Sharing food and building community through ICT

Group dinner of surplus food at Thuis Wageningen. Photo by Tzu Yuan Su, Taiwan

By Cheron Constance: drczconstance@gmail.com

June 21 2017 Cheron successfully defended her PhD-thesis What if the trucks stop coming? : exploring the framing of local food by cooperative food retailers in New Mexico

Stone soup an allegorical folktale (with many variations) in which a hungry stranger arrives in a village and persuades the local people to contribute small amounts of ingredients to make a meal collectively. While the story can offer many meanings, it symbolises an interest in commensality and sharing food that exists worldwide and is being furthered by information and communication technology (ICT), such as apps, message boards, and web sites. Such ICT-enabled collaboration may connect people sharing food ingredients, prepared meals, gardening and kitchen resources, or knowledge. Food sharing may be done with or without the exchange of money and can hold multiple meanings and motivations, such as reducing waste from surplus food. In Ireland, an interesting initiative called SHARECITY is attempting to describe the practices, governance, and sustainability contributions of ICT-enabled food sharing activities in 100 cities around the world. Foodsharing.de, one such platform based in Germany, coordinates the redistribution of surplus food from individuals and businesses (including grocery shops and farms). In addition to this direct redistribution, the group of over 200,000 users and 25,000 volunteers raises awareness about the environmental impacts of wasting food (including wasted energy and water) and other costs, such as wasted labour, that is used along the food chain.

Foodsharing.de has developed a large network of other groups using the same model, including one in that is active in Wageningen. Foodsharing Wageningen, which was started by students in 2015, collects edible surplus food that would be otherwise wasted from independent shops, market stalls, and restaurants in and around the city. They focus on sustainability of the process, with small teams going by bicycle to make pre-arranged collections. The group incurs no other expenses, using all-volunteer labour – which is coordinated via Facebook and email – and donated refrigeration and storage space. The collectors or “food savers” from the group must take a brief online test to learn how to handle and deliver food safely and hygienically. They also receive an ID card and learn how to best cooperate with the contributing shops to ensure smooth collections and continued participation.

The saved food is aggregated at Thuis Wageningen, a thriving community space in town, where it can be picked up from a specially-designated fridge and storage area. Individual members of the public can also use Facebook to announce available items for collection at Thuis (or arrange pick-ups at agreed locations). No money is exchanged.

Foodsharing Wageningen also holds information sessions about food waste and collects surplus food to cater events. In such cases, food may be collected and stored up to a month in advance, with community members and friends (and friends of friends!) cooperating to offer freezer and cupboard space for collected food. In 2016, the Foodsharing Wageningen hosted two dinners, each with more than 50 people in attendance being fed on donated surplus food. Foodsharing Wageningen is increasing their collaboration with other groups and estimated that they redistributed over 50 kilos of sandwiches and another 50 kilos of cooked food from groups involved in the Annual Introduction Days and Regreening activities at the start of the University term. While Foodsharing Wageninen is interested in cultivating such partnerships, another ambition is to foster more education and awareness to reduce the amount of surplus food in the first place. If you’d like to be involved with any of their activities, have ideas for events, or want to pick up or donate surplus food, get in touch via Facebook or email.

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