not in, simply to secure a large pay packet.
Freeganism is about being positively connected to others and having the courage to do what we believe is right even if by system standards 'it does not pay'.
It is much easier to stay inspired with the ideals and practices we try to follow if we find fellowship with other sincere people who are also attempting to live out what they believe. Encouraging one another is another important aspect of being a freegan.
(4) "Best use of resources"
Resources are not just physical entities. Time and energy are valuable resources too and need to be factored in to any decision-making process, especially when considering issues of sustainability.
Other considerations such as cost (financial and otherwise) and ethics (relating to such things as the impact our actions may have on others for good, or bad), also need to be considered.
For example, if we spend a lot of time, energy and/or cost (in terms of fuel) on searching for free food, the benefit (i.e. finding free food) may end up being offset by our additional expenditure of resources (i.e. time, energy and cost). Although some hard-line freegans may disagree, there does seem to be a time and place for spending money, as long as we are sincerely weighing up the criteria for making good, sustainable decisions and not just being lazy and/or greedy.
If we are consistent in weighing up these criteria when making decisions, it is likely that our decisions will be wiser and lead to more sustainable practices.
Being considerate begins with taking the time to consider the bigger picture.
Being a freegan is more about following principles than about being all in (a "member") or all out (a "non-member") of a group. It is impossible to list every conceivable freegan action one could take. Whether we choose to dumpster-dive, cycle instead of drive, compost, turn off lights that aren't being used, or choose to volunteer our time helping out in the local or wider community, we are becoming part of this movement whenever we are letting ourselve be guided by sensitivity and consideration of others, and of the world we all share. With the right attitude our list of priorities will change and so will our way of life.
This may not be exactly what someone who is looking for a complete freegan rule book wishes to hear! However it is the best advice I can offer and the surest way, in my opinion, to become a 'better' freegan.