Food sharing – in times of need

By Ines Linder and Elise Kieffer

Some Danes claim to have found a way of consuming that is friendly for both the budget and the environment – by sharing food.

Some of the boxes of produce at the event. Photo: Ines Linder

Rising food prices have shocked the world in recent months. It is especially prevalent in Denmark, the country with the fourth highest prices of food in all of the EU. Because of this, a battle between food stores has broken out in Denmark as customers search for the cheapest alternatives. Famous food chains such as Irma and Aldi has been left to bite the dust in Denmark. At the same time, food waste is still a large issue in the whole EU, as the union waste more than it imports.

At Folkets Hus in Copenhagen, boxes full of grapes, apples and oranges lay on the floor. “Do you like artichoke?” the volunteer Tingwey Wild says to a woman passing through the door. The woman shakes her head. Her son only eats fruits. She wants the box with roughly three kilograms of apples instead. The room is packed with people looking around for food to take home. Music plays in the background. The produce looks fresh. Not even a spot on the grapes – why would you want to throw this away?

The event taking place at Folkets Hus is organised by Food sharing Copenhagen, one of the biggest non-profit organisations preventing food waste in Denmark. The main goal is to share food that would otherwise go to waste, by collecting surplus food from wholesalers, supermarkets, and bakeries.

Tingwey Wild, volunteer worker for Foodsharing Copenhagen. Photo: Ines Linder

Tingwey Wild has been working as a volunteer for Foodsharing Copenhagen for two years now. She says that all kinds of people come in to pick up free food at the organisation’s events. Some come for environmental reasons, others for economic. Some just come to socialise.

“We have a great variety of people attending our events. In recent months I’ve noticed that there have been more and more people telling me how good this kind of initiative is because of the high costs of living in Denmark now,” says Wild

Apart from the food-sharing events, the movement is active online, too. On Facebook, there are multiple groups for people wanting to give away food that will soon expire, or that want to get food for free. The organisation Foodsharing Copenhagen’s own Facebook group is flooded with posts from people talking about the difficulty of making ends meet, especially right now with inflation and rising food prices. “This month is especially rough, if you have any extra food please don’t throw it away”, one user writes. “I cannot afford to buy food this month, if you have some extra, please PM me”, says another one. The responses are overwhelming. Many people seem interested in wanting to help people who are struggling by giving away food from the pantries or leftovers from yesterday’s dinner. Many consider it a win-win situation – help someone get fed, help another one shrink their bin.

Screenshot of a post in the Foodsharing Copenhagen Facebook group. Photo: Ines Linder

Private households in Denmark throw away 247 000 tons of food every year, making up for thirty per cent of the total amount of food waste in Denmark. In the EU, the percentage is as high as fifty per cent. Food waste is a problem all down the line from production to consumption, says Ulrich Pindstrup, head of the Department of Food, Agriculture and Fishery at The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration.

“Food waste is a problem in all sectors from primary production through processing and manufacturing to retail and consumer level (…) In Denmark, the processing level is responsible for approx. 50% of the food waste. This is a big proportion which also reflects that Denmark is a country with a large production of food per inhabitant”, Ulrich Pindstrup states.

Data: The Danish Environmental Protection Agency 2021

Sharing food that can’t be sold is an important element of reducing food waste, Ulrich Pindstrup points out. However, it is hard to say exactly how big of an impact food sharing has on the total reduction of food waste in Denmark. But we might get to know more soon.

“The EU commission is currently outlining an impact assessment of initiatives to reduce food waste, and hopefully this will give us more detailed answers”, Ulrich Pindstrup says.