Mon, Dec 01, 2014 - Page 12 News List

Waste begone

Germany matchmakers pair lonely leftovers with rumbling bellies

By Sally Mcgrane  /  NY Times News Service

An employee stocks the shelves with fresh peppers in the produce section of a Whole Foods Market Inc. store on Nov. 7. In Germany, where concern about wasted food has mounted in recent years, a burgeoning movement is trying to keep edibles out of the garbage.

Photo: Bloomberg

Fresh from a bracing workout at the gym, Anton Kaiser gazed hungrily into a refrigerator, considering arugula, pineapple jam, salted butter and two bags of green grapes before reaching for a white bread roll, baked that morning.

“I haven’t eaten all day,” he said, “so it’s great.”

Perhaps best of all, it was free, available smack in the middle of a graffitied courtyard in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin. Like the rest of the offerings in this so-called food sharing refrigerator, Kaiser’s bread roll would, under normal circumstances, have gone straight into the trash.

But in Germany, where concern about wasted food has mounted in recent years, such refrigerators — stocked with leftovers from private parties and restaurants, and open to the public — are just one of several initiatives aimed at keeping edibles out of the garbage.

There are roughly 100 of these food sharing sites in Germany. About 50 have refrigerators, and the rest are just shelves. They are a small, offline branch of Foodsharing.de, a two-year-old Internet platform that gives members a chance to connect with other food sharers online, should they find themselves in possession of an extra cabbage or, as one Foodsharing post put it, “too many delicious organic potatoes for one person to eat.”

“Sometimes people go on vacation, and they realize they have a refrigerator full of food they can’t finish,” said Valentin Thurn, 51, who was a founder of the site, which now has 55,000 regular users. “Or they have a party, and there’s too much food left over afterwards.”

A filmmaker and journalist, Thurn had not planned to start a food revolution, or even a sharing website. But while shooting a segment about Dumpster-diving, he was shocked by what he encountered.

“The feeling I had, when I saw the great amount of edible food in the bins, was anger,” he said.

His documentary, Taste the Waste, struck a chord in Germany. With its images of discarded lettuce, bins of bright, red tomatoes and entire warehouses of old bread, as well as emotional interviews with German farmers about potatoes that — whether too big, too small or too strangely shaped for supermarket shelves — simply rot in fields, the film became a touchstone for the burgeoning movement to reduce the wasting of food.

The idea to share food online came up soon after.

“I’m a filmmaker,” Thurn said. “But people on our team said to me: ‘They are sharing everything on the Internet. Why don’t we share food?’”

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

For safety, Thurn and his team established a few basic rules. Nothing with a “sell by” date can be shared; no fresh meat or fish is allowed; prepared food is fine, but salads that have been left out all day in the sun are not. As a rule of thumb, people should share food that they would want to eat themselves.

Under German laws regulating food distribution, sharing food between individuals is allowed. But the food sharing refrigerators and shelves operate for the most part under the radar. While there have been problems with members being rude or greedy, Thurn said, so far no one has complained of getting sick.

City officials in Berlin, which has 12 such sites, did shut one down last year because no group or person was overseeing it and documenting where the food came from, to ensure that it was safe, as required by law.

In December, Foodsharing.de will incorporate another German website, Lebensmittelretten.de. Dedicated to saving food, the site was founded by Raphael Fellmer, 31, who as a university student was so upset by an article he read about wasted food that he decided to stop shopping for groceries altogether.

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