Freeganism: A New Way of Eating

Preparing the ragout

6 pm, next to the Ménilmontant metro station in the North of Paris, on a Sunday in November. It is very cold but they are right there: a dozen people are distributing free food to Parisians. Ragout, pasta with tofu sauce, salad; everyone can choose what he or she wants and discuss around a good meal.

“Free food to fight against waste,” proclaims one of the organizers to the passersby. Nothing is said, however, about the provenance of the food, which is quite … original. “Today, nearly 100% of the food, except the rice, comes from dumpstering (editor’s note: picking through refuse bins)”, explains  Jamie, one of the founders of the association, called Food Not Bombs.

“For the moment, we don’t tell people that the food comes from dumpsters because, if we did, nobody would try it. People would be afraid to be sick etc.,” Jamie says. “In the future, we will say it to people but only after they have tried it and seen that it is not bad food.”

Jamie, an American girl, and Roberta, one of her French friends, created Food Not Bombs Paris (FNB), a branch of the well-known American organization, a few weeks ago. The idea: every Sunday, to prepare free food with dumpstered products. Food Not Bombs can be described as “freeganism in action.”

Freeganism, a movement first developed in the USA, consists of feeding yourself by salvaging products that otherwise would have been wasted. Nowadays, there are more and more people in Paris who choose this new food habit, which is economically enticing and also, for many of them, a way to live in coherence with their beliefs.

This Sunday is the first experience of “freeganism in action” for Food Not Bombs Paris. All the members arrive around 2pm at La Miroiterie, an artistic squat near the Place de Ménilmontant, in order to cook the meals.  They have already dumpstered for what they need – bread, pasta, salads and many others dishes – in the bins of their neighborhood supermarkets.

Jamie, while washing the perfectly edible-looking lettuce, explains where it comes from: “my husband dumpstered it in a Leader Price bin yesterday.” All of the other dumpstered ingredients are clean and ready to eat, exactly like those you find in a supermarket.

Amount of greens found after the market

Because they want to explore the bins of the area, Roberta and some friends decide later in the afternoon to hunt around for a while. Three minutes after they leave, they stumble upon the tail end of a farmer’s market and salvage a huge amount of greens, especially celery. “We will use it for soup,” rejoices Roberta.

Some of the members of FNB are freegans themselves in everyday life. Jamie for instance has been a freegan for a very long time; she started in the USA and continued with her husband when they moved to Gennevilliers, in the suburbs of Paris. At first, she explains, “it was harder in France because Paris is a big city, so a lot more people are dumpstering.” But today, she estimates that “90% of my food comes from a dumpster. There are only rice and pasta that I can’t find in bins because they never go bad.” When she salvages too much food, Jamie gives it away or trades it with friends.

For her, being a freegan means more than merely eating for free; it is also about “fighting against corporate greed and waste, living alternatively and saving money for yourself.” She doesn’t need to dumpster; she has money to feed herself. If she does, it is more to defend her values.

It is quite the same reason that led Jeanne, a highly-educated girl doing a PHD in philosophy and living in the very popular 19e arrondissement of Paris, to dumpster food : “I dumpster for the sake of individual responsability, in order not to create a demand (for bad products) and to fight against waste of food. My idea with freeganism is to make my way of life comply with my way of thinking.”

“JC”, a master’s student in math who is serving at the Place de Ménilmontant tonight, has been a freegan for a long time, but his motivations are quite different from those of Jeanne and Jamie: “I have no choice. I’m a student, I haven’t got enough money. Thanks to dumpstering, I can cope.” For him, being a freegan is  a necessity.

Preparing the table for free food distribution at Ménilmontant

If he were able to buy meals, he would. To him, dumpstering means always eating the same things, and not particularly good things. “I am eating very badly. What I find in the bins is not diverse at all. Sometimes you salvage many, many pastries and you eat them for a week,” he explains. In French, one often calls this kind of freegans “des glaneurs,” a word coming from a very old rural tradition.

At metro Ménilmontant, it’s the end of retailing for tonight. The organizers congratulate themselves: the night was a great success, with more than 50 people having been served a hot meal. “We just hope that next week, the dumpstering will be as good as it was this week,” Jamie says.

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