Taste Before You Waste: The Cult Reclaimed Food Event That’s Doubling Down on Dinner Nights
The really exciting thing about Wasteless Wednesdays and the Taste Before You Waste movement— apart from tackling food waste, creating communities and saving the goddamn planet — is that anything can happen.
From the public’s point of view, it’s an impressively professional event that manages, week after week, to create a two-or-three-course meal from a random selection of foodstuffs that various shops have deemed insufficiently perfect for human consumption. Or at least for sale. The menu changes weekly, at the whim of these kindly shopkeepers, but the overall quality of the food is incredibly high, and consistently so. So much so that although no-one is required to pay to eat, most people are very happy to bung in at least a tenner. What the public don’t see, however, is the transformation process, which on occasion, can be a tiny bit fraught.
It’s at its most fraught when a random selection of the day’s ingredients are laid out on a long table at around 2.30 in the afternoon. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, there are more than enough different ingredients for a talented chef and an enthusiastic team of sous chefs to devise and create a sumptuous and delicious menu. Once in a while, however, the ingredients table is a tad less impressive, boasting only a couple of aubergines, ten tubs of banana Nesquik and forty slightly soft cucumbers. It’s on those rare days that a tiny bit of panic sets in.
Like all good things, it started with one person, taking action…
Wasteless Wednesday is just one spoke in the wheel of Taste Before You Waste (TBYW), a registered Public Benefit Organisation that was founded in November 2012 by Italy-born Amsterdammer Luana Carretto, who was just about to start a Social & Environmental Sciences degree. After seeing a documentary about dumpster diving, Luana realised that if some people were throwing food into dumpsters, and then other people were diving into the dumpsters to retrieve and eat the food, then basically, someone needed to cut the dumpster out of the equation. So, armed with little more than the knowledge that the system wasn’t working, she started going into shops on Javastraat and asking if she could take their waste food off their hands.
Buoyed by shopkeepers’ willingness to help (nobody actually wants to waste food), Luana established Taste Before You Waste, and for a while concentrated mostly on food redistribution, donating the food she saved to a number of local charities. Other students became involved and for the first 18 months, this was the group’s main activity. Luana was aware, however, that redistribution wasn’t really doing anything to solve the underlying problem of food waste, so new strategies were required.
After a while, they were able to secure the use of a local community centre, which was when a particularly active volunteer and Anthropology student had the idea of cooking communal meals with the food they collected. And lo, Wasteless Wednesdays were born.
“If you cook it, they will come.”
Over the past four years, Wasteless Wednesday has evolved into one of Amsterdam’s most beloved and charmingly informal culinary events. Through a combination of word-of-mouth and finger-of-Facebook, it regularly fills out the two floors of the Dokhuis Galerie with between 50 and 70 diners turning up almost every week.
Meanwhile, Taste Before You Waste has also been evolving. At the end of the summer in 2017, Luana left Amsterdam to travel through Asia with her husband and another couple, with a view to learning more about conservation, permaculture and zero-waste lifestyle alternatives. Since then, Luana’s long-time second-in-command Sophia Bensch has taken over the reins. Sophia met Luana at university and started volunteering with TBYW in the first summer, helping with food pick-ups and later, cooking shifts, as well as working with Luana on development and strategy.
Sophia admits she was nervous about taking over full-time from Luana. “To be honest, now is the first time in months that I feel very relaxed about it. Obviously it can be stressful to be responsible for organising all these things on my own but I really feel like I’m in control of it now, and I have an overview.”
The other things to which Sophia refers include free food markets every Tuesday afternoon (also at the Dokzaal) and public outreach most weekends — this involves setting up information stalls somewhere in the city or latching onto existing events like farmers’ markets or street festivals and letting people know what they’re up to. Then there’s catering for occasional events and staging regular workshops for both children and adults, in schools and in companies, where Sophia and various volunteers educate participants on food recycling and waste prevention.
Thankfully, things don’t look like slowing down and the year ahead is looking particularly busy. “Aside from focusing a little more on community outreach and getting more involved with research and policy in the areas of city planning and sustainability, what we really want to do in 2018,” says Sophia, “is focus on high-demand activities such as Wasteless Wednesdays, because those are the activities with the most public interest and energy, and they feel like the best areas to pursue in terms of reaching people and making actual change.”
With that in mind, on January 22nd, TBYW launched Wasteless Mondays, where as well as the usual delicious pay-what-you-feel meal, there will also be regular live music and film screenings.
As if that weren’t enough, there’s also a very cheap bar…
So if you’re not already part of the movement, there could not be a better time to get involved.
Check out the Facebook page for more details and do get in touch if you’d like to join the ever-evolving team of volunteers. Alternatively, just pop along on any Monday or Wednesday (18.30 start), where you can not only meet lovely people and be an active part of something truly important, but you can also eat some damn fine food in the process.
Oh, and if you’re worried you might be asked to consume a cucumber and banana Nesquik bisque, don’t be. The TBYW chefs are geniuses. (Also, they have back-up supplies in case of emergencies.)
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