The Netherlands aims to become a nation of food heroes

Empty supermarket shelves in recent weeks make it easy to forget that the Netherlands typically has a food waste problem. Recently released data from the country’s five largest supermarket chains reveal that 1.7% of their food products do not reach consumers.

The supermarkets are sharing the details of their unsold products as part of a nationwide initiative to cut food waste by half by the year 2030. According to the non-profit action group Samen Tegen Voedselverspilling (Together against food waste), the Netherlands is the only country in the world to offer such detailed insights into how much, and which types, of supermarket foods are going to waste.

Saving food with creativity
Quality data is important, but progress is also achieved through ingenuity and creativity. For example, the popular app ‘Too Good to Go’ enables customers to purchase a small box of food from the supermarket for a few euros. Its so-called Magic Box is filled with fresh foods that might otherwise have been thrown away.

“We’ve found that supermarkets and restaurants don’t actually want to throw their food away,” says Thomas Dolman, a board member for BuurtBuik. This non-profit organization started in Amsterdam in 2014 with the aim of bringing neighbors together weekly for free three-course meals, prepared from rescued foods. Today it has eight locations which each serve as many as 50 people per week.

“Our volunteers begin in the morning, cycling to collect leftover food from our partners. Businesses love contributing to our cause and we have no problem sourcing local, high-quality food.” Partners include local supermarkets, but also companies such as Netflix, which donate leftover cafeteria food. BuurtBuik says it has saved 109,000 kilos of food since the start of the initiative. To put it in perspective, that’s enough food to fill a line of bakfietsen (cargo bikes) stretching from Amsterdam to Utrecht. And they’re not slowing down anytime soon.

“The goal is to broaden our reach in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht. We are also getting requests from other cities around the Netherlands. We’re proud of our organization and the aim is for continuous growth.”

Dolman says BuurtBuik is happy to help interested parties launch similar initiatives in their own communities. It even offers a training program to pass along its knowledge in volunteer engagement, the logistics of food rescue and meal preparation. What’s important to BuurtBuik is that the three key elements of the initiative are maintained: three-course meals, made from food waste, free of charge.

Together against food waste
To halve the nation’s annual food waste within the next decade, the Netherlands will need to rescue one ton of food each year. Samen Tegen Voedselverspilling aims to unite 200 business and organizational stakeholders by 2021 to reach this common goal. Seventy stakeholders have committed so far.

Motivating consumers to make modifications to their own lifestyle is also essential to the cause. The non-profit claims that households in the Netherlands can save an average of 34 kilos of food per person each year which is currently thrown out. Dolman says BuurtBuik makes it easy for people to see how small changes can make a big impact. “When you join us for a meal, you’re being a hero. You are saving food.”

Community involvement is the centerpiece of a BuurtBuik meal. The food is typically served at long tables in neighborhood centers and attendees are encouraged to connect with people they haven’t met before. The organization helps many people who are struggling financially. But Dolman emphasizes that BuurtBuik is also there for people who are new to the area, those who want to meet their neighbors or practice their Dutch. Furthermore, it’s always looking for volunteers. “In this situation with COVID-19, we really start to notice again how social humans are. We need to connect with one another.”

Due to the restrictions on gatherings at this time, BuurtBuik is unable to hold weekly meals until further notice. It will update information about reopening locations on its website and social media. When close-range interactions are possible again, Dolman says it’s looking forward to welcoming neighbors once more.

“There are no barriers to entry with BuurtBuik. No need to sign up or pay anything. Just come in, have a meal and make new connections. We don’t have many opportunities like this anymore, so I encourage people from all walks of life to give it a try.”

 

Learn more about the nationwide initiative to reduce food waste at www.samentegenvoedselverspilling.nl. To join BuurtBuik for a meal, or become a volunteer or partner, go to www.BuurtBuik.nl.

Edition 10 April, by Megan Janicke