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The gleaners
November 9, 2010, 12:42 pm
Filed under: 5/5, Food | Tags: , , , , , ,

The Gleaners. Jean-François Millet. 1857

Gleaning is the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers’ fields after they have been commercially harvested or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest. Some ancient cultures promoted gleaning as an early form of a welfare system. (Source: Wikipedia)

Agnès Verda’s documentary ‘Les glaneurs et la glaneuse’ (The gleaners and I/Elämä on kaunis in Finnish, which means: Life is beautiful!!), released in 2000 (more about the film here, and a preview of the movie can be found here), is about people, who collect thrown-away things, ranging from food over household articles to tools and furniture, with different motivations such as simply economical necessity, political and ethical protest against abundant consumerism and food production, and holistic life philosophy. As you might have already heard and seen in the documentary ‘Taste the Waste’, optically incorrect products are already sorted out before they even reach the market, left to rot on the fields. The same thing happens in the supermarkets- as soon as there is a brown spot on a banana, it goes to the dump, without even asking the customers if they are even keen on buying only perfectly sized, monosized, green bananas.

It is assumed that customers want shelves to be exploding with variety and a plethora of neverending products, even half an hour before closing time. This leads to an abundance of edible and still valuable food, turning all in the sudden into unwanted waste and being thrown away, even though the term ‘waste’ does not even do justice to the latter. One might think, that the employees could at least diminish small parts of the ‘waste’ for their own needs, but no: that would be theft and against the law. One might think then, well, the food that is still good and harmless to health could be distributed amongst the poor- but no, hygiene laws in Finland are so strict that even that is forbidden, and the ‘waste’ goes to the bin.

No wonder that a movement started to spread worldwide: dumpster-diving (in Finnish: dyykkaaminen). In 2002, YLE has screened a documentary about a community in Espoo, that only lives from discarded food and stuff found on dumpsters. You can watch it online here. The term literally means to dive for valuable goods in dumpsters. One might be disgusted by the pure thought of eating waste, but the edibles that can be found are usually in shockingly good state and can hardly be called waste.  Dumpster diving is rather about salvaging goods that are thrown away only because crazy hygiene laws, insane competition amongst shops, and distorted perspectives on the value of things call for it.

In Germany and the States one can find so-called foodbanks, charity organizations that collect unwanted supermarket and wholesale food and distribute it amongst the needy. The world’s first food bank is the St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance in Arizona, called into life by John van Hengel in 1967. According to Wikipedia, similar concepts can also be found in other European countries such as Iceland (since the financial crisis), Austria, Spain, and Switzerland.

Here some interesting links:

http://dyykkarit.net/ (Finnish dumpster-diving website)

http://freegan.info/ (American site with many links to worldwide networks)

http://www.endhunger.org/gleaning_network.htm (American gleaning network)

http://www.berliner-tafel.de/(German Food Bank in Berlin)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_bank (About the history of food banks and their practice)

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Permaculture
October 29, 2010, 7:26 am
Filed under: Design, Food, Production, Theories | Tags: , , , , , ,

Fuji Eco Park Village, Japan, by Cecilia Macaulay

Last night, I attended a lecture about Permaculture at the Hub Helsinki. My mind is blasted. Jerome Osentowski, director of the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute, was speaker of the night. It got me really interested in learning more about Permaculture, which is a whole philosophy including social, economical, technological, cultural, educational, political and spiritual aspects. Basically, it is a concept about a self-sustained life, independent from governments and states, in accord with nature. The term comes from the two words ‘permanent’ and ‘agriculture’, and “aims to design human settlements and agricultural systems that mimic nature”, Osentowski presented in his lecture. Three basic ethics lead Permaculture: care for the earth, care for the people, and sharing the surplus. From the website www.permacultureprinciples.com, you can find very nice and clear descriptions of the principles, presented in the permaculture flower diagram, which are explained more nearly when clicking on them. Those Ecovillages are like small Utopian realities with a holistic philosophy, that I agree with in many aspects. I would only be careful with a too large body of rules and regulations that need to be followed.

In the discussion after the lecture, the question was raised whether is was possible to use only vegan fertilizers, forgoing animal manures, since Osentowski is making use of the rabbits’ and chicken’s dirt for the plants. I was wondering what could be wrong with using animal excrement, and found an answer of sorts in the internet: Using animal manures would support the meat and dairy industries. But if one raises the animals himself and does not make use of any other products but their dirt? Food philosophy at its best, source of discussion and thoughts; I am seriously troubled.

Here an interesting article about Masanobu Fukuoka’s, a Japanese farmer, philosophy, whose agricultural approach is recommended on the Permaculture website. Another interesting aspect are the alternative economic models proposed and encouraged, such as volunteer work, trading without money, and concepts such as WWOOFing (which I plan on doing next year – I hope to find answers to all my questions!).