What are rules and laws there for? To protect us. Take the example of food–there are hygienic reasons for best-before dates but it can be criticised, as the desire to constantly sell contributes to the throwing away of food too early. Since food production costs tons of energy and resources, that behaviour has a negative impact on the environment and green activists call for a more reasonable dealing with food.
But would you still eat something that is deemed not good enough to be sold in a supermarket or restaurant? Methods like dumpster diving are highly contested, but creative heads all over the world have already developed new projects to promote food saving. One is Zeenath Hassan’s Malmö based organisation “Rude Food”. To get to know their idea of food saving and whether it is a grey zone or not, I interviewed one of the activists and food savers, Hampus Mattson.
“Rude Food is an organization that collects surplus from restaurants, supermarkets and fruit and vegetable stands. Then we donate 60 percent of that to charity and we use the other 40 percent to make caterings. So we try to upcycle food before it becomes waste,” explains Mattson.
It is always the question of how small projects can make a difference in saving our environment. So I ask, how Rude Food can be seen as part of a broader environmental movement and whether local initiatives can have an impact on the global environment.
“[Rude Food] is a very small one, so I think in terms of the overall environmental movement, I hope that Rude Food is some mode of inspiration to other entrepreneurs to find these gaps in the system and take advantage of them, because that can help things in the bigger picture in the environment I think,“ says Mattson.
He explains, that “[the influence] is very country specific. We have met people from Australia that were involved in a thing called “Oz harvest”. And they do basically what we do […]. The difference between them and us is that they are huge, a massive organization […]. In Sweden, it’s very difficult for us to work with larger businesses. Everything is so slow, it takes forever, there are lots of hoops to jump through […]. I would say in our context in Sweden, I don’t know how much these types of small organisation like Rude Food can make a big difference in the overall picture, other than to inspire people. But then if you look at Oz harvest, they actually can make a significant dent in the food waste problem.”
Mattson mentions “gaps in the system”- that raises the question how exactly do the laws regarding food saving look like? For the topic for this issue, “Grey Zones”, this is an important aspect. Mattson explains the legal side of Rude Food:
“Since we were one of the first, maybe the first one doing it– when we approached municipal government offices that have anything to do with food safety, they didn’t really know what to say or what to think about it. So it became that we just follow the exact same rules that any other restaurant or food business does. And I would say that in legal terms, there is not actually a grey zone, because we are not taking food that has already been thrown out. It’s food that’s still edible, it’s still in a fridge, we are just moving it to another location and then we are using it. But culturally, maybe we are, because that is actually been the bigger hurdle […] whenever you talk about food waste and turning food waste into food, like regular food, people think it’s maybe dirty food or it’s rotten or it is spoiled, whatever. Overcoming that kind of mindset, that has been more of the difficult thing, I think, for Rude Food.”
A Cultural Grey Zone?
I want to go a bit deeper in the expression of a “cultural grey zone” and ask Mattson to explain it a bit further.
“I can start with looking at the business side of it. There is also this kind of unsettled thing in that we are getting a lot of our resources for free. So sometimes we hear ‘that is not really fair’ […] But usually that can be solved by telling them that we are not for profit, so we don’t actually make any money from this. It’s just a service that is meant to raise awareness about food waste. If you explain to people what it is, then you can overcome that […] If it’s in a grey zone, it’s because it has not been done before, so people don’t know how to react to it.”
So once people get into contact with the projects of Rude Food, how is the general reaction? Are they rather disgusted or do they appreciate and support the work?
“Generally, it’s–at least in my personal experience–good. We get positive feedback all the time, both in terms of ‘it is great what you’re doing’, in the sort of social sense and environmental sense and also we get compliments on the food as well. So everything has been positive” Mattson concludes.
Positive feedback is always good and something that keeps these organisations running. Without the engagement of its activists, Rude Food would not be able to exist.
As we can conclude from the interview, there is still a long way to go and many things we can do. Every one of us. Rules need to be redefined from time to time and it can be necessary to cross some lines or try something completely new. That potentially means, that you move in a grey zone between right and wrong. But as the idea moves on, this question will clarify.
By Nina Kolarzik
Portrait Hampus Mattson (chairman of the board at Rude Food) by Nina Kolarzik
Rude Food at the Parabere Forum by Malin Nilsson
Food Save Volunteer by Alexander Olivera