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Insider's guide to freeganism

By Jackie Dent for CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Ever felt guilty about the food or the old television you chucked out? Perhaps you are a freegan at heart. Ever seen a group of healthy-looking young people going through the garbage and wondered what they are up to? Perhaps you have had a rare sighting of a freegan.

What is a freegan? A freegan is a social activist who, repulsed by the waste produced by modern society, has taken to eating food and collecting goods that have been thrown away. Freegans are driven by an anti-capitalist dogma, mixed with environmental, anti-globalization and some vegan ideals.

As the movement's manifesto (click hereexternal link) declares: "Freeganism is a total boycott of an economic system where the profit motive has eclipsed ethical considerations and where massively complex systems of productions ensure that all the products we buy will have detrimental impacts most of which we may never even consider. Thus, instead of avoiding the purchase of products from one bad company only to support another, we avoid buying anything to the greatest degree we are able."

Where does a freegan eat? A freegan usually finds food that has passed its use-by-date from large rubbish bins outside supermarkets, fast food outlets, bakeries and farmers' markets. Other freegans forage in woods or in parks for edible plants or fungi. To get some handy hints, watch British restaurant critic Giles Coren going freegan for the day on YouTube (click hereexternal link.)

What else do they believe? They are basically iHippies, endorsing working less, recycling, hitchhiking, cycling and squatting.

Where did the word freegan come from? "Freegan" comes from the blending of the words "free" and "vegan". It has also been suggested it comes from "free" and "gain".

What about meagans? A meagan is a meat-eating freegan, unconcerned by use-by-dates on dumped meat and dairy products. Meagans and some freegans also argue that a vegan diet is not pure as it consists of products that have an unethical provenance.

"The freegan goes further than the vegan," declares the manifesto, "noticing the plastic the tofu hot dogs are wrapped in, and thinking of fish and birds asphyxiating in slicks of oil in seas turned black with spilled crude."

Is there a movement leader? No. But Adam Weissman, a U.S. freegan, has set up, a site which outlines the movement, as well as offering a guide to hot foraging spots across the U.S.and Canada.

For example, in Brooklyn, on Remsen street, freegans reported: "On a recent weekday night at about 10 p.m. we found abundant supplies of spelt bread, yogurt, smoked salmon, some tofu and other non-produce goodies in great shape."

How much food is wasted each year? According to the anthropologist Tim Jones, from the University of Arizona, as much as $90 to $100 billion worth of food in the U.S. is wasted each year. Meanwhile, in the UK, the Environment Agency estimates the food and drinks industry generates 10 million tonnes of waste each year, a third of which has the potential for consumption.

Are freegans taking food from the homeless? Some food retailers and wholesalers, frustrated by stringent policies that mean they must throw out food when it is past its use-by-date, donate food to homeless charities. In the UK, the charity Fareshare collects donated food from over 100 retailers and regular wholesalers, and distributes it to the homeless. Furthermore, freegans claim they only take what they need.

How much hunger is there in the world? The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimated in 2004 that more than 30 percent of the world's population in more than 70 developing countries are hungry.

A freegan usually finds food that has passed its use-by-date from large rubbish bins.

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