Photo: Marcel Birnfeld Zaions

Photo: Marcel Birnfeld Zaions

Saluda a Marcel! (Say “hello” to Marcel!)

Marcel is one of the founders of Red de Alimentos Compartidos (REDALCO), a food waste reduction initiative based in Uruguay. Currently, they rescue up to 1 ton of food (!!!) every time they pick up from their local major food distributor, Mercado Modelo. Did I also mention that Marcel is also a student studying Development and International studies while rescuing tons of food with his buddies? It’s truly amazing, so we want to share their story with you!

REDALCO is a volunteer-based organization beginning at the grassroots. They saw a need and they intervened to see what they could do to help. A colleague originally noticed the insane amount of food wasted from Mercado Modelo. Without any real plan, they began to pick up the food from the market. In the beginning, they donated the food to eat-in kitchens and housing shelters for people in need. After seeing the potential in this program, they started planning and organizing. After only four months of coordinating the details with operators and directors from the markets, social organizations where the food could be donated, and volunteers, the REDALCO team now picks up food every week, has consistent collaborators and four staff members: Marcel, Yamandu, Fabian, Federico and Marcelo.

Currently, REDALCO deals mostly with Mercado Modelo, where 60% of the fruits and vegetables are commercialized for Uruguay.  REDALCO has been operating fully for about two months now and, on average, they pick up one ton of various diverse food items and distribute it to social organizations in need. In the future, Marcel hopes that the organization will operate for at least two days per week up to the end of 2016 and next they hope to operate the six days per week that the Market is open.

Photo: Diario El Pais

Photo: Diario El Pais

REDALCO donates the food to approximately 15 different social organizations. These include shelters, kindergartens, eat-in kitchens, and groups that cook the food to redistribute it to people living on the streets. They’ve even collaborated with an organization that made jelly out of the rescued fruit. That’s a lot of good happening with food that would otherwise be in the bin! For the future, Marcel hopes that they can find a way to process the rescued food locally to give it more time for transport and so none of it goes to waste.

For the coming year, Marcel hopes to collaborate with more organizations within the entire country of Uruguay. To make this possible, they want to move away from renting to obtain their own vehicle for food transportation. Marcel hopes to incorporate an educational component to REDALCO, as well. He says: “Without spreading the word of what is right in the management of food waste, and without teaching to scholars when the food is good for being eaten(…) this project stays in a preliminary phase, [failing to] tackle the issue [with] a more structural approach.”

Last on their ambitious list of goals for the coming year is to document and coordinate with official government agencies to construct a clear picture of the food waste and food security issues in Uruguay. Marcel says that “Food waste in Uruguay is a real problem and happens both in large scale establishments (…) but also at home. The prejudices of esthetic flaws predominate over the real knowledge of what is [still] good for being eaten.” However, he is hopeful the food waste issue can be tackled via education and awareness.

On a global scale, the causes of food waste are likely similar in both Uruguay and the Netherlands – “there are consumption patterns that need to be tackled as global objectives with local solutions”. Although there isn’t one thing that could be changed to truly combat against food waste, Marcel thinks there is something everyone can do: “gain confidence in themselves to promote this kind of initiative” to bridge the gap between education and action. It’s easier than we anticipate. “Local solutions are the best way to tackle these global, market-oriented issues”.

Photo: Marcel Birnfeld Zaions

Photo: Marcel Birnfeld Zaions

So how do you reduce your own food waste? Marcel has some tips: “I started growing my own food. Also, I began estimating better the food amount needed so that me and my family don’t buy more than we are going to eat”. He also says that working with REDALCO has been very eye opening in realizing that fruits and vegetables come in diverse varieties. There is no “true” or “correct” esthetic for any type of food.

Moral of the story: not all cucumbers are straight and not all carrots are orange! But they are just as good and just as nutritious.

You may be asking, “What can I do?” It’s easier than you may think to start your own initiative or to get involved with one in your area (such as Taste Before You Waste)! “Then find other minds!” Marcel says REDALCO wouldn’t have been possible if teamwork and collaboration wasn’t involved. Finally and perhaps most importantly, Marcel doesn’t want people to shy away from having big goals: “If, at first instance, one aims very high, the delusion may sometimes be hard to coordinate with the real activities. But never stop dreaming.”

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