Saving and sharing food
Berlin initiatives mobilise against food waste.
“Poor but sexy”, is how former Governing Mayor of Berlin Klaus Wowereit described in 2003 the German capital. The Sozialstrukturatlas Berlin 2013, a survey of the city’s social makeup, revealed that the division between rich and poor in Berlin has become even more rigid. Wealthy districts, such as Charlottenburg and Zehlendorf, continue to prosper, while traditionally poorer neighbourhoods, such as Marzahn-Hellersdorf and Spandau, have remained poor. And as Berlin’s Tagesspiegel pointedly noted, residents of the latter are less educated, get sick more often and die younger.
Of course, poverty is a relative term and presumably nobody has to starve in Berlin today. But low income and a lack of education frequently go hand in hand with poor nutrition. Fresh fruit and vegetables, especially organic products, rarely make it to the plates of the economically disadvantaged.
Yet that’s not how things have to be. Recently, a number of initiatives in Berlin have joined forces to rescue products that are still edible and often organic. Private households and supermarkets are giving away discarded food. Some of these goods are then stored in refrigerators that are accessible to the public. And two resourceful businesswomen are selling misshapen vegetables in a shop specially designed for the purpose. Things are happening!
Food belongs on the table and not in the bin
The idea behind Lebensmittelretten.de, a nationwide initiative launched by Raphael Fellmer in 2012, is to save food that has been sorted out by organic supermarkets and share it free of charge. A collaboration now exists with several of these markets in Berlin and Hamburg. They are making their discarded products available on a regular basis – as are some 1,500 private individuals. The rescued products are distributed via the internet platform Foodsharing.de. This network, founded by filmmaker Valentin Thurn (Taste the Waste, 2011), enables private individuals and shop owners across Germany to give away or swap unused products via an interactive databank (with the exception of extremely perishable items such as fresh meat, fish or eggs). People offering items can set up a “food basket”. Those looking for something can find what is being offered on a map, and after establishing contact, pick up the products. According to the latest statistics, Berlin – with 220 tons of saved foodstuffs – ranks above Cologne and Munich in the food sharing economy. Lebensmittelretter also works directly with the Berliner Obdachlosenhilfe, an organization for the homeless. On Wednesdays and weekends, they prepare meals from discarded vegetables and fruits for up to 250 people.
There are also more than 20 refrigerators, called FairTeiler (“fair distributors”), within Berlin’s city limits. Two of them are public and accessible around the clock; the others have been installed in small shops. Private households can deposit food they don’t need – whether it is because their occupants are going on holiday, have accidentally bought leeks instead of spring onions, or have suddenly found three packs of butter in the fridge of their shared apartment. These donations are received with enthusiasm by young and old, and even tourists have been spotted at these “cool” rescue points.
By contrast, the founders of CulinARy MiSfiTs try to find a new home for three-legged carrots, tomatoes with noses and cracked radishes. The taste of these visual “misfits” does not differ from perfectly proportioned produce. Nevertheless, the former are usually sorted out in the field and either ploughed under, burned in biogas plants or processed into animal feed. Around 30 to 40 per cent of crops in Germany do not make it to consumers’ plates each year. And almost 50 per cent of potatoes never leave the field because they are too shrivelled, stunted or knobby.
Vegetable rescuers Tanja Krakowski and Lea Brumsack first studied nutrition and sustainability at university. Two and a half years ago, the product designers started offering their culinary misfits under the motto “Eat the Entire Harvest” at Berlin’s outdoor markets. In the interim, the two hard-working women have built up a network of local farmers who sell them their rejected vegetables. From these they now prepare delicious stews, soups and salads for inexpensive lunches in the shop and café that they recently opened in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin. They also run a catering service, for which the two designers restyle, with a schooled eye, these natural aberrations into works of art.
A small supermarket, in Kreuzberg too, has a somewhat different approach. At Original Unverpackt (“Originally Unpackaged”, OU), you’ll find (almost) all the things you can buy in a conventional shop – except everything is unpackaged. OU founders Milena Glimbowski and Sara Wolf want customers to buy only as much as they need. The objective is to reduce the amount of food wasted.
Finally, within the scope of the initiative “Too Good for the Bin”, Slow Food Deutschland is also combating food waste. The initiative was launched by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in collaboration with Deutsche Tafel, a national association of food banks. Under playful names like Knubbelkartoffel und Co. (roughly: “Stubby Spuds and Co.”), different kinds of misshapen vegetables are prepared and eaten together. And Slow Food Youth organizes Schnippeldiskos (cook and dance discos), where people cut up knobby veggies, lettuce with wilted outer leaves or overripe bananas and transform them into tasty dishes – all to live music.
The BMEL has also set up an extensive website and app for the initiative. It includes short videos, and facts and figures on the right and wrong ways of handling vegetables. The “Best Leftover Recipes”, some contributed by star chefs, offer creative ideas for cooking with leftovers.
“Food belongs on the table and not in the bin,” says vice-chair of Deutsche Tafel Beate Weber-Kehr. “We live in a throwaway society and are often careless when it comes to food. But not everyone has enough food on their plates. This is especially true today when the gap between rich and poor is widening and ever more people from other countries are seeking refuge with us.”