Ever share a fridge with your college suitemates? Or with some dude named Nosmo from Craigslist who likes to freeze his piss in the freezer of the crappy starter apartment you now inexplicably share?
I hope the question is not triggering your PTSD or causing surreal flashbacks of mislabeled breast milk containers and unspeakable acts committed in the name of shelf space. Or perhaps you're recalling a particularly fever-inducing afternoon in which you battled a mold infestation in the produce drawer that someone else's food—NOT YOURS, BYRON!—certainly caused.
Well, we can only hope that things go better in northern Spain when it comes to sharing a refrigerator.
Galdakao—a small city located in the mountainous Basque Country of northern Spain, not far from Bilbao—is now the site of a revolutionary solution to a problem that is garnering attention worldwide.
The problem? Food waste.
Galdakao's weapon of choice to this burgeoning crisis: The humble refrigerator.
Food waste has been in the news a hell of a lot as of late. Last month, France's parliament voted to make it illegal for large supermarkets to throw out unsold but still edible food products. Going forward, French supermarkets will have to make arrangements with charity groups to donate unsold food instead of letting it go to waste.
It should come as a surprise to no one, however, that no such law exists in America. We as a nation are said to waste a staggering 40 percent of our food, amounting to $165 billion worth of food going into the trash. Individually, we waste $640 of food a year, according to a recent study. Another way to look at it? The average American family throws out over 1,160 pounds of food a year, according to National Geographic.
Across the Atlantic, Basque Álvaro Saiz saw a void in his city's ability to deal with wasted foodstuffs. He got to thinking and after some digging around online, discovered a dedicated network of public fridges being implemented in Berlin with similar goals to his. "We realized we could do this—so we did," said Saiz in an interview with The Guardian.
It didn't take long for Saiz and other like-minded organizers to curry favor with city officials and obtain the necessary permits and legal waivers for their endeavor, including ones to ensure they wouldn't be held liable in the case of any food sicknesses stemming from the newly minted frigorífico solidario or "solidarity fridge."
However, not all of Galdakao's 29,000 citizens were quite as amenable to the idea of a public food-sharing service. "I realized that the people who don't support it, it's because they don't understand what we're doing," stated Saiz.
Saiz forged ahead. It turned out that the dissenters misinterpreted the group's intrepid efforts; they thought it was some kind of charity, instead of simply being a food waste solution for all. Saiz says their true mission is "recovering the value of food products and fighting against waste."
Oh yeah, just in case you happened to be some sort of jet-setting maharajah lamenting your inability to join in on the fun, guess again. Saiz says the solidarity fridge does not discriminate between the rich or the poor: "It doesn't matter who takes [the food]—Julio Iglesias could stop by and take the food."
Don't be mistaken into thinking the solidarity fridge is some sort of epicurean badland free-for-all where villainously egocentric gourmands are free to nosh with reckless abandon.
No, that is certainly not the case. Instead, patrolling volunteers check the fridge's contents regularly and are certain to toss out any food past its expiration date. In addition, there are certain restrictions as to what can be kept inside the fridge. For instance, no raw meat, seafood, or eggs are allowed; all homemade items must be clearly labeled with their content and prep date; and all packaged items obviously must not be past expiration.
Is Galdakao alone in its intrepid adventure to rid the city of wasted food?
Not by a long shot. In Germany, an organization called Foodsharing is all over this issue. It runs a website that can hook you up if you made too much food or need a missing ingredient. It also has jumped on—or created, really—the refrigerator bandwagon. According to The New York Times, "there are roughly 100 of these food sharing sites in Germany. About 50 have refrigerators, and the rest are just shelves."
And food sharing is gaining in popularity. In fact, not one week ago did the southern city of Murcia, Spain, some 400 miles away, become the second Spanish locale to implement the solidarity fridge. Hell, Saiz claims to have received numerous inquiries—some from as far as Bolivia—from people hoping to set up one of their own in their hometowns.
Even local restaurants like Topa, in the heart of Galdakao, have jumped on board in the hopes of curbing food wastage. "Before we used to throw away a lot of food—and it was food that was fine to eat," said the gastropub's owner, Álvaro Llonin. Now, he just adds his waste to the town fridge.
Could this idea take off in the US? Well, between our food sanitation laws and our penchant for gun violence, let's just say it's less than likely.
And if you think back to your old roommates, you may agree: there's got to be a better way.