Combating Food Waste – ‘One dinner at a time’

Fresh produce at the market. Photograph: ja ma/Unsplash

Every Wednesday afternoon, around closing time, a group of students strolls around the green market in the Hague and asks for free food. But this is not simply about getting free stuff, it is about saving food that would otherwise be thrown away.

In the Netherlands alone, over two million tons of food are thrown away annually according to the Netherlands Nutrition Centre, a government sponsored foundation that informs consumers and professionals about food, food waste and related topics.

In The Hague, the Conscious Kitchen was founded in 2016 to “fight food waste and create a centre of community,” says John Melnyk, one of the organisers. They use the saved food from the market to cook a dinner for up to 70 people. At least, that was their routine in pre-Corona times. 

The students from the Hague are part of a growing movement of local initiatives that try to solve the waste of food problem. In Leiden, the Green Kitchen, founded in 2018, follows the same approach, as well as the Free Café in Groningen that distributes meals and organises dinners in two locations. 

Taste Before You Waste is a group that was founded in Amsterdam, but has since then branched out to Utrecht, Bussum and even across the ocean to Kingston, Canada Auckland, and New Zealand.

However, the problem cannot be solved by food savers alone. Isabel Allen, from Taste Before You Waste, says that supermarkets contribute to the problem by, for example, only selling good looking and shiny vegetables. But she also contends that “consumers would probably not accept it, if supermarkets changed their approach tomorrow.”

This expectation of what our food should look like is a big problem, because it leads to food waste from the beginning of the food chain. Allen says that “a lot of vegetables are left on the field because they do not fit the standards.” 

Taste Before You Waste wants to raise awareness about the problem and change consumers perspective on what is food and what is waste. To that end, they do not only organise dinners, but also workshops and presentations about food waste. They do that in partnership with other organisations and schools to reach a wider audience.

It came as a surprise that all three organisations that spoke to The Lens only collect at markets and not at supermarkets. John Melnyk, of the Conscious Kitchen says that it is mainly due to limited capacity and that the food from the market is more than enough “to feed all the people at the dinners.” 

Zita Krisztina Zena, from the Green Kitchen in Leiden, says that they approached supermarkets without success because it was too difficult for them to change their work routines for such a small scale cooperation.

Currently, due to the pandemic, all organizations have scaled down their operations and are exploring other options, such as distributing the food directly or organizing events with a stronger focus on education.

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