“Poor but sexy”, is how former Governing Mayor of Berlin Klaus Wowereit described in 2003 the German capital. The Sozialstrukturatlas Berlin 2013, a survey of the city’s social makeup, revealed that the division between rich and poor in Berlin has become even more rigid. Wealthy districts, such as Charlottenburg and Zehlendorf, continue to prosper, while traditionally poorer neighbourhoods, such as Marzahn-Hellersdorf and Spandau, have remained poor. And as Berlin’s Tagesspiegel pointedly noted, residents of the latter are less educated, get sick more often and die younger.
Of course, poverty is a relative term and presumably nobody has to starve in Berlin today. But low income and a lack of education frequently go hand in hand with poor nutrition. Fresh fruit and vegetables, especially organic products, rarely make it to the plates of the economically disadvantaged.
Yet that’s not how things have to be. Recently, a number of initiatives in Berlin have joined forces to rescue products that are still edible and often organic. Private households and supermarkets are giving away discarded food. Some of these goods are then stored in refrigerators that are accessible to the public. And two resourceful businesswomen are selling misshapen vegetables in a shop specially designed for the purpose. Things are happening!
Food belongs on the table and not in the bin
The idea behind Lebensmittelretten.de, a nationwide initiative launched by Raphael Fellmer in 2012, is to save food that has been sorted out by organic supermarkets and share it free of charge. A collaboration now exists with several of these markets in Berlin and Hamburg. They are making their discarded products available on a regular basis – as are some 1,500 private individuals. The rescued products are distributed via the internet platform Foodsharing.de. This network, founded by filmmaker Valentin Thurn (Taste the Waste, 2011), enables private individuals and shop owners across Germany to give away or swap unused products via an interactive databank (with the exception of extremely perishable items such as fresh meat, fish or eggs). People offering items can set up a “food basket”. Those looking for something can find what is being offered on a map, and after establishing contact, pick up the products. According to the latest statistics, Berlin – with 220 tons of saved foodstuffs – ranks above Cologne and Munich in the food sharing economy. Lebensmittelretter also works directly with the Berliner Obdachlosenhilfe, an organization for the homeless. On Wednesdays and weekends, they prepare meals from discarded vegetables and fruits for up to 250 people.
There are also more than 20 refrigerators, called FairTeiler (“fair distributors”), within Berlin’s city limits. Two of them are public and accessible around the clock; the others have been installed in small shops. Private households can deposit food they don’t need – whether it is because their occupants are going on holiday, have accidentally bought leeks instead of spring onions, or have suddenly found three packs of butter in the fridge of their shared apartment. These donations are received with enthusiasm by young and old, and even tourists have been spotted at these “cool” rescue points.