Moveable feasts: Russians get involved in food sharing

"Rescuing" surplus food from retailers.

"Rescuing" surplus food from retailers.

Alexandra Lyogkaya
"Throwing away bread, even stale, brings strife and poverty," says an old Russian superstition. Indeed, Russians know the price of food, and this is reflected even in folklore. The rapidly growing popularity of food sharing only confirms this folk wisdom.

Almost every person in the Western world is guilty of throwing away food from time to time, and supermarkets and restaurants are well-known for the wastefulness, but the sheer amount of edible produce that goes uneaten is staggering. According to UN estimates, each year nearly one third of all food produced in the world (1.3 billion tons) ends up in the trash.

Food sharers are not satisfied with this state of things. Why throw away perfectly edible products, if they can be useful to someone else? The food sharing movement is trying to "rescue" food, collecting products that some people do not need and giving them to others for free. The movement originated in Germany, and recently spread to Russia.

Food rescuers

"We are a strictly non-commercial project, even the barter of food is prohibited," said Alexandra Lyogkaya, a 26-year-old St. Petersburg resident. In December 2015, she founded a community called "Food for Free" on the Russian social network VKontakte, pioneering food sharing in Russia.

To date, the project has more than 20,000 subscribers, while similar communities have been mushrooming across the country in places like Siberia, Tatarstan, and Karelia.

The food sharing system is very simple. If someone wants to give away a jar of salted cucumbers that they do not need, they place an ad with their address in the VKontakte community, saying, for example: "I don’t like so much salt in cucumbers, take it."

Food sharers' ‘trophies.’  Source: Alexandra Lyogkaya

Whoever is the first to post an "I'll take it" comment gets the cucumbers. There are no social preferences, all that matters is speed. Previously, users wrote sentimental stories about their dozen hungry children, but organizers called for it not to be decided by people's literary talent and to give away food based on the objective criterion of speed.

However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. There is a more important task – hotels, restaurants, and factories throw away kilograms of still quite edible products every day. But while ordinary people actively share their surplus food, Russian food sharers still have a problem establishing contact with major companies.

However, bakeries and small shops in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Krasnodar (745 miles south of Moscow) are already involved in the process: "In one Krasnodar shop, they were so excited about the idea that that they wanted to send their surplus products to Moscow," said Lyogkaya.

And once "food rescuers" got a whole batch of milk when a small shop had its electricity supply cut off for a few hours, so it was forbidden by law to sell milk that was in a refrigerator without power. They didn’t let it go to waste.

Who cares?

It is impossible to create the average portrait of a food sharer: The movement involves students, pensioners, businessmen and workers... Most of the activists aim at environmental protection and the rational use of resources. In some cities leaders of the movement also promote veganism.

St. Petersburg food sharers are also closely connected with other Russian vegetarian and ecological organizations: It is largely thanks to their help that food sharing has seen such a meteoric rise.

However, the social side of the issue comes to the fore in some places: "Many of our participants are students, so they know what it means to barely make ends meet," said Nadezhda Medvedeva, the founder of a food-sharing community in Tomsk (1,740 miles east of Moscow).

In Voronezh (290 miles south of Moscow), surplus food is collected by volunteers with the Salvation Army.

Food sharers' ‘trophies.’  Source: Alexandra Lyogkaya

Still, food sharing in Russia has a long way to go: "Many people are afraid of the opinions of others, who might assume that you take handouts," complained one activist from Almetyevsk (580 miles east of Moscow).

"Without serious promotion from online communities, people do virtually nothing, they do not even want to take food," said Yekaterina Travushkina, the founder of the food sharing movement in Novosibirsk (1,740 miles east of Moscow). But the initial inertia has already been overcome, and at least a dozen ads are placed in the main food-sharing communities every day.

Read more: 5 ways to lose weight Russian-style>>>

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