Monday, September 07, 2015

Diving for dinners

September 7, 2015 -- Dumpster diving for food –we’ve seen it on a number of occasions in recent years, but we hadn’t seen it this year in Paris, until we were on our way home from a few hours of walking in the afternoon yesterday.  Near the Cuban Embassy and the Place Dupleix, we saw a man sorting through the green poubelles in an orderly fashion, slowly filling his large fabric shopping bag.  He wanted the food others had rejected.
Yesterday was a beautiful day to walk in Paris.

In a way, this is a long-observed tradition in France.  The very origin of classic French foods like andouillette, tete de veau, kidneys, livers, pig’s feet, etc., is the fact that the poorer people got the unwanted parts of the animals, the parts that were left over after the richer people got the steaks, roasts and chops. 
French people are clever and talented when it comes to food.  Long ago, they learned to use the less desirable parts of the animals to make classic comfort foods.  They used the rejects to make wonderful dishes.
We discussed this over dinner, as Tom dined on fine lamb chops and I was very pleased to have an excellent tete et lange de veau (calf’s head and tongue) at Pere Claude.  It was a fine Sunday dinner over which we talked about dumpster diving and other matters.  Tom told me about the textbook chapter he just finished writing; I told Tom what I’d learned about a new French regulation dealing with food waste.
In May, the French national assembly passed a law to forbid supermarkets from deliberately ruining food that it puts out in dumpsters.  Some supermarkets were evidently pouring bleach on this food so that the dumpster divers could not use it.  Ostensibly, the supermarkets were preventing people from being poisoned by spoiled food; but one could also argue that the supermarkets were preventing poor people from getting free food, forcing them to buy food instead – or go hungry.
Bridal photo shoot on the rue de l'Universite.
Those supermarkets made hungry people feel like they were wrong to want this food.  Now, we thought, the tables have been turned; the national assembly made it clear that those supermarkets were in the wrong.
Now the supermarkets larger than 400 square meters could not legally destroy unsold food; instead, these businesses must have a contract with a charity to give the food away.  They must try to give the food away in an orderly fashion.  I believe this is commonly done by U.S. supermarkets.

Unfortunately, on August 15, the new law was scrapped due to a technicality since it was passed as an amendment to another law.  Still, some major supermarket chains vow that they will sign contracts with charities voluntarily.  And there is a new law that may be introduced in the French parliament.
Besides the charities, there is a “foraging movement” in France.  Activists wear gloves to retrieve food from dumpsters, then sort it and give it to people who need it.  Some of these activists are worried that people will think a new law is a “silver bullet” for solving the problem of supermarket food waste.  They see a bigger problem involving overproduction and distribution.
In a way, they’re right.  According to government estimates,  most of the food wasted in France (67%) is thrown out by consumers.  Only 15 percent of it comes from restaurants and 11 percent from stores.  The cost of all this wasted food?  20 billion euros.
The Champ de Mars.
After the passage of the French law in May, one of its champions proceeded to then pressure the European parliament to adopt a resolution that would be similar.  This champion’s name is Arash Derambarsh.
Derambarsh was born in Paris, but his parents were Iranians who fled from the revolution. For some reason, they went back to Iran a few months after his birth in 1979, so he lived in Iran until 1983.  He considers himself to be franco-persian, but he is of French nationality.  His dad, a filmmaker, and his uncle, a cartoonist, encouraged Derambarsh’s interest in politics and social justice.  So he became a lawyer, and he has been one of those people who put on gloves, dove the dumpsters or foraged in the poubelles, and gave the food to the poor.  The illegality of this act is what propelled Derambarsh to work towards changing the law.
I wish him well in his efforts to help feed the world.  But in addition to endeavors by champions like Derambarsh, we must work to reduce the amount of food wasted in our homes.  If the statistics in the U.S. are anything like the ones in France, an enormous amount of food is being wasted at home and abroad.
Think about it every time you go to the grocery.


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