It's a 'Freegan' feast

For New York's "Freegans", finding apples and bagels in the bags of trash that litter the city's sidewalks is a way of life.

19 Dec 2007

It is a winter evening in Manhattan's Midtown business district and a group of the anti-consumer activists meet up outside a luxury grocery store, timing their run for after the store closes but before the garbage trucks arrive.

They work fast, rummaging through bags and finding a wide array of food: strawberries, sausages, bananas, yogurts, fruit juice and carrots, on this run, bags and bags of carrots.

After a few moments of frantic foraging, they tie the bags back up and lay out an impressive display of goods that they offer to passers-by.

"One strawberry with a little bit of mould, one out of date yoghurt, and they throw everything in the garbage," says one of the urban foragers, Christian Gutierrez, 34, who lives in a squat in Manhattan's trendy SoHo neighborhood.

He wears a Burberry raincoat he's proud to say he found in the trash, as well as shoes that didn't even need re-heeling.

Freeganism, which carries the slogan "life beyond capitalism," is a lifestyle that relies on sharing, recycling and salvaging.

The group work by what they call "urban foraging" and uphold the right to free lodging and voluntary joblessness, because, as the group says in its literature, "man spends all his life working to pay bills and consume."

Gutierrez, who doesn't have a conventional job by choice, runs a mobile workshop making bicycles out of spare parts. "People come to fix their bikes and stay for dinner because my refrigerator is always full," he adds.

Cindy Rosin, 31, who teaches art in one of the city's primary schools, says the group's activities may seem odd to some people, but only because they have got used to the waste inherent in modern societies.

"We grew up trusting that the stores were doing the right thing," she says. "It's difficult to believe that what's in the garbage is not necessarily garbage." "Bagels!" she shouts, opening a black trash bag full of the rolls, which still smell freshly baked.

Passers-by often seem perplexed by what the Freegans are doing on their "trash tours," but the group's members don't take any notice and take home most of what they find.

"Our goal is not to distribute food, but to inform people, to talk about the planet being destroyed, about this terrible waste," says one of the group, Adam Weissman.

Tim Keating, who describes himself as a forager for over 30 years, helps introduce newcomers to the trash tour as well as showing people how they can live on leaves and grains found in the city's parks.

Much of the food from both the city and park foraging goes towards the group's frequent Freegan Feasts. "Help cook at 5:30 pm and eat at 8:30 pm," says one of the group's leaflets.

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