freegan (n) Somebody who abstains from contributing to the economy and salvages society's wasted food and resources rather than purchase more themselves. Often pertains to a VEGAN (somebody who doesn't eat/wear animal products) who only makes exceptions when dealing with otherwise wasted items.
It’s not news that China wastes a gargantuan amount of food on a daily basis. With increasing disposable income (and increasing waste sizes to boot) this wastage is only continuing to grow. For the ultra-rich, ordering more food than an army could eat displays status to those around. For the normal day-to-day Chinese, piling up food on one’s plate, whether you are hungry or not, has become less of a trend and more of a norm. Multiply this by the numerous plates one sees at any quintessential family-style meal (which, by the way, is every meal) and it is easy to see how and why this is a problem.
Let’s look at the numbers:
The last point is something that really gets me. I remember my college experience and I certainly can’t recall a time where I considered wasting food. According to one student interviewed by the Worldwatch Institute,
“[t]hat’s normal…we seldom pack up leftovers…it looks good to have at least the same number of dishes as the number of people. Common sense isn’t it?”
Not so for many on the front lines of freeganism in China. Although still taboo throughout much of the world, the freegan lifestyle (or more appropriately, food recycling) is starting to catch on in China. I caught wind of this trend when an article came out citing a staggering 60 tons of vegetables being thrown out everyday in the northern city of Xi’an. Instead of allowing them to go to the dump, local residents gather at the city’s central market to scavenge orts. One man put it simply by saying “[t]he vegetables are not cheap. It's really a big waste to throw all these vegetables away."
While he does have a very valid point, will freegans get full reign of China any time soon? I’m willing to guess no. Like much of what happens here, from recycling to local sustainability efforts, those with a need will shake up the system. Of course in China this sometimes equates to the poorest of the poor doing what they need to survive. Necessity isn’t exactly the impetus for most freegans in the west, but then again China has always put its own spin on things.