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Turkish fast food: Real food fast

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Gleaning and Food Recovery as tools to reconnect at the local level

“And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not make clean riddance of the corners of thy field when thou reapest, neither shalt thou gather any gleaning of thy harvest: thou shalt leave them unto the poor, and to the stranger.”   Leviticus xxiii, 22.

Food recovery refers to the collection of edible food by the poor, or for distribution to the poor and hungry.  Food recovery takes several forms: gleaning, perishable food rescue/salvage, non-perishable food collection, and rescue of prepared food.  These terms are used as follows:

Gleaning refers to the collection of crops either from farmers’ fields that have already been mechanically harvested or from fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest, due to low market prices.

Perishable food rescue/salvage is carried out from wholesale and retail outlets. In some instances food recovery applies to the produce that is riper than is appropriate for transport to retail outlets.

Non-perishable food collection is the collection of processed foods that are non-perishable.  These are usually collected from manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers.

Prepared food rescue refers to food collected from the food service industry ie restaurants, caterers, hotels, and other commercial kitchens.

Food recovery provides us with an opportunity to reconnect with food and people, whilst following a basic humanitarian ethic to help others.  Eliminating hunger and poverty is a moral issue.  When we are driven by compassion for others we develop a connection not only to food and people but also to our deepest values.

You can be involved in any of the four different types of food recovery programs.  It is a case of finding one near you, or of starting one in your community.  I will outline ways to start one later in this section.

One of the side benefits of being part of a food recovery program is in knowing you are involved in the continuation of a long history or tradition.  As I have mentioned before when we connect to tradition we feel a greater connection to all people.

For some reason it is still a tradition in some countries but not in others.  It is still popular in many countries in Europe and in North America, but strangely is quite uncommon in Australia and New Zealand.  There is little evidence in the short history of these two latter countries that there has ever been a strong gleaning or food recovery tradition.  This is strange because most early settlers of these countries came from Europe where the tradition was quite strong.

Thousands of years ago, nothing was wasted.  Today, it is only the clear-thinking who include food recovery and gleaning as part of the agricultural system.

Food recovery is the collection of wholesome food for distribution to the poor and hungry.  It need not be from the fields, but could be surplus from packing, or distribution or retail outlets.

If there are no local food recovery or gleaning programs in your area it may be possible to set one up.  In most cases food recovery programs do not advantage the owner of the food.  That is, farmers, retailers, wholesalers etc do not stand to gain from the programs – apart from the inherent rewards for providing a service to economically disadvantaged group. 

If you want to help other people to get involved in the slow movement and to reconnect to food and food production you can start up a gleaning program in your local area.  It is relatively easy to do.  Other people have done it and we can learn from their experience.  Below are some guidelines and suggestions you may find useful. 

You need to find farmers in your area that might be agreeable to participating in a gleaning program.  Some crops are better suited to gleaning than others, for example, grain crops vs fruit orchards.  Before you approach a farmer to discuss gleaning, do some homework on the potential issues for both the farmer and the community group you represent.  The following questions involve very practical issues that need to be considered:

  • Who will supply the containers for the gleaned produce?
  • How many people is it practical to have involved in the gleaning activity?
  • Will the gleaners need toilets or other facilities?
  • Will children be accompanying gleaners?
  • Is there a safe parking area?
  • Who will bear the responsibility if someone is injured on the farm?

Gleaning activities are very popular so it may be necessary to keep the gleaning activity to a manageable size either by restricting the number of people who can be involved, or by breaking the large group into smaller groups with their own leader who coordinates the group’s activities. 

When we think about the kinds of things that need to be considered and managed we can see that a large group would be too difficult.  Here are some of the considerations:

  • What kind of tools will gleaners need?  Do gleaners have their own tools?  If not, where can you get tools – local business and community groups may provide tools.
  • How will produce be transported?  Will it need any special care to prevent damage?
  • If the gleaners need toilets who will provide these?  Contact local businesses to provide portable toilets.
  • What kind of protection do gleaners need?  Sun protection?  Drinks?  Snacks?  First Aid? Who will provide these?
  • Will the gleaners need instruction to pick the produce?  Who will provide this?
  • Gleaners may find it useful to get a factsheet prior to the gleaning activity giving suggestions for appropriate clothing, refreshments, transport etc.
  • Is there a contingency plan in case of bad weather?  Or other unforseen problems?
  • What will be necessary to leave the farm in clean and tidy condition?  Who will be responsible for making sure no rubbish is left behind, the temporary facilities are removed and any other conditions set by the farmer are met?