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SYKE Joensuu: Food Sharing - Finnish nightmare or efficient way to reduce food waste

15.4.2019 SYKE Joensuu staff
SYKE Joensuu, Havaintoja-blogi

SYKE Joensuu staff tested sharing food left-overs and unused groceries with colleagues for two weeks in January. The aim was to find out if food sharing helps to reduce food waste, challenge our limits and rethink the relationship with food. About 30% of food waste is born in households.

The experiment revealed that food sharing is conditioned by social norms and habits. The principle of reciprocity or the fear of sharing our lives with others may hinder food sharing as much as diverging ideas of what is still edible or not.

Exposing norms and habits

The experiment started with excitement: What might the colleagues bring? At first, only spices or tea were given away. Slowly, the variety of foods started to grow. Special products such as baking glue or malt yeast appeared, then expired products - cooking cream, flours - as people studied the depths of kitchen cabinets. Many of us admitted having had considered carefully what to give away:

“Is this a silly offer?! Can I still use it one day? This has expired too long ago… I got this as a present, but can I give away a gift even though I don’t use it!? Is it inappropriate to give alcohol to my colleagues?”

The experiment revealed much about our personalities, our inhibition threshold and, perhaps unexpecte

dly, that shyness towards food sharing might be the greatest challenge. Food sharing tells us a lot about our colleagues, what they buy in the supermarket - and what they do not (want to) use anymore.

To our surprise, nearly no left-overs were brought for sharing. Instead, the experiment opened a window to different strategies of consuming them. Families plan their dinners based on the leftovers. In one family, those who go out for hobbies early enjoy the left-over food, while the rest of the family cook for themselves later in the evening. For singles or couples it was even more easy to strictly consume the left-overs.

Many of us also hesitated to pick up what others had brought:

"Those pike-perch fillets are expensive, should I give some money for them? Do I take too much? Did someone else want to take it as well?"

Overcoming the Finnish nightmare

We did not expect that so many cultural and social issues would arise about a seemingly simple concept of giving and taking food. This led us to think what our behaviour tells about our culture? Is it just a Finnish nightmare of facing a rather awkward interaction situation with others and not wanting to give an insight into our lives?

Food sharing is easier among equals or people we know closely. Among family members or flatmates it is more natural to share food. Many of us would not have shared some items they brought to their colleagues with their neighbours. In a longer run barriers might be removed and food sharing get new meanings. For some, the sharing experiment was a source of cooking inspiration. Testing and finding information how to use of products that were new to the participants became central. The experiment also made us look into the cupboards before buying new things and use its contents in cooking, preventing food from getting too old in the first place.

Eventually, we enjoyed the experiment to the extent that we decided to continue with it. We encouraged each other to bring foods we did not dare to in the first round. Everyone has a food niche and finds something worthy of consuming. But we need to overcome our scruples and learn to bend personal attitudes towards expired products. As one experimenter put it: “if the product preserves for 5 years according to the package, what does two more mean anymore?”

Almost all food products in our experiment found a new use. The experiment demonstrated that local communities can have a significant role in combating food waste. The key is to overcome the Finnish nightmare and address the fears, habits and conventions on using offered food together.

Food sharing might save food and today’s meal!

Franziska Wolff, Anne Holma, Jaakko Karvonen, Jaana Kolehmainen, Jani Lukkarinen, Johanna Niemistö, Taru Peltola & Kati Pitkänen

Finnish Environment Institute SYKE
Joensuu Office

Opinions of blog contributors do not necessarily reflect the official views and opinions of the Finnish Environment Institute

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