Friday, February 14, 2014

Food Waste to Food Security: Spain to Maine

This past visit to Barcelona I spent a lot of time working with Paco Muñoz-Gutiérrez: technician of the Environmental Office at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), expert on waste characterization methods for the Catalan Government Waste Agency, and a reference for the City of Barcelona in prevention, reduction and separation methods for organic waste. Paco is also co-author of the first Guide to Food Waste Prevention for the Hospitality Sector, and is working with a consulting company Spora Sinergies to implement an Integrated Practical Approach Pilot Project for the City of Barcelona. The goal is to have this pilot prove the potential of public-private partnerships to drive widespread behavioral changes and reduce the ethical, environmental and economic implications of food waste for generations to come.

Paco also recognizes the importance of working with social movements that have gradually become publicly recognized responses to the growing needs for food security organizations. During my visit in Barcelona, Paco asked me to come to a meeting of the Platform for Resourceful Food Use (PAA) to present on my experience leading food waste prevention efforts for Healthy Acadia’s Gleaning Initiative in Maine. The PAA has published a Manifesto Stop Food Waste and will hold a high profile public event in a public space next February 20th, to bring together actors representing the different sectors working on food waste prevention and food security in Barcelona/Catalonia. Using a combination of purchased, donated and gleaned foods, there is clearly a global trend, from Spain to Maine, to unite people to recognize wasteful behaviors and begin teaching resourcefulness as a value with which to approach food insecurity for generations to come.

At the meeting, Alba, one of the organizers of the PAA, invited me to visit “El PLAT de Gràcia”: literally translated as The Plate of Grace, but actually referring to its location in the Barcelona neighborhood of Gràcia. Alba, is the most consistent part of this project, and explained this initiative as a community effort to serve a free Sunday lunch once every two weeks, to bring up the issues of food waste and food security. Apparently Alba never knows who is going to show up, but people always do; they come bearing food, laughter, and music to accompany the cooking and feasting. They come as hungry strangers and leave full-bellied friends. People in the streets stop and ask about the scene, and plates of leftovers are given out, as random passers-by are invited to join in the fun.  

An older couple who saw me with a camera came over to ask me what was happening. I explained it was a food recovery effort aiming to bring attention to the problem of food waste by serving meals cooked with gleaned food from stores and fields. “Oh, yes, gleaning. I used to glean almonds in my father’s hometown, down in Tarragona. They would shake the almond trees and put a blanket down under the tree to catch the almonds. I would go in afterwards and collect the ones they had missed. I got 30 cents for a kilo. A man in the town would buy them.” I can’t put into words how excited I was, as a modern day professional gleaner, to meet a traditional gleaner just walking down the street. I though to myself, how many more traditional gleaners are out there? I would love to capture their stories, and learn from tradition to inform today’s approach to gleaning.