March 16, 2019
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, humanity wastes more than one billion tonnes of food every year. That number amounts to almost a third of all food produced for human consumption and would be enough to feed the world’s hungry twice. Richer countries’ food waste is almost equal to overall food production in Sub-Saharan regions; European and North American citizens produce up to 15 times more waste than people living in developing countries. These numbers are especially alarming when taking into account that, since 2014, world hunger has been on the rise again; as of 2017, roughly 821 million people suffer from undernourishment.
Luana Carretto, an alumna of Amsterdam University College, first recognized this problem in November 2012 after watching a documentary on the topic made her see the colossal losses caused by premature waste. And not only the food itself is wasted, but also all the resources used to produce it; immense amounts of water is therefore used for nothing and manpower invested into its production becomes pointless. The realization that humanity does not treat food with the value it deserves led her to start the initiative ‘Taste Before You Waste’ (TBYW). After initially approaching stores for their surplus food and distributing it under refugees in cooperation with refugee advocacy group Wij Zijn Hier, she decided that her own organization would be the more efficient solution in the long run.
Instead of dumpster-diving or using similar measures, TBYW approaches supermarkets and grocery stores in order to grab the issue by its roots; more than 50% of food waste is produced in manufacturing and retail.
It takes the still-edible food that would normally get wasted and turns it into meals for everybody to enjoy.
The concept is simple: payments are donation-based and cooks and servers volunteer. Every Monday and Wednesday from 6:30 pm to 9 pm a ‘wasteless dinner’ is organized, in which the food saved from waste is turned into nutritious menus with multiple courses, all tied with a stimulating atmosphere. On Mondays, there are entertaining evening programs raising awareness for various issues such as water shortages and gentrification.
We talked to Rochelle, 26, a second-time visitor, about her experiences at the wasteless dinner. “The first thing that caught my eye was the warmth of the people here and the personal contact; people here are having fun, just doing what they believe in. That’s what I really like about it. Especially during the Monday dinners, I love that they are facilitating a discussion and educating the public.”
For her second visit to the dinner, Rochelle brought her sister Sheffon, 24. “I think they are very inventive with what they do with the saved food. Kudos to that. The team is also sending out very good vibes; they treat you like a welcome guest. They are casual but at the same time very wholeheartedly into it.”
Even though the majority of waste does originate from the retailers and corporations, large amounts of edible food also get lost due to individuals’ carelessness when judging their food, as well as their ignorance towards these issues. As Carretto explains in her TEDxAUC talk, there are significant factors for food consumption that the average citizen is barely aware of. This includes the difference between the use by and best before dates: the former is used on products that go bad quickly and present serious health risks when consumed after the indicated date. The latter, however, only suggests a date until which the product will remain in its best shape, color, and taste. It will still very much be edible after.
One of TBYW’s goals is to raise awareness about these issues and teach similarly-motivated people how to not waste as much food. For that purpose, the foundation offers donation-based ‘Food Cycle Markets’, in which more saved food is offered for taking, while volunteers working for TBYW are present to answer any questions. The market takes place every Tuesday from 4 to 5 pm at the Dokhuis Galerie. In addition, the organization offers various educational workshops to enlighten interested participants on how to minimize, or at least reduce, their personal waste.
We asked Lara Egbring, the current general coordinator of TBYW, about the foundation’s goals and ambitions. “I really love the mixture of finding a solution for food waste and engaging consumers that this foundation is going for, while at the same time creating this really warm atmosphere and community, making it accessible for everyone. I think the foundation motivates people to do something, gives them a sense of empowerment and gets them engaged in the problem. We are currently working on our global movement; aside of the Netherlands we already have branches in Canada and Australia. We are hoping to spread out more, revolutionizing the food system one neighborhood at a time.”