The other day I found myself playing host to the young American friend of
another friend. I took him to the Kala
Ghoda Arts Festival and then later we all went out for dinner. He is very
young, let me stress again, only 21, and visiting India for the first time. My
friends and I are all working professionals, working for a couple of years now,
and used to the good life, by and large. At some point, while we were waiting
for dinner, he pulled out his camera and showed us a picture of two people
standing next to a table piled full of what looked like large bulky things.
"It’s cheese," he said, while we nodded politely, "About $
3,500 worth. And we got it all from the dumpster."
Instant recoil of the five Indian heads present.
We wrinkled our noses, some of us laughed, and all of us began to look slightly squeamish. It turns out the young American is part of a rather large movement happening in the US (but mostly New York City, from what I gathered) called Freeganism. They’re people who don’t like to support consumerism and materialism and so, get their food out of garbage dumpsters. Mostly the supermarket kind, where they throw out expiry dated food, but also the residential kind. Our dining companion had found lots of bread, a lambskin trenchcoat, alcohol and vitamins from various garbage dumps.
Being a young Indian, I couldn’t resist the next question. "What do your parents have to say about this?" He smiled, he was really very unselfconscious about the whole thing even while we were laughing in horror, "My mother knows," he said, "But she’s said not to bring it up at family gatherings."
I did a little netsurfing this morning to find out whether this actually existed or whether this was the party story he dined out on. Nope, there’s actually a Freegan website which lists their manifesto:
"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."
They just don’t spend money. Not on food, and from what he said about a
couple of his friends who live in abandoned buildings, not on rent either.
"Squatters are people who occupy and rehabilitate abandoned, decrepit
buildings. Squatters believe that real human needs are more important than
abstract notions of private property, and that those who hold deed to buildings
but won’t allow people to live in them, even in places where housing is
vitally needed, don’t deserve to own those buildings."
I don’t think he got why we were all reacting so strongly. In India, where even sharing food is anathema, taboo, jhoota, the idea of actually going through garbage is nauseating. "What about rats?" I asked. "Oh, rats avoid the dumpsters," he said. "What about cockroaches?" "Well, you just brush them off."
I tried to explain to him that the very materialism he was denying was the one that was serving to feed him. In other words, if everyone was a freegan, no one could be a freegan. "Why don’t you go to a farm and grow food then, if you’re opposed to buying it?" I asked. "We’re just against the waste of food," he said and added, "In an ideal world, there would be no space for freegans.""
The funny thing was, after a little while, it began to make sense. Why was there so much food and other things being wasted? Why couldn’t we too start fishing in garbage bins for our dinner? It seemed like the ultimate revenge against the ‘haves’. But then many years of conditioning kicked in and we just shook our heads at the theory, knowing we’d recount it later.
"You should write a book," I told him, "You could call it Freeganomics.""