Let’s talk about food waste in the Netherlands

The lockdown of last year has metamorphosed us into birds of various colors. While some have turned to art for solace, some bloomed into gardeners and many of us became chefs, thanks to Nigella Lawson and Masterchef.

While the new normal still doesn’t feel normal, most of us have woken up from the stupor of last year only to discover stacks of exotic ingredients, tins of beans and frozen produce hidden behind nachos and ice creams. Seems people have grown tired of the make-believe cooking talent (I know I have.) That brings us to today’s topic — Food waste in the Netherlands.

About a third of all food generated is wasted across the world. To put this into perspective, it could actually feed two billion people and could end the whole world hunger problem (yes, it still exists.)

The Dutch and food waste

The pennywise Dutch are not innocent, throwing away approximately 35% of food bought per year. And that is only on a household level. Think also of food wasted in the markets, restaurants and supermarket chains.

It is not just food that is wasted, we must also account for the resources (soil, water, labour/energy) required to grow the food, process it and transport it from farm to tables. Finally, whilst breaking down it generates methane (an inflammable gas) that is best friends with global warming.

Awareness campaigns

But all is not gloom and doom, for the Dutch government has been trying to raise awareness on the issue for the last decade. Initiatives include public campaigns like the National Food Waste Free Week (for the second year running), incentives for small businesses that take steps against food waste, prizes for best food waste management and a personal favourite; Becky of stichting Samen tegen voedselverspilling (United Against Food Waste).

Becky is a full lipped mascot (quite literally, she’s a CGI pair of lips with some eyes, legs and hands) of the organisation. She explains crucial points in cute little videos. For example, she talks about best-before and use-by dates, a subtle difference that could save food from being dumped or flushed down sinks.

Creative cooking

Amsterdam is also the face of a creative food industry. There are many waste-free restaurants that are still mushrooming. Best known among them is Instock, a restaurant with a mission to reduce food waste and inspire people to be more conscious of consumption.

It began as a pop up that saved the not-so-pretty-looking veggies from Albert Heijn and converted them into different meals. Today, they are the forerunners of this food movement.

It’s not just the wonky produce they save, but they also repurpose ingredients. Consider this — Instock beers are pretty popular but you know what they are made of? Bread and old potatoes! It’s no secret that Dutchies love their bread and so bakeries regularly overproduce them. This way the surplus is cleverly tackled, the same goes for the Dutch and their potatoes, which are also given a new lease of life.

Banking on food banks

Also alive are various food banks that have sprung up to support households. Following an economic crash these proved more essential than ever, the Vereniging van Nederlandse Voedselbanken or Association of Dutch Food Banks was born, which is now spread across the country to help people in need.

Food parcels to the rescue Photo credit: Nico Smit/Unsplash

The food banks are often run independently with the support of volunteers. But like many other things in the country, not anyone can simply walk into a foodbank to pick up their meal. Factors such as income and the money left after paying for fixed costs will determine if a family is eligible for support.

H-app-y hours!

Not eligible for a food bank but still would like cheap meals? App-away is the best way forward. Nofoodwasted.com, resqclub and Toogoodtogo are some sites that excel at keeping the belly and wallet happy. Discounted meals from restaurants or perfectly good but misshapen produce from supermarkets, as well as products that are a little past their prime (not expired! Check with Becky!) can all be secured without much hassle.

Community cares

While big organisations put in large scale efforts, sometimes the warmest tokens come from everyday people. The Little Free Pantry, Voorburg is one of the best community engagements there is. In a neighborhood dotted with mini libraries that run on trust, this pantry is the only one of its kind. This is Amanda Klijn-Lelieveld’s big gesture to help her neighbors and prevent food waste.

Giving and taking as a community Image: Little Free Pantry Voorburg/Facebook.

Standing on Koningin Wilhelminalaan, this small cupboard’s motto is “take what you want and give what you can.” It is filled with pasta, rice, crackers; basically the essentials of a pantry all placed by people living in the neighborhood. It is by the people for the people.

Although it is present in a quiet lane, it has slowly become a landmark. Several people leave dry goods and several pick them up. The neighborhood school also uses it to impart lessons in sharing to kids. It isn’t just a donation, it is good-naturedness.

Amanda says that the pantry fills and empties several times a day. In fact, there are people who ring her bell and leave huge packages to be shared. While she isn’t thinking of installing more such pantries, she certainly is trying to get sponsors from supermarkets so there could be better things available for the community. Let’s hope that the spirit of sharing catches on we could see more community run pantries in the city.

Have you come across creative solutions to address food waste? Tell us in your thoughts in the comments!

Feature Image: Dan Gold/Unsplash

Vatsalya Balasubramanian
Vatsalya Balasubramanianhttps://haguelyindian.blogspot.com/
Born and bread (carb lover here!) in colourful India, my husband and I came to Holland for a short three months. With three months stretching beyond three years, I now juggle various interests while also trying to balance a temperamental toddler. When not cursing the wind while riding a bike, I write a blog, try different coffee blends and of course, wait for the blink-and-miss Dutch summer.



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