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noun [countable]

a person who consumes food that has been thrown away, especially someone who wants to protect the environment by reducing waste




noun [uncountable]

'Ben Flanagan joins the freegans, anti-consumerists who eat supermarket waste that would otherwise be binned …'

The Observer 23rd November 2003

'Freeganism is rooted in a political philosophy that condemns over-consumption and waste in American society.'

The Sacramento Bee 27th May 2003

In most developed countries, hygiene and safety standards are so high that many foods remain safely edible long after their 'use by' or 'best before' dates. This fact, and the concerns of many people about unnecessary waste and the consequent negative effect on the environment, led to the advent of freeganism in 2003. Freeganism is the philosophy of minimising impact on the environment by consuming food that has, quite literally, been thrown away. For the freegan – the name given to those who practise this philosophy – the fact that disposed-of goods have already left the production-consumption cycle absolves them of any feeling of responsibility for resources used in the production process. Freegans therefore collect and consume surplus food from supermarket bins and bakery doorways, food that would otherwise have been taken to a landfill site.

at the radical end of freeganism are some rather extreme practices, such as plate scraping or table diving

Freeganism is usually associated with a political philosophy rather than dietary behaviour, intending to make a strong anti-consumerist statement. It is therefore sometimes associated with the concept of ethical eating, i.e. making considered choices about the food we consume based on ethical principles. However, at the radical end of freeganism are some rather extreme practices, such as what is referred to as plate scraping or table diving, where freegans linger in restaurants to consume discarded food from plates and tables used by other diners. Freegans who engage in this practice are also alternatively described as plate scrapers or table divers.

In the United States, the informal term dumpster diving (with derivatives dumpster dive and dumpster diver) has been coined to refer to the practice of searching waste containers for food or other items of value that can be recycled.

Background – freegan

The term freegan is derived from a blend of the words free and vegan, many of the early proponents of freeganism being vegetarian or vegan. The word has also been used to describe vegans who will eat non-vegan food because it is 'free', i.e. it would otherwise have been thrown away. It has also been suggested that the word freegan is short for free gain, some extreme supporters of the philosophy even advocating shoplifting or vandalism of disposal units used by supermarkets.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 13th February 2004.

Open Dictionary

Dunning-Kruger effect

the phenomenon by which an incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence

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