In this first entry of the blog I will take the chance to tell you about my food waste story so far, and why this blog might be different from the other similar online reads on activism, dumpster diving, freeganism and food waste.
The awareness on food waste topic has been somewhere in my mind since I was a child: I remember how surprised I was when visiting Germany at the age of 11. Firstly, there were containers for sorting different types of trash! Secondly, the incredibly big supermarkets sold food packed in so many layers of packaging! I remember opening a pack of pastries: after opening the big pack, I found a plastic box containing six pieces of pastries, each packed in another layer of plastic film, and each of them, as well as the big outer package, had the same picture printed on. I was perplexed. At that time in Latvia (a small country in the North of Europe between two other small countries, Estonia and Lithuania) one could still buy bread in without any packaging at all. Finally, the German family which hosted me for a week in their house had a pantry room filled with boxes of drinks and canned goods. The piles reached to the ceiling. I had never seen so much food at anybody’s home.
At an early age, my grandmother also taught me how to use dairy products that had gone sour – often you could make tastier dishes from those than from fresh milk. For example, sour milk was a perfect ingredient for pancakes and even muffins. If a local variety of cottage cheese had become bitter and even had a bit of mold, it was perfect for frying on a pan – it became sticky and resembled the usual pizza cheese. With the right spices, I liked it better than the fresh cottage cheese.
At the age of 15, I moved to the capital Rīga where I got acquainted with new patterns of consumption and attitude towards food. People here obviously had much faster lives and more stress than in my hometown – many had more work to do, more income and less time to stay aware of food in their lives. I saw my friends throwing out fresh, half eaten sandwiches, leaving half eaten meals on the restaurant tables… and the more I turned my attention to it, the more I saw it – it happened everywhere.
Few years later, my urge of travelling provided a deeper insight into the food systems than I could ever imagine. I was eager to travel, and I had a plan to hitchhike to Greece and spend there three weeks with some 60 euros in my pocket. To get prepared, I wanted to read some hitchhikers’ stories. I found a blog of Tomi Astikainen, a Finnish traveler who had traveled the route from Finland to Portugal to Turkey and back without spending any money at all. He had written a self-published book called “Sunhitcher” which was based on his travels. It changed the way I see the world. Nothing inspired me more. I got to know about the fallacies regarding our economic system in clearer and less pushy manner than I had seen before in Zeitgeist movies. Most importantly, this guy had tried it all on himself, it was his life experience, so it was all real! I learnt about the discarded food of the supermarkets and restaurants, and how it is possible to access them in Western European countries. I was very determined to try the same tactics.
I didn’t try any of that eventually. Couple of times I was watching tourists eating at the restaurants and waiters bringing away dishes that were almost never empty. I never had guts to ask for the leftovers or, as Tomi did, just take them from the table after the customers were gone. It seemed out of question, impossible. I had a planet of shame holding me back!
Yet I spent very little money on food in those three weeks. The local drivers who picked me up never let me go without giving me something to eat or at least a frappe coffee even though I had learnt how to say “no thanks” in Greek. Twice I was invited to eat at local tavernas which meant eating as much as you can, as local and seasonal as possible. In Greece, the hospitality culture gained a different meaning.
In August 2016, I attended European Hitchgathering. It’s a self-organized event that takes place in a different location in Europe yearly, and everybody is welcome – the only rule (not very strict though) is to travel by hitchhiking. This time it happened in a forest near Oslo: more than 50 people camping in a beautiful place by a small, serene lake, setting up and managing everything that’s needed for a week without leaving a trace after it’s ended. Here I met lots of people who had dumpster dived before. In fact, nobody ever bought any food since we could feed our camp of 50 people with the discarded food from supermarkets in of the town nearby. I couldn’t grasp what I saw: croissants, pastries, smoked salmon, watermelons, nectarines, canned fish, Norwegian brown cheese, even coffee… Every night a group of us would go and gather the food from the containers and we would always come back with our big backpacks full of food.
Currently I’m living and doing my master diploma project in Gothenburg, Sweden. I started with exploration on the topic of sharing, which led me to various sharing economy initiatives around the city. This is how I found Solidariskt Kylskåp or Solidarity Fridge, a public foodsharing fridge. I had heard about similar project in Germany from the Hitchgathering people. Now there are Solifarity Fridge initiatives popping up all around the developed countries. I immediately knew I want to be part of it. Now I am dumpster diving and contributing to the closest public fridge once in a while. My motivation has changed from “being able to travel and saving money” to “raising awareness on the food waste issue and share the surplus food”.
After reading, watching, listening, experiencing, cooking, preserving, dumpster diving, carrying, sharing and getting absorbed by the food waste topic, it seemed a good idea to start a blog. Actually, it seemed to be a good idea months ago. It would’ve help me to get all the information out and share it instead of keeping it all crammed in my head, notes and laptop. It is always easier to talk and not get started with doing. Oh, that’s a topic worth another blog post!
Here you will be able to find regular posts about my dumpster diving experiences, development of the Solidarity Fridge and similar projects globally and (more often) in Gothenburg, as well as tips, instructions and recipes of the discarded food that I’m finding and other related topics.