Living with Social Food Sharing

On days like this, I am happy that my flatmate made us buy the freezer that I initially opposed. The spinach I just bought looks disappointed when I shut the plastic door in its face. It will not have the honour of fulfilling its purpose today. When I looked into our kitchen-to-be after I came home from the supermarket, the masses of food greeted me and, just like that, my meagre meal plans for tonight vanished immediately. Like children at a wedding or confirmation, it seems like a big day for the fruit and vegetables that lie on the kitchen table, smiling at me, ready to be acknowledged in their beauty. It´s a Wednesday, the day of the market at Genter Straße in Wedding, five minutes walk from Leopoldplatz. Today my flatmate seemed to have managed to carry all of the food home by herself: the heads of lettuce, rocket salad, apples, cucumbers, red peppers, mangos and diverse oranges, accompanied by mint and Italian parsley.

The groceries are part of the daily effort to save twenty thousand pounds of food. Foodsharing is the name of the system we owe this to, of which my flatmate is one of seventy thousand users in Germany. With 30 percent of  the total action, Berlin is considered to be the most active German city in the foodsaving process, followed by Cologne. With partners like Bio Company, GEKKO and Erdkorn, from which Bio Company was one of the first partners having started in April 2012, the organisation achieves the support it needs. Not only those of Bio Company but many other branches become part of the foodsharing network which makes it much easier for foodsavers in Berlin; a person from Neukölln does not have to travel as far as Charlottenburg to collect food for dinner, and more importantly travel back. Instead she or he can use the website (unfortunately not yet in English) to connect with food stands or supermarkets in their neighbourhood, take a backpack and some bags and head to the place. The network does not only connect the foodsaver with the place, but is also used as a platform for individuals to exchange phone numbers, and to get to know how many people you will share the treasures with. Even without a smartphone.  

Compared to our regular shopping, a foodsharer has, of course, the responsibility for taking all of the saved food instead of leaving unwanted items at the corresponding supermarket. This leads to a true dilemma when some of  the free mangos from overseas, imported to provide our winter souls with delight, have already died or gone dark inside. To catch sight of this unpleasantness is indeed a real issue one has to cope with.

If we decide to focus on the negative points, another downside would be the lack of adventure in the foodsharing process compared to the more hazardous container nights. The prickle we may have had when putting on black clothes while some are stepping out of the dullness of their everyday lives and into the frozen dullness of Berlin winter nights to save the various food items from their final resting place, the containers, is clearly missing here. However, now we appreciate the absence of hurling ourselves into the container and rather hurl ourselves into our cooking. This is an even more tolerant alternative, for it also includes more fumigated kinds of people into the act of foodsharing. Besides, this change may also entail appreciation on the other side of the fence where the supermarkets can hand the mellowing fruits to the foodsavers instead of locking them in the dustbins, saving them from being eaten.

By pressing the “Mach-Mit!” button on the website you can join the group and find out which shops in your neighbourhood are already involved in the foodsharing process. You can also help by asking different supermarkets et cetera to get involved, so your next foodsaving experience could be waiting just around the corner. The next big foodsharing event will be taking place in Berlin from the 30th of April until the 3rd of May, and is for everyone who is interested in foodsharing or wants to get involved in any way. One's involvement can range from becoming a foodsaver or part of the organisation team, to holding posters at the next “Wir haben es satt” demonstration.

How foodsharing has already progressed shows how many people are interested in saving food and how much they enjoy the possibilities the network provides. The more people who take part, the higher the chance that one of them could be a flatmate or a neighbour of yours.

In our case, on days like this, the system spreads wider than our apartment and our neighbours get bothered when we ring their bell to ask them if they need some oranges. Luckily, they have our missing ingredient and can therefore pay us back with two onions, while the family on the fourth floor pays with a bit of patience at the next house party. Maybe tomorrow we will try to win them over with loaves of bread.

But, for today, the cooking is done and so there we are: old and new friends from Neukölln and Tempelhof, from Treptow, Kreuzberg and Wedding gloat over the meal. On evenings like this, one has to suck up the fact that instead of eating what you had planned for your dinner, you can eat something that unites, and it does not take much to realise which of these options most of us prefer while we crowd in our kitchen, benefitting from this fruitful system.

By Maleen Schwinger

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