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If capitalism is such an efficient system, why does 40 percent of all U.S. food production go to waste – while one in six people in the nation face hunger? This startling truth has stirred increasing interest and action of late, but none so radical as that of the freegans, who live on what capitalism throws away – including food culled from supermarket dumpsters. Freegans is a close look at the people in this movement, offering a broader perspective on ethical consumption and the changing nature of capitalism.
Freegans object to the overconsumption and environmental degradation on which they claim our economic order depends, and they register that dissent by opting out of it, recovering, redistributing, and consuming wasted goods, from dumpster-dived food to cast-off clothes and furniture. Through several years of fieldwork and in-depth interviews with freegans in New York City, Alex Barnard has created a portrait of freegans that leads to questions about ethical consumption – like buying organic, fair trade, or vegan – and the search for effective forms of action in an era of political disillusionment.
Barnard's analysis of this pressing concern reveals how waste is integrally bound up with our food system. At the same time, by showing that markets do not seamlessly translate preferences expressed at the cash register into changes in production, Freegans exposes the limits of consumer activism.
Introduction: A Brief History of a Tomato
1. Capitalism’s Cast-offs
2. Diving In, Opting Out
3. Waving the Banana in the Big Apple
4. A New World Out of Waste
5. The Ultimate Boycott?
6. Backlash, Conflict, and Decline
Conclusion: Salvaging Sustainability
Alex V. Barnard is a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, and a food justice activist.
"Eat this book. If you're lucky enough to find it in the trash, dig it out and bite in. It's sociologically fresh and environmentally nutritious. Alex V. Barnard writes crisply and invitingly, and his analysis of the 'fetishism of waste' is novel and helpful. This is ethnography as it is meant to be: going through the trash and thrash of everyday life and uncovering analytic treasures – free to be had, if we only stop to look."
– Michael Bell, University of Wisconsin-Madison
"In Freegans, Alex V. Barnard examines how this group of activists aims to change the way we live on this world, one overripe tomato at a time."
– Tristram Stuart, author of Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal
"Readers with interests in social justice, activist movements, environmentalism, consumerism, and food waste will find this book thought-provoking."
– Library Journal
"Barnard's book is refreshing [...] an important and thorough critique of food waste."
– On the Brink
"The timeliness of many themes, from political disenfranchisement and social movements to climate change and food security, make this a compelling and urgent read. Barnard's easy and accessible writing style ensures this book is also engaging and valuable to a non-academic audience."
– Environmental Politics
"This engaging, well-written book, full of vivid observations and interviews, is sure to attract a wide readership. Highly recommended."