Restaurant culture is a wonderful thing. Ideally, it sparks creativity, displays local ingredients of good quality and brings people of different walks of life, neighborhoods and countries together in the same place in order to experience one of the most basic human necessities and great pleasures in life: to eat together. Unfortunately, our society’s obsession with food, glorious food, has also led to gigantic food waste, as also depicted in the documentary Taste the Waste and despicable practices like throwing bleach on perfectly edible food which was thrown in the bin in order for homeless people not to eat it.
And then, there was Re-Food. A voluntary organization run and started by one man, Hunter Halder. By picking up food from supermarkets and restaurant and re-distributing it among the poor and those in need he has tried to combat food waste and poverty at the same time. Currently (as of October 2014), there are six local, community based Re-food distribution centers operating in and around Lisbon. Lisbon might seem on the outside a beautiful city, and it undoubtedly is, but there are impoverished neighborhoods, people living in dumps without electricity or access to regular kitchen supplies, let alone running water. Affected by the crisis and a government which decides that privatization and investing in tourism is the way to go, people often have no other option but to turn to organizations like Re-Food.
Most people come and pick their bags of food up directly from one of the distribution centers, whereas some of the bags are delivered to people at home who are unable to come and pick it up themselves. The whole organization runs on volunteers, including myself, for more than a year now. Via a pre-determined route, the food gets picked up from supermarkets and restaurants in the neighborhood of one of the distribution centers which is then put in boxes and frozen or kept in the fridge and put into supermarket bags to be picked up later in the evening. Together, these local teams of citizens are rescuing more than 20.000 meals a month at a real cost of less than 10 cents a meal.
Furthermore, Re-Food even tries to take food allergies, dietary restrictions, number of people living in the same place and other details of each person’s living situation into account. Re-Food is not only about food waste and feeding people but, above all, it’s a humanitarian project which demands of its volunteers to take care of others as best as possible. The only thing Re-Food asks from their clientele is that they bring the boxes back the next day, preferably clean. In my neighborhood alone, Re-Food is supporting 87 families (adding up to a total of about 220 people) and they deliver around 1000 meals per week.
And here is how you can help: yes, you can volunteer at Re-Food if you happen to live in Portugal or Lisbon (check for the center nearest to your neighborhood here) and you can like them on Facebook. Also, next time you enter a restaurant in Lisbon, check whether the restaurant has the “Re-Food sticker”. It’s not necessarily an indication of whether you’ll get good food or not, but it’ll give you an idea of the restaurant’s moral compass. If you’re in a restaurant without the “Re-Food sticker”, and you’re feeling a bit naughty, I’m sure it would never hurt to ask the owner why they are not participating or if they even know of Re-Food (or maybe there’s no Re-Food distribution center in the neighborhood just yet). Spreading the word and all of that. The sticker and Re-Food’s visibility in the streets of Lisbon finally should also serve the purpose that poverty is nothing to be ashamed of, nor is being in need of help.
So yes, organisations like Re-Food give reason to be hopeful but make no mistake: the economic crisis has hit Portugal (and Lisbon) quite hard. As long as there are no structural options offered both on the end of food waste (one could think about a “food waste tax”, or do it like Arash Derambarsh who is raising the bar for all of us in France) and on the economical side, organizations like Re-Food are just a small patch on a big, gaping wound. However, in the best of cases, Re-Food might motivate and inspire a global change and a more productive way of interacting with food and human beings. (Nout Van Den Neste)