Eating straight out of a dumpster was never this much fun. Enter ‘Freeganism’. The phenomenon that denounces all forms of consumerism and capitalism. The people who believe in the simple life, protection of environment and revival of family and social values. The people who live life the basic rustic way; and when it comes to ‘rustic’, they have no qualms going all the way!

In a world where people gather in the wee hours of the morning to purchase their sets of the latest ‘I-phone 3G’, one might find these ‘freegans’, rummaging enthusiastically through garbage dumps behind every possible place- be it a suburban house, a posh restaurant or the city school. Though most of them are capable enough to buy a decent meal and live in a comfortable apartment, yet you’ll find them dressed in clothes that they found a few days ago in a university dumpster, and find their houses decorated with riches collected off the streets. And their meals… I said – straight out of the trash cans!!! But mind you, that doesn’t mean they ignore the basics of hygiene and health. They just believe in recycling and consuming perfectly useful ‘stuff’ that is more than often thrown away by the ‘modernized extra picky’ society of today. So the cracked bottle of completely unused jam that your mom may throw away could be being happily eaten by a freegan!

Freegans do truly live up to the name that they have given themselves. They are ‘free’ — as in it’s free because you found it in a dumpster — and “vegan,” – as in a vegetarian who abstains from all animal products (but there are a lot of freegans who do consume meat and eggs for they believe its better than to let food go waste).Theses ‘dumpster divers’ vehemently oppose the mad race for profit and consumerism. For them, even buying and selling goods has a profit motive. Thus they choose not to buy products and instead go the old ‘barter’ way amongst themselves. Pro recycling and anti environmental degradation, these people repair their own things, grow their own food, hitchhike and cycle and where vehicles are unavoidable, use vegetable oil instead of petrol!!!!

For them it’s all about the planet! People, who in this day and age, where nations and producers madly race each other to win that undefined ultimate glory, chose to quit the luxuries of life and try and reestablish a peaceful, humanity loving rustic society.

But the view that I just gave you is of the ‘western’ style of freeganism. It is the freeganism of UK and USA- the movement that emerged in the mid 90’s out of the anti globalization and environmentalist movements. I however, am a citizen of India, and thus was rather amused when I recently read a statement made by a UK freegan, a Mr. Ross, according to whom it was actually my country India that had inspired him to go the freegan way! His words were to some of the following effect – “In India, they don’t waste anything. People go through the garbage and recycle everything. That’s how they live. In the West, everything is going to landfill.”

“People go through the garbage and recycle everything.” – Really???!!! Have then the citizens of my nation, my ‘brothers and sisters’, been wandering amidst the streets every night searching for food??? Have my teachers, my friends, my neighbors been living the freegan life all this time, while I sat in my comfortable air conditioned room, completely blind to the revolution going on outside??? Alas, I am ashamed then, that I sit here talking and appreciating a phenomenon sweeping across other nations, while my own nation has been the mother and source of inspiration to this phenomenon!!

But then again, maybe the Mr. British Freegan is right. So many people in India do live the freegan way…thousands of them actually. But perhaps during his visit to India, Mr. British freegan , though did see many of us Indians rummaging through the trash cans for food in our ‘belief’ of “recycling everything”, his eyes perhaps conveniently forgot to observe that old woman, in her worn out saree, as she tries to find something in that trash that she could eat. Perhaps he forgot to see the two poor children nibbling on the half eaten orange, while a dog thrashes inside the bin, chewing on left over bones. Perhaps he forgot to notice the fact that unlike the western countries, the many ‘freegans’ in India are not people endowed with gifts that could enable them to adopt this lifestyle voluntarily.

That’s right. ‘Freeganism in India’ – borne not out of choice, but out of force; out of despair. While abroad this group of people who call themselves ‘freegans’ comprise of socially conscious, educated and aware people; in India, our ‘freegans’ are the beggars, the homeless, the orphaned. They are the people who haven’t even heard of terms like ‘global warming’ or ‘deforestation’. They are not there to send out an ‘anti – consumerism’ message. They are not there to bring about a ‘change’ in the society…

They are there because life has forced them to be there. They are there because they don’t have enough money to buy even a piece of bread or a piece of cloth. They are there because that is their only means of survival.

Freeganism in India is far from what its western version is. It’s not an index of global awareness or rising consciousness about our planet. It is not an index of the developing minds. It is actually just the opposite of what development should be. It is symbol that shows that amidst all the progress that nations are incurring, amidst all the technological progress that is happening around us, people are being forced to live off dumpsters. In an age where educated people are voluntarily denouncing the comforts of life for they think they have too much of it, here are unfortunate souls who know no other way to live, rather, to survive.

I still smile at the statement made by the UK ‘freegan’. I smile at the fact that how oblivious he is to the actual concept of ‘freeganism’ in India; the fact that perhaps what he sees as ‘freeganism’ in India is not in fact ‘freeganism’ at all; the fact that the ‘illusion’ that he sees, inspires him to follow this lifestyle himself; the fact that he can call us Indians as true freegans, completely oblivious to the gory truth behind everything….

Well, then again, how can we blame Mr. British Freegan for seeing what he wants to see? Haven’t we Indians ourselves been oblivious for so long to this ‘rising phenomenon of freeganism’ in our own country? Haven’t we also lived most of our lives ignoring the gory side of things? Haven’t we also easily forgotten that old woman fumbling through the garbage can as we drive across her in our air conditioned cars? Are we then not, despite ourselves being nationals of this country, equally blind??!

Mallika Parmar

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