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How I dumpster dived across Europe

Julie Colthorpe · 19 Jun 2014, 18:39

Published: 19 Jun 2014 18:39 GMT+02:00

Baptiste, from Tours in France, said his objective was to denounce waste by only eating food thrown away by supermarkets, bakeries and restaurants. Travelling by bicycle, the 25-year-old's carbon footprint will be close to zero at the end of the trip.

 “I do not pay for any of the food I eat. The only thing I take is water,” he told The Local. If he cooks a meal from the food he finds, he only uses low temperatures and a little water to save on energy. He adds no seasoning to the food unless he has found some that has been discarded.

Baptiste left Paris on April 15th and has passed through Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. He has also cycled all over Germany, stopping at Düsseldorf, Cologne, Frankfurt, Nuremberg and Berlin. His final destination is Warsaw which he aims to reach in two weeks time.

Using the website couchsurfing.org to find accommodation, his first goal when he arrives in a town is to seek out supermarkets or bakeries that might give him food that they would otherwise throw away.

“I have to find food fast because after all the cycling I am tired and I need the energy,” he said. "Is my stomach full or empty? That is the most important thing, not what I am eating."

His success rate when dumpster-diving (pulling food out of rubbish bins) varies from town to town. Only one out of every ten places where he asks for food actually offer him anything.

He said the general policy of the companies is not to give away free food because they are running a business.

He has a sign written in each country's language to explain the project, which he named La faim du monde (World Hunger), but says the signs do not always work. In Pilsen in the Czech Republic he had to ask 50 places for food before one said yes.

“The Czech Republic was the hardest, people just didn't understand the concept,” he said. “They associate taking trash with homeless people. Finally, I was given a lot of leftover bread from a bakery which I made last for five days.”

Baptiste said Berlin had been the easiest place to find food in Germany and Düsseldorf was the hardest, where he said at least 20 places said they would rather throw the food away than give it to him.

But Baptiste has found most people at the food outlets he visits extremely friendly, even though many are not allowed to give him food.

“Some people have even risked their jobs by giving me food,” he said.

One man working at a bakery in Nuremberg was told by his boss that he could not give the 25-year-old any food. “He said to come back at 9.30pm when the shop closed. When I went back he had hidden all the food in bags under his jacket. There was so much of it, I had to share it with a fellow couch surfer.”

‘They didn’t choose to be poor’

The idea for the project came to the 25-year-old when he went travelling in Colombia, as well as South East Asia and Tahiti after he finished his masters in sustainable development. He said the extensive poverty he witnessed gave him a bad conscience.

“I was rich in poor countries. I was sad these people were so poor. These people have no choice, they did not choose to be poor, so I decided to do something to show how much good food we waste,” he said.

Cycling about 60 km a day, Baptiste also visits schools to raise awareness on the issue of waste and the impact it has on the environment.

“I tell them how much non-renewable resources are consumed every day and that one day these will run out,” he said.

He also shows them how much energy is used to create just one plate of food and the effect the waste the western world has on developing countries. “We import so much food, for example rice, that it puts the prices up in the poor countries and then we just end up throwing so much of it away.” he said.

According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) Hunger Report from 2013, 842 million people in the world are starving or undernourished. Around 25,000 people die every day from starvation or hunger-related causes.

Europe against waste

Baptiste chose to undertake his mission this year to coincide with the European Year against Food Waste, which is being led by the European Parliament.

By making changes in labelling food and providing support to sustainable food production systems, the European Parliament hopes to halve food waste in the EU by 2025.

The FAO says that every year roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption - approximately 1.3 billion tonnes - gets lost or wasted.

They estimated that even if just a quarter of the food currently lost or wasted globally could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people in the world.

And the philosophy of Baptiste’s trip is “less is more”. “The project has been a way for me to protest,” he said. “If we produced less, food would become more precious to us.”

READ MORE: How Germans are turning to dumpsters for dinner

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Julie Colthorpe (julie.colthorpe@thelocal.com)

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