Working together to tackle imbalance in the food system

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IFSTAL alum Rosa von Borries reflects on how the Foodsharing initiative is addressing the paradox of food overconsumption and food insecurity head on

When I started engaging in foodsharing in Berlin a couple of years ago, I did not realise how my involvement would transform my normal habits of accessing, consuming and reflecting on food.

Foodsharing, founded in 2012, is a non-profit initiative with more than 200,000 voluntary members across Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The project rescues food items from approximately 3,000 food providers before food enters a waste state. Members and subdivided teams for each food provider communicate and coordinate ‘food rescues’ through an online foodsharing platform.

Making food accessible to everyone

Official partnerships with food providers have been established over time and are constantly expanding to include new companies. The best times for food collections, which usually take place daily, are determined with the company’s team when a new collaboration is established. On average, a team of two to three people register in advance on the platform to collect from one food supplier on a specific date. This well structured and thoughtfully designed concept assures that food rescues are not overlooked.

The term sharing sheds light on the fundamental principle of foodsharing – that rescued food is shared widely with a diverse group of people regardless of their social status. Although the distribution of food is optional, the majority of active members distributes food items due to moral considerations or extensively high amounts of food that are impossible to handle within one household. Within cities there are known foodsharing locations and projects where food can be delivered to and shared, these locations are easily accessible to everyone. Experiencing other people’s joy and gratitude when sharing food is one of the motivations that keeps people engaged. However, foodsharing also evokes some further challenges.

I remember frequent moments of surprise at seeing the large amounts of fresh and tasty vegetables, fruits, bread and other food items, earmarked as waste over one single day, even at organic stores. I particularly remember several huge boxes filled with organic bread, accompanied by the challenges of transporting these heavy amounts of food. Many times, I questioned why these items were labelled as waste: Were they too small, too big or just not in perfect shape? Other challenges include the time requirement for food rescues and the distribution of food items in a timely manner to guarantee that people can access these when still fresh and usable.

How to expand the initiative?

How could collective projects like foodsharing be implemented more widely to other countries? Whilst living in other countries, I always missed this foodsharing system, suddenly being forced to entirely buy food in a normal way again, without exactly knowing what was happening to food waste in other countries. To expand similar collective projects on a global scale, inspirations of existing projects and particularly the exchange with experienced people from similar initiatives can serve as starting points.

Understanding the need to change our paradox of current food systems with wide extremes of food poverty contrasted with overconsumption and obesity in different parts of the world, and realising that transformative mechanisms of collective projects like foodsharing can have positive impacts, are fundamental to get people engaged and contribute to the implementation of sustainable changes in our food systems.

Foodsharing addresses several complex problems of our food systems but it will never be able to solve these. It is a way of reducing the burden of waste, however it does not reach the roots of these complex challenges. Further sustainable transformations tackling global inequalities are strongly needed to assure the equal distribution of food worldwide and reduce food insecurity.

Rosa von Borries has a background in medicine and is currently studying Public Health at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She is particularly interested in environmental impacts on human and animal health, with a current focus of her MSc project on the role of climatic drivers in modulating the COVID-19 transmission. By participating in the IFSTAL programme, Rosa says she experienced an enriching diverse and interdisciplinary learning environment that she hopes to include in future work settings.

Twitter: @RosaMarievB

Photo by Elaine Casap on Unsplash