In an interview in Satya magazine with freegan.info founder Adam Weissman, Weissman explained the tragic irony of consumer veganism when freeganism is an option:
The word freegan was chosen largely to satirize an attitude prevalent among many vegans who seem unconcerned about the social and ecological impacts of the goods they purchase—so long as they are vegan. Sweatshop-made Nike shoes are fine, as long as they aren’t leather. Chocolate soymilk is great, despite the destruction of rainforests, exploitation of child slaves in the African chocolate trade and use of GMO plants.
The term freegan was created to express the notion that to live the “cruelty-free” lifestyle vegans advocate, we need to remove ourselves as much as possible from the capitalist economy, rather than taking the tunnel-vision perspective that we should only be concerned about animal flesh and secretions.
To many vegans, freeganism may seem marginal or extreme. Yet many vegans fail to recognize that the organized vegan community reflects bourgeoisie, white, liberal cultural norms, and to people outside of this demographic, eating tofu instead of hamburger can seem far weirder than getting good food that a store has needlessly thrown away.
Organic farmers will shoot, trap and poison mammals, birds and insects as readily as non-organic farmers—they simply won’t do it with petroleum-based pesticides. And of course, many organic farmers subsidize animal agriculture by using factory farm manure to fertilize their crops. Even agriculture practices not intended to harm animals cause massive numbers of deaths—machine threshers chop animals to bits, animals on land or in dens are crushed under agricultural machinery, small animals are shredded as soil is tilled.
I came to realize that for an animal liberationist, an organic, vegan diet was a lot like buying meat at the supermarket—being complicit in animal oppression, but letting someone else do the dirty work, so we don’t have to think about it.
Freeganism is a philosophy, an approach to living, not a set of lifestyle rules. Our focus is far more on building a new and more sustainable culture from the ground up than it is on micromanaging the lifestyle choices of individuals. Many of us are turned off by the very negative “vegan police” approach of looking down on someone who owns a leather belt or hasn’t yet given up ice cream. It’s much easier to get people to want to make positive changes if we make them feel welcome as they are, rather than having to constantly worry if they will be judged for not being “freegan enough.”
And let’s be honest, there are lots of people who don’t like the idea of animal agriculture, but just can’t bring themselves to give up meat, dairy, etc. We can look down on them and call them murderers and weak-willed hypocrites, or we can try to meet them halfway which, after all, is what we are doing by encouraging people to buy meat analogs. If we tell meat-eaters who are sympathetic but just can’t bring themselves to kick the meat habit that there is a way they can continue consuming animal products without economically supporting factory farming, they just might go for it.
When the interviewer asked Weissman if he ate meat, dairy or eggs, he responded:
I don’t, but I have no ethical objection for those who recover discarded animal products. I think the meat and dairy industries are hideously evil, but our complicity with them is primarily at the cash register, not the dinner table. I’ve heard many vegans argue that consuming animals’ bodies is disrespectful, and I’m baffled by what measure of respect is afforded to animals by letting their discarded corpses end up in landfills or incinerators. Personally, when I die, I want my corpse dumped in the woods so that it can feed other animals. Living beings have always consumed dead beings, keeping matter and energy a constant part of the life cycle.
That all makes sense, except the part where Weissman says he doesn’t consume dumpstered animal products. However, that contradiction is not unusual. From an ethical perspective, food loses the vegan/non-vegan distinction once it hits the garbage, but many still cannot let that distinction go. Why is it that so many vegans refuse to eat freegan animal foods even while paradoxically admitting that it is not against their ethics, and possibly even admirable?