Friday, September 28, 2007

If you like this, try freegan

So your Ramadan compact is going well, you haven't been tempted by lunch time shopping and the promise of new office clothes (unlike me), you find this break from consumerism a nice way to be a more eco-friendly person. Well I have a challenge for you: Freeganism.

A word combining free and vegan, Freegans are somewhat the extreme of the anti-consumerist lifestyle. They are best known for their "dumpster-diving" - salvaging food and other products that are still edible but thrown away due to whatever reason (excess inventory, expiration date, etc). In the current issue of Newsweek, Raina Kelly describes the month she spent living like a vegan. (See Freegan Ride: Are freegans oddballs or sages? NEWSWEEK's Raina Kelly spent a month living as one to find out.) Some excerpts:
America's overconsumption is legendary. We struggle with morbid obesity, use 25 percent of the world's oil and buy houses we can't afford. If the mildest projections are true, we are recklessly contributing to the warming of the planet. OK, we've made some changes, but does anyone really believe that "carbon offsetting" is anything other than eating your cake and having it, too?

I would live as a freegan for a month. I had nine rules: I would be a vegan who bought nothing but local and/or organic food. I would use only ecofriendly transportation, cut my electricity bill in half and erase my carbon footprint. My mantra would be "Recycle, reuse, renew," while never forgetting to reflect on my impact on the Earth before acting. Any money I saved would go into a "Freedom Savings Account" and be used toward allowing me to quit my 9-to-5 as soon as possible. That's tough work for an eBay-loving, omnivorous, cigarette-smoking shopaholic. But I was determined to change my profligate ways. I would transform myself into an eco-princess—a green goddess.

But you would be surprised at what freegans find in the garbage. I'd bet that you would eat it. I saw trash bags full of bagels so fresh that when they were opened, the air filled with the aroma of freshly baked bread. I also saw canned goods and even toilet paper among the rubbish. The USDA estimates that more than 90 billion pounds of food is wasted in America every year—much of it from inefficient ordering and inventory systems.
The rest of the article describes her cravings for a Target shopping spree and meat-deprivation. In the end, she finds herself changed and not ready to go "flying back into the arms of my local Target without a glance back" but not willing to give "shopping in the trash" a try either. Instead she decides on a path that incorporates small changes to do her (small?) bit in reducing waste and helping the environment. Check out her blog for a daily freegan diary.

Also check out the related article "The Noble Scavenger on The Living-Room Couch: There have been romantic rebels against civilization almost since it began. But civilization has a way of winning out (Jerry Adler)". Not endorsing the entire article (especially the bit about Native Americans eating their horses?! I'm not an expert but it seems a bit ajeeb to me). Adler writes:
Six billion people, however much we may deplore their impact on the environment, cannot sustain themselves by foraging for nuts and tubers. The way out isn't backward, but forward, by using our wisdom, and even our much criticized technology, to forge a better and more humane society.
Which reminds me of how Prophet Muhammad (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) described Islam as the middle way, not on either extreme. And this is the question that comes to my mind most often when thinking about the environmental crisis: what is the middle way? Extremism is easy, but balance is not. While I agree with most of the Freegan beliefs, I wonder what is the best way to have these ideas accepted by the larger society. What is the way that comes from the Prophetic tradition of balance and moderation?

Also (we're just all about linking to articles this morning :), Mr. Velvet Revolution weighs in on the issue - Our Moral Footprint (NYTimes). This reminds of another hadith (a saying of the Prophet Muhammad)- "be in this world as if you were a stranger or traveler." [Link courtesy of Omaira]

I leave it to you to discuss in the comments.

1 comment:

omaira said...

Last year during Ramadan I was at a fundraising dinner for a Muslim school where Imam Zaid and Sh Hamza were speaking (could be anywhere, right? :))
So Imam Zaid sees this barely touched piece of cake on someone's table. He takes a clean fork, and starts to eat it so it doesnt get wasted...hey if our teachers can do it, where does that leave us?

I did that with a piece of baklawa the other day at an iftaar. It tasted like butter-melting-in-your-mouth (Hello, my name is Omaira and I'm a butter-holic)...well, I only got one piece, and I really wanted another and just kept seeing almost-full plates of the stuff being tossed out during clean-up. Although my intentions were probably not as noble as Imam Zaid's (with food they never are), I took a plate, broke off the eaten end and ate the rest...and people it was worth it! :)