from field gleaning to “freeganism”, a long history


If the ancestral rural gleaning was made famous by the famous painting of Jean-François Millet (1), the urban gleaning, less known, has also always existed. But to this survival grapple has now been added a more militant dimension, associated with a questioning of the consumer society.

“In the United States in the 1960s, when counterculture movements multiplied, we see the emergence in San Francisco of the “diggers” movement (“diggers”, editor’s note), which offers a whole series of free services, accommodation, clinics, shows, and food “, explains Jeanne Guien, researcher on consumerism and gleaner in a personal capacity.

Prioritize what is free

The idea gained momentum in the 1980s with the group Food not Bomb (“Food, not bombs”). “We are in the middle of the Cold War, and this pacifist movement believes that access to food should take priority over armaments”, continues the researcher. Collectives are being created everywhere to distribute free food, mainly vegan. Then develops the practice of dumpster divingliterally “diving in dumpsters”. “Legend has it that in 1994 Keith McHenry, figure of Food Not Bomb, one day found a wheel of French cheese worth 250 dollars”, continues Jeanne Guien. Vegan, McHenry then faces a dilemma: should we eat this cheese, an animal product, or leave it in the trash? He would then have launched: « Too bad for veganism, let’s adopt freeganism! » »

Freeganism, which consists of favoring what is free, for example by recovering food from the bins of shops, then takes off. Mediated by trash towers where New York freegans invite the public to learn about dumpster diving, it becomes popular. Freegan collectives are springing up all over the world.

In France, a diversified movement

In France, we had to wait until the 2010s to see a myriad of initiatives emerge. Created in 2010 in Lille, the Glaneurs tent recovers unsold goods at the end of the market. Created in 2012 in Paris, the “Disco Soupe” organize festive cooking sessions using unsold items. Launched in Lyon in 2013, the Gars’Pilleurs organize distributions in the street of foodstuffs recovered from garbage cans to denounce the aberrations of mass distribution. In 2015, a restaurant, the Freegan Pony, was born. The movement is diversifying, without becoming mainstream. Since the creation in 2016 of the Facebook group “Freegan Nomades–Les Manges Poubelles”, which brings together gleaners in a large number of French cities, “11,200 people became members and last week another 40 new people signed up”indicates Mickaël Gourlain, administrator of this national group.

These collectives, more or less militant, always coexist with groups of gleaners who do so out of necessity, to feed themselves but also to help each other. Beyond this variety, “Since 2010, in France in particular, we have witnessed a recovery in the fight against food waste, which is becoming a consensual theme”, analyzes Jeanne Guien. So much so that in 2016, the Garot law, which requires supermarkets to give away their unsold goods, was adopted. But these donations are tax-exempt. And companies like Phenix, or Too good to go, are starting to collect unsold items to market them at a reduced price. « This completely distorts the original claim since there is no reflection on the overproduction that creates food waste, laments the researcher. We just manage it. »


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