Diving into the Wealth of Food Waste in America

Alex V. Barnard

Freegans, who try to live on what we throw away, reveal the limits of capitalism but also the limits of consumer activism in changing it

280 Pages, 6 x 9 in

  • Paperback
  • 9780816698134
  • Published: March 14, 2016
  • eBook
  • 9781452945415
  • Published: April 13, 2016



Diving into the Wealth of Food Waste in America

Alex V. Barnard

ISBN: 9780816698134

Publication date: March 14th, 2016

280 Pages


8 x 5

"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."—CHOICE

"This work will shed light on how alternative activists are enacting a more sustainable future today, and citizens who are doubtful that sustainability can be attained via conscious consumption might find inspiration in freegans’ radical waste politics."—Food, Culture & Society

"Barnard succeeds in making visible drivers of ecological destruction in capitalism and provides a thoughtful analysis of the strengths, weaknesses and inconsistencies of anti- capitalist social movements."—Environmental Values

"A wonderful text for a social movement class looking for a well written, enjoyable read to illustrate the recruitment, tactics, role of identity and culture, and decline of a movement."—Mobilization

"This thorough account reminds us of the dangers of capitalist co-option and the need to stick to our values when the world around us appears blind. Freegans reveal a more complete story of capitalist waste and want that to contribute to unraveling these complex issues."—The British Journal of Sociology

"A critical addition to undergraduate and graduate classes on the subject."—Agriculture and Human Values

"Barnard’s re-conceptualization of freegans’ speeches and practices offers other interesting insights."—European Journal of Sociology

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.

Alex V. Barnard is a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, and a food justice activist.


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