“Can we have one second to just take this all in? Everyone come and stand in a circle together. Please close your eyes. Let’s all breathe in, and out.” These were the motivational words of one of the leaders as we were being trained on the food safety handling our first day after arriving at FoodSharing Copenhagen. He then had each of us turn to our left as we did a message train, then our right and continued the message train. This was to lift our spirits and help us relax before we began handing out food during the second shift. This was after we had arrived to find that the truck carrying the food had been later than usual, so the first shift was behind, and we had inserted ourselves into the assembly line of people that would pass the food upstairs to the tables where it would be sorted and eventually taken by the general public. I remember thinking prior to this day that I was prepared to volunteer because I had a lot of volunteering experience under my belt, but I was very wrong. Volunteering in Denmark is not similar to it is in the States, in Denmark they expect you to take on a job, they do not assign you a task. Realizing this expectation early on, I began to see what those in the blue “FoodSharing Copenhagen” shirts were doing and would either follow their lead or ask if they needed help. I worked this way for two weeks learning what jobs needed to be done. I think this expectation I put on myself comes from the way Americans work, and the expectation is that we are told what task to do then the next and so on. At FoodShare Copenhagen, it is a collective effort, almost like a beehive in which everyone contributes to a common cause, and they automatically understand what the end goal is.
I definitely felt like an outsider looking in during the first two weeks. I think it was a combination of trying to understand all the food safety regulations, making sure all the work is done in a timely manner, and understanding how the organization is run administratively. Today, I found myself feeling like an insider. When we arrived, we had a little downtime, and there was a new volunteer who asked me about the sorting process and what was happening. I found myself using the word “we” rather than “they.” Although I have only volunteered for this organization for three weeks, I felt comfortable enough to consider myself apart of it where I would use the term “we.” The difference between being an outsider and feeling like an insider was that I do not speak Danish (most people assume I do) and that I am only a part of this experience for a short while (participating in three events). This connection gave me confidence to begin understanding what it means to be a part of a food movement to end food waste. It also helped me understand why the people participating enjoy coming back each week.
The largest surprise for me was how social volunteering is for Danes and travelers. I personally volunteer to socialize as well, but I usually have a circle of friends which I volunteer with at home. Here in Denmark, the Danes volunteer to meet one another and build lasting relationships. For example, last week I met Thomas, it was his first time volunteering and he knew no one. Today, he saw us, he knew everyone, and he was hugging multiple people in every group. It was exciting to see this transition. It has also taught me to be more outgoing with Danish and European people. Today, I spoke with a young woman from Hungary. She is visiting on holiday and went to FoodShare Copenhagen two weeks ago as someone from the public. Today, she volunteered and learned about the organization and how to save food waste. The first time I was participating I was so involved with my work I rarely stopped to socialize, but today I made it a point to converse with people and participate as the Danes do.
What I learned most from this experience is that saving food and giving it to people who need/want it is not the only thing that matters but that it can also improve the environment. Michael Pollan writes in his article, “The Food Movement, Rising” that “for some in the movement, the more urgent problem is environmental: the food system consumes more fossil fuel energy than we can count on in the future (about a fifth of the total American use of such energy) and emits more greenhouse gas than we can afford to emit, particularly since agriculture is the one human system that should be able to substantially rely on photosynthesis: solar energy.” (1). As we have heard discussed in detail from various guest lecturers in both our classes here in Copenhagen, the new Danish government which has been newly elected would like to reduce levels of CO2. I think that if movements like FoodShare Copenhagen, we could see an improvement towards this goal. This might seem like a small footprint, but if larger countries like America did it, it might have a profound effect on the environment and at the same time help solve food insecurity in America.
This experience also taught me that it does not take a large effort to establish something profound in your community. Food justice is not something limited to Denmark, in fact it is a universal issue. “Globally, about one third of the world’s produced food is either lost or wasted.” (2) Knowing that a smaller nation like Denmark can make such a lasting and substantial impact in Copenhagen gives me hope that it might one day reach the States. “Denmark has reduced its food waste by 25% since 2006.” (2) This number has likely grown since 2006, and I hope that it is something the United States might consider. There is no reason we should be one of the most powerful nations in the world, yet we have children and families who go hungry. If I were to bring anything back to the United States with me, it is the knowledge that programs like this exists in other countries, they have people who contribute to them, and the benefits could very well outweigh the negatives.
- Pollan, Michael, “The Food Movement, Rising,” The New York Review of Books, Published: May 20, 2010, Accessed: July 16, 2019, https://michaelpollan.com/articles-archive/the-food-movement-rising/
- “Danish Recipe to Cut Food Waste,” CNN World, Modified: July 21, 2017, Accessed: July 24, 2019, https://edition.cnn.com/videos/world/2017/07/21/going-green-selina-juul-food-waste.cnn