Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Freeganism, Couchsurfing and Freecycling: A Synopsis of Each Alternative Lifestyle

Very interesting stuff. Though not fully related to animal rights at first glance, you’ll quickly see that these alternative lifestyles relate in many ways. And although the story was written in England, each movement has just as large following in the US and other countries.


Free and easy... the people who say our lives don't have to cost the Earth
The best things in life may really be free. Chris Benfield reports.

The 1990s might be characterised as the decade
when shopping united the world. The first decade of this century may be seeing the backlash.
Global capitalism and global warming have grown a new generation of radicals, opposed to both – and they have one big advantage over the socialists and anarchists, hippies and punks, from whom they are descended. It is called the internet. Through email and websites, an idea can become an international movement more or less overnight.
The activists pick up sympathetic fellow travellers from a quieter tradition – the make-do-and-menders who miss the good old days, when an old vest knew it would be reborn as a dish-cloth and a sheet was not dead until after it had been turned sides to middle.
Then there is fashion. A Born To Shop T-shirt suddenly looks irresponsibly trivial. Blackspot Shoes, made from recycled materials and designed to Kick Corporate Ass, are more à la mode.
Suddenly, the people who are out to change the world, including you, are definitely back. And they may be living next door – giving themselves away only by unusual
dedication to their compost heaps.


'If you wait long enough, everything is free'

The Freegans... who live off what the rest of us throw away, including food dumped in skips.

A Californian paper, the Sacramento Bee, identified the freegans in May 2003. They were vegan by nature, but would eat animal products if the alternative was to see them go to waste. And as a couple of professors explained, they were doing more than just penny-pinching, they were "engaged in a pretty profound critique of the dominant lifestyle".
The word was spread via, which says today: "Freeganism is a total boycott of an economic system where the profit motive has eclipsed ethical considerations and massively complex systems of production ensure that all the products we buy will have detrimental impacts. We avoid buying anything to the greatest degree we are able."
The trend spread across the Atlantic and earlier this year a programme in Radio 4's Costing The Earth series got some experienced skip divers in Leeds to find the ingredients for a gourmet meal in the back yards of the city's supermarkets and sandwich shops.
"Sell-by dates were intended as guidance for retailer and customer but they have hardened into a ridiculous tyranny," says Peter Jones, communications director of the waste disposal company Biffa. "The shops are compelled to throw away good food and the customer has grown accustomed to food that looks like a magazine picture, so a lettuce is thrown away when it starts to go soggy, instead of being peeled. At least a ton of edible food is thrown away for every two tons we eat in this country. And significant amounts of fuel are involved in growing and distributing what is wasted."
The stars of the programme were two unemployed travellers, Ross Parry and Ashley Falkingham, who have featured in several reports on "freeganism", because they claim to be just what the media want – full-time scavengers, living for free from the old van they travel in. Parry said he had been at it for 20 years.
They have now moved on – but others are moving in.
Alice Jelinek, a green activist living in Harehills, Leeds, says: "Everything is on a scale. For some people, it's like a religion. For others, it's do what you can or take what you can get. I don't often get my food from skips because the good ones are a long way away and I only need a couple of tomatoes at a time, not a sackful.
"But just about everything else in my flat is second-hand and most of it was free. I did pay £160 to replace my computer set-up when the old one went, because I use it so much. But if you wait long enough, everything is free. We live in an incredibly wasteful society and I feel strongly about it. There is little point in lecturing other people. I have to try to live according to my conscience. Even if global warming is not proven, there are still landfill sites. Have you smelt one? I don't want to contribute to that sort of poison."
She dropped out of Leeds University at 19, because she felt she was just wasting time and accumulating debt on an English and sociology course which involved eight hours of lectures a week. Now 26, she works part-time in an advice centre, for £11,500 gross and in her own time, she runs an allotment; grows apple trees and fruit bushes in dustbins in her back yard; sells her gooseberry cuttings to raise enough for a bit of shopping on e-Bay; and works on administration and maintenance for the Tangram Housing Co-op – which dates back to the squatter movement of the late 1970s and lets her have a small flat in a house of some faded grandeur, on Roundhay Road, for £38.68 a week. She spent last year's summer holiday shouting at the G8 summit in Scotland and this year's with a group called Tinker's Bubble, whose members attempt to live off the land in Somerset.

Best websites direct action news essays against capitalism tips, hints and links alternative cafe in Wharf Street, Leeds.

Alice's tips
Always carry a big rucksack, for taking things home in.
The window in a washing machine is made of heat-resistant glass and can be used like a Pyrex dish.
If you wear a fluorescent jacket, everyone assumes that you're supposed to be doing what you're doing.


'I like to do something that depends on trust'

The Couchsurfers... who put up a bed for visitors from all over the world, so they can stay for free when they travel themselves.

Emily Stott is "Moksha" on the website which carries tributes to her hospitality from Hungrysteve of Michigan USA; Symkovych of Ukraine; Pedroocoyote of Portugal; Aparnashekar of Bombay – and about 40 other young men and women who have stayed at her place in the past 18 months.
She shares her flat in central York with her fiancé, but has used the couchsurfer network to organise places to stay while travelling alone, as a professional researcher, in Germany, India, China and London.
Emily, 24, graduated in archaeology and anthropology from Cambridge and is now looking into the potential of UK hemp farming for a charity which develops environmentally friendly businesses.
Her interests include "cartwheels, sleeping under stars, playing in the sea", Pink Floyd and capoeira – a Brazilian combination of martial arts and dance which has become fashionable with the young.
In short, she sounds so sweet and innocent you tremble on behalf of her parents at the risks she is taking.
But Emily, who grew up in a small village in Lincolnshire, says: "We haven't had one bad experience. The network is organised so you can make some checks on the people you are dealing with. Of course there is an element of risk. But I like to have different people walking into our lives. And I like to do something which depends on trust, in a world in which most of us have lost touch with the communities we came from. I suppose it's a bit like hitch-hiking – you assume the average person is okay and mostly they are.
"It's a practical way of reducing your environmental footprint and seeing real places and real people's lives rather than hotel rooms. In India and China, I met people who were helpful to my research who I would never have met but for the contacts made through couchsurfing."

Best sites another couchsurfer site is a guide to travelling the world by rail.

Emily's tips
Taking a small gift, like food or sweets, from your home country, and helping with the washing up, are nice ways to be a good guest.


'I think it's in my nature to be a bit tight anyway'

The Freecyclers... who give away rather than throwing away, in return for access to other people's virtual garages.

In three years, the Freecycle Network has exploded from an experiment in Arizona into a worldwide organisation of thousands of groups, with two million members, in dozens of countries.
The idea is simple – sign up at you can post unwanted junk on your local group's noticeboard and browse what is on offer from other people.
Founder Deron Beal insists on the network's home pages: "It is NOT a place to just go get free stuff for nothing. It IS a place to give or receive what you have and don't need or need and don't have – a cycle of giving which keeps stuff out of landfills. That perspective makes all the difference."
He has been criticised for taking sponsorship from a garbage giant – which enabled him to become a full-time organiser for the organisation – and there are rivals which claim to be ideologically purer. But Freecycle is so dominant it is an essential tool of every ultra-green lifestyle.
Nikki Balfour, a 36-year-old mother of two and Open University student, became a member of the Leeds and York groups when she moved to Selby a year ago and has now applied to start a Selby group.
She says: "We do live on a tight budget. But I think it's in my nature to be a bit tight anyway.
"I saw Freecycle recommended while I was looking at money-saving tips on another website and we happened to have a big old TV that was not working right – not good enough to sell but too good to throw away. A man from Leeds took that away to use just for games. Then the CD changer in the car stopped working and we got a replacement from Sherburn and we've used the site quite a bit since.
"I buy and sell on e-Bay, too, but Freeycle is better for anything too big to post or something that needs fixing, like a bike with a puncture. I am a bargain-hunter rather than a political radical, but I like to think I am doing my best to cut down on landfill."

Best websites tips from a personal finance expert and his readers; the on-line auction.

Nikki's Tips
Pick up a dressmaker's dummy or two from eBay and use it for photos of clothes you are selling;
Buy good clothes with well-known labels for the children and re-sell when they are finished with.
05 July 2006

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