Dumpster Diving as a Morally Superior Lifestyle

"Not Buying It" is the flattering headline to Steven Kurutz's huge cover story of "freegans" in Thursday's House & Home section. The self-described "freegan" movement is composed of hard-core, alienated leftists who won't work for food, or anything else: A photo collage shows a bunch of scraggly folks dumpster diving at New York University and taking home gourmet food, paintings, televisions, and other bare necessities.

Kurutz flattered the freeloaders: "...the small but growing subculture of anticonsumerists who call themselves freegans - the term derives from vegans, the vegetarians who forsake all animal products, as many freegans also do....And for those like Ms. Elia and Ms. Kalish, [freegan.info] serves as a guide to negotiating life, and making a home, in a world they see as hostile to their values.

"Freegans are scavengers of the developed world, living off consumer waste in an effort to minimize their support of corporations and their impact on the planet, and to distance themselves from what they see as out-of-control consumerism. They forage through supermarket trash and eat the slightly bruised produce or just-expired canned goods that are routinely thrown out, and negotiate gifts of surplus food from sympathetic stores and restaurants.

"They dress in castoff clothes and furnish their homes with items found on the street; atfreecycle.com, where users post unwanted items; and at so-called freemeets, flea markets where no money is exchanged. Some claim to hold themselves to rigorous standards. 'If a person chooses to live an ethical lifestyle it's not enough to be vegan, they need to absent themselves from capitalism,' said Adam Weissman, 29, who started freegan.info four years ago and is the movement's de facto spokesman."

There's some very mild criticism near the end, soon followed by more flattery."These contradictions and others have led some people to suggest that freegans are hypocritical, making use of the capitalist system even as they rail against it. And even Mr. Weissman, who is often doctrinaire about the movement, acknowledges when pushed that absolute freeganism is an impossible dream....It's not that freeganism doesn't require serious commitment. For freegans, who believe that the production and transport of every product contributes to economic and social injustice, usually in multiple ways, any interaction with the marketplace is fraught."

Kurutz's profile of one freegan reads like a parody of privileged liberal naivete.

"And for some freegans in particular - for instance, Madeline Nelson, who until recently was living an upper-middle-class Manhattan life with all the attendant conveniences and focus on luxury goods - choosing this way of life involves a considerable, even radical, transformation....Ms. Nelson, who is 51, spent her 20s working in restaurants and living in communal houses, but by 2003 she was earning a six-figure salary as a communications director for Barnes & Noble....After a year of progressively scaling back - no more shopping at Eileen Fisher, no more commuting by means other than a bike - Ms. Nelson, who had a two-bedroom apartment with a mortgage in Greenwich Village, quit her job in 2005 to devote herself full-time to political activism and freeganism.

"She sold her apartment, put some money into savings, and bought a one-bedroom in Flatbush, Brooklyn, that she owns outright."

But Nelson still knows just where to, um, shop.

"She is also spending a lot of time making rounds for food and supplies at night, and has come to know the cycles of the city's trash. She has learned that fruit tends to get thrown out more often in the summer (she freezes it and makes sorbet), and that businesses are a source for envelopes. A reliable spot to get bread is Le Pain Quotidien, a chain of bakery-restaurants that tosses out six or seven loaves a night."

A less flattering definition of freeganismwould beliving off the leavings of people who actually work for a living,while feeling morally superior about it. How is this subversion of capitalism?