2008 may seem like a distant memory to many, but to those still suffering the repercussions of Spain’s recession of the same year, the time has crawled by. Despite economic growth, poverty and hunger in Spain continue to affect millions.
Spain’s recession saw devastation throughout the city streets. Mothers with their children and young adults who had just begun to learn the feeling of job security, rummaged through discarded bins of leftover produce: their next meal. At local wholesale fruit and vegetable markets, produce that had rolled off trucks was spotted and hastily collected by hungry onlookers. Those not willing to scavenge in the streets turned to food pantries.
Food pantries and soup kitchens saw a 33 percent increase in visitors, all of whom had never required previous nutritional aid. Families met with the new and unexpected inability to provide for themselves felt deeply ashamed for seeking such help. Some families would even visit pantries in neighboring towns to avoid meeting anyone they knew. That was in 2012, already four years deep into the recession. Economic recovery was slow, and there was little progress toward ending hunger in Spain.
The city of Girona retaliated with a disheartening response. Instead of solving the issue of hunger, the city decided only to solve the issue of public scavenging. The city padlocked all of its supermarket trash bins. The locks were deemed a “public health precaution.” However, no such precautions were taken to aid those who had been forced to scavenge in the first place.
Miraculously, between 2015 and 2016, certain individuals set out to tackle hunger in Spain by way of repurposing food waste.
In the Basque town of Galdakao, Alvaro Saiz created Solidarity Fridge. It’s exactly what it sounds like: based on cooperation and mutual support, this fridge sits on a sidewalk in a small fenced in area. Individuals, restaurants and stores can bring their perfectly good leftovers to the fridge. Then, those in the area who are unemployed or tight on cash can take what they need.
Saiz said the idea for Solidarity Fridge started with the 2008 economic crisis. The pictures of people searching dumpsters for food got him thinking about how much food is wasted daily.
Mireia Barba went right to the source with another method to combat hunger in Spain. Barba is the founder of Espigoladors, meaning “gleaners,” an organization that takes to the fields of Catalan post-harvest. It may come as a surprise to most regular grocery shoppers, but farmers discard massive amounts of unwanted crops considered unmarketable. Espigoladors coordinates with farmers to harvest their unwanted crops and deliver them to food banks.
Like Solidarity Fridge, Espigoladors emerged out of necessity in the aftermath of the recession. Europe wastes an appalling 88 million tons of food each year, which translates to about $168 billion. In addition to feeding the hungry and improving diets, gleaning can also reduce pressure on land use and provide work for the socially excluded. The Espigoladors initiative seemed a logical solution in a country suffering from economic strain and hunger.
It is amazing what simple neighborly compassion can do in a time of need. It will take hard work and continuing innovation to improve hunger in Spain. Solidarity Fridge helped local businesses recognize the corners they were cutting by throwing out leftovers, and Espigoladors returned to the source of the hunger crisis. The bottom line is this: Spain won’t get to the root of the problem without getting a little soil on its hands.
– Sophie Nunnally