How we hosted a Food Waste Combat community dinner and why it's time to make it a habit

Lately I’ve been having sudden cravings to get offline and do to things with my hands which don’t involve a keyboard. With several people in town we hosted a community dinner as a way to take action against something happening every day under our noses - massive good food throwaway. By households, restaurants, markets and especially supermarkets, by you, by your family, by your neighbor, by me. We collected food close to being dumped and got people to cook together and share a meal while interacting heavily around the issue.

I won’t ramble about why it’s important we pay more attention to food overall - from where and how far it comes from, the cost of having nicely chopped avocados on a restaurant plate, to how we pick stuff off the supermarket shelves and never wonder where the brown bananas are going, to how we realize our canned peas are overdue after having been hidden in overstuffed fridges or pantries (it’s a trap!). You know this already, right?

Food Waste Combat in Cluj (FWC) is a local collective experimenting with creative ways to address the issue, and I joined them for many selfish reasons, but mostly because I’d like to see food activism reach educated, resourceful urbanites. I’m one of them and I think as a group we can do better. We’re well positioned to use a tiny bit of our time doing something other than work, other than expensive hobbies, other than just consuming. It seems teaching each other how to eat is a pretty low hanging fruit.

More photos here.

We set up a 60 people afternoon event in a week, in a very lightweight mode.

I think it’s worth sharing why and how we did it:

  • Context exists - a Repair Cafe Week full of activities in town and already talking about circular economy. That helped promote the event in only a few days time in a period quite busy for Cluj, helped it be part of a bigger mobilization and also get some media attention.
  • Large enough venue is available - The Paintbrush Factory, a former factory-turned-contemporary-art-collective has a cosy room for events equipped with minimal cooking infrastructure; we were able to bring add-ons with no problem (except the lights going off for like an hour, but well, can’t plan it all! :-))
  • Crazy levels of enthusiasm and capacity are just.. there! I don’t know if it’s the food effect, but so many people chimed in and brought own assets to the table: Cimbru, a local food truck with patient cooks helping everyone find a role; Casa de Cultura Permanenta, a local open house already prototyping circularity in every possible way! and their resident volunteers; FWC team coordinating on an online wiki to plan and split tasks; photographers supporting the cause; Local markets and a large shopping centre donating throw away food and also pretty decent one! It took us up to two hours to collect 35 kg of fruit and vegetables. You spend more time getting to and from locations than on the actual food collection.
  • Outstanding community connectors gently nudging everyone - how else could you mobilize effortlessly a team of teams?! @Ponyo  is one of them for sure.
  • Some pocket money is available - we spent 200 Romanian lei (<50 EUR) in cash shopping for extra ingredients. That’s it, the rest of the funding was in kind (think small contributions like cooking tools brought from home, venue and electricity offered for free, gas to get to the venue etc).
  • Saturday afternoon time - people were available, they came and enjoyed working in the kitchen or just hang out as you’d usually do on weekends.
  • Appetite for food, drinks, conversation - we had 5 lovely courses including desserts (will just say: La Bonbonniere :P), a variety of locally sourced drinks and pretty diverse people, although mostly young.

We got hold of things like kiwis, lemons, green salad and baby spinach in too decent shape. Such good food is dumped every single day!

We’d love more people to join, run events or just wave, from here and from the Internet.

We’re thinking of hosting more intimate meals cooked from our own food surplus but for extended friends circles, then gradually expand so the new people coming in at every step are immersed in an already knowledgeable group. I have a hunch this favors deeper learning and behavior change. Another thing we’d like to do is move forward with Yello Fridge (community based, outdoor and public) an idea that only needs a neighborhood space to get started.

I’d also be curious to hear if you’ve participated in similar food related events. Do you have advice for how to run community dinners regularly and outstandingly?

Great work

Wow, excellent stuff! And, as a native of Emilia Romagna, I really want the “Praise the Lard” T-shirt the guy at the center of the photo is wearing.

More seriously: this does sound as something that could be repeated, and possibly even made permanent or semi-permanent. The scarce resource is, as always, the conveners: the people who would bother to email and call and put up the wiki and phone the local supermarket manager who is happy to help but would definitely not get on the wiki or the Google group… even for you, it’s fun to get out and do this, but will it still be fun next year if you do it every Saturday? What other fun things will you have to forego in order to do this?

I wonder if @janetgunter might have some wisdom to share from the Repair Project.

Conveners very precious resource indeed

The guy wearing the shirt is Nicu, he was actually the chef coordinating everyone :slight_smile:

Regularity also means lowering coordination as you fall into some clear processes - now a lot of the time has gone into thinking about the concept, drafting invites etc. All this would be taken care of in future events… But the people who seamlessly make stuff happen - like Cami aka Ponyo, or @Natalia_Skoczylas  or @Yannick from what I know :stuck_out_tongue: are very precious.

Once you have the building blocks, stepping into a friendly strucure is much easier.  I surprised myself thinking about how cheap it is to be part of stuff like this:

  • Volunteering semi-anonymously is great. In this age and in the knowledge economy, I hardly know any people who don’t have an organisation or a project that’s their official “baby”. Everybody is a co-founder of something. So being able to squeeze great work in between one’s official hats makes for quite a breathing space.
  • If we could all volunteer 2-3 hours for someone’s project with no agenda whatsoever it would be so much easier to barnraise around highly ambitious things.
  • You don’t have to be an expert on food or run a civic organisation to claim a say in a pressing issue - the issue is 100% unresolved and no one can claim authority on it.. so: blank slate to experiment!

participant - very impressed with the event

I’m Sabina, an Environmental Protection master’s student from Cluj, Ro, who has attended the event.

I was honestly very impressed with the event, I congratulate the initiative and the work behind it and even if I was there only to help with the preparing of the food, tasting of the delicious soup and amazing carrot cake, I couldn’t help but notice and fully enjoy the community feeling roaming around while slicing potatoes and washing dishes while the food was being prepared by the chefs and volunteers.

Even though my thesis is precisely on Food Waste, and I’ve gained knowledge on the issue while researching, I was so sad to find out about the baby spinach, lemon and other products that were left to rot next to one of the hypermarkets’ dumpsters in town.

… I can only be happy the Food Waste Combat team came ‘to the rescue’ and I hope I will be able to attend more of their events (and give a helping hand) that would slowly bring awareness regarding this burning issue that we only see the smoke of… yet.

There’s a lot happening in Belgium

A much-needed initiative and a fun night at that, congratulations!

In Belgium there is a lot of stuff happening around food surplus. Plenty of young people are launching projects and little companies around the idea. Mainly in Brussels, but also in Ghent and other cities. There’s a an overarching organisation that connects and supports all the initiatives: Food Surplus Entrepreneurs Network. They share experience, knowledge, connections and raise awareness.

The last weeks they did a succesful campaign for recuperating surplus apples, Juice for Change. Fruit leftovers are a major problem for Belgian farmers at the moment. From idea to execution and launching their crowdfunding it took about one week, with plenty of volunteers pitching in.

I hear similar community dinners popping up here and there, but I haven’t been.

Also, Disco Soupe

Thanks @WinniePoncelet for the connections, I hope we get to learn from each other. Checked out Juice for Change and surprise: recognized @ElienShr :slight_smile: Elien, are you involved in it, or can you tell us more?

Also in Bxl, I remember we partnered up with Disco Soupe for Living on the Edge 5, and it was pretty cool. Very professionally managed event even though the setup was new to the team too!

@saby thanks for feedback! the next event is on Nov 26th, I wont be there but you know your way. If you want to volunteer a few hours with the team ahead of the actual event let me know and I’ll hook you up.

hook me up

Thanks, @Noemi :slight_smile:

Please hook me up, I’d love to help, however much I can, prior to and during the event.

Thank you for compliments, @Noemi! I have something to add to this collection of great ideas and initiatives. In Berlin, there is a group of young Philipino/Brasilian artists called Nowhere Kitchen who cook with surplus food. But there is so much more to it - they engage the people in chopping and preparing, but they take over the cooking process, so we do not end up with random, kind of awful food. Their recipes were stunning and combinations of tastes surprisingly delicious. The whole evening a guy was jamming to it some ambient/psychedelic stuff on guitar, and when the serving time came, they did a whole spiritual performance before we started eating. I’ve been there, and some people from the street came around to join in. It was beautiful! And I think in such a delightful form eating leftovers can be dignified, and very political. (OK, some say the food didn’t come out always as great as I remember it - that’s probably the rule of cooking with random leftovers).

This sounds fantastic. I’d love to visit thast next time i’m in Berlin (hopefully soon)

I’ve been thinking about organising something like this in the UK. Especially with that sound/music/performance narrative to it. I will certainly check that out.

Performative cooking :slight_smile:

Sounds like the edge of dinners… these aren’t just leftover ingredients, but leftover food (potentially cooked) if I understand well! Whoa. Thanks for the reference, Natalia.