In March 2016, France became the first country in the world to place a national ban on food waste in supermarkets*. Food that is considered “unsaleable” but still safe to eat (ex. approaching its sell by or best by date) must now be donated to food banks and charities, and stores that fail to comply will face hefty fines of €3,750. The donation process from the factories to food banks has also been greatly simplified, but sanitary standards for handling and distribution still stand, of course. Moreover, supermarkets will no longer be allowed to deliberately taint discarded food, which is a common tactic to ward off freegans and dumpster-divers. Did I mention that the French senate passed this bill unanimously?!
While such legislation would be impressive in any country, it is especially interesting that the anti-food waste movement took one of its biggest steps in France, the fourth worst food waste offender in the EU. The fact that 67% of the country’s waste occurs at the consumer level indicates that a nationwide change of mentality, not just institutional reform, is needed. Fortunately, the last few years have seen France turn its attention to addressing its jarring waste statistics. In response to mounting concerns about poverty and the environment, the National Pact Against Food Waste was established in 2013 with the goal of eliminating 50% of the country’s waste by 2025.
One instance of government and private sector intervention has been the doggy-bag movement. In 2014, the New York Times reported that the Ministry of Agriculture had begun collaborating with restaurants in south-central France on a promotional campaign to encourage diners to save restaurant leftovers – a practice traditionally shunned by the French. In addition to the common prejudice of leftovers being a sign of lower-class desperation and/or stinginess, the French have held a stigma that views doggy-bags as an American phenomenon based on oversized portions. Even chefs who support the doggy-bag have commented that food should be good enough and offered in reasonable enough quantities that diners finish everything on their plates. To combat anti-leftovers aversions, the campaign refers to ‘gourmet bags’ for food remainders and adopted the tag line, “It’s so good, I’ll finish it at home!” Of course, the purpose was to raise awareness of food waste in general, and there is nothing wrong with finishing a meal in the first sitting.
The movement has since spread to the rest of the country. Last year, 95% of 2,700 survey respondents said that they would be willing to take restaurant leftovers home. That March, the company TakeAway entered into an agreement with the Union of Hotel Professionals to provide restaurants with microwave-friendly containers and even special bags for unfinished bottles of wine. Finally, to ring in 2016, a law came into effect requiring restaurants to provide customers with doggy-bags upon request. Slowly but surely, the French are coming around to preserving the food that they are already so famous for revering.
A smaller-scale sign of the changing times in France is Partage ton Frigo (Share Your Fridge), a network of communal refrigerators started in 2013. The website and app allow people to share and find excess food that has been, for example, rescued after a catered event or left over after a family feast. Users can either keep the food at home and post an ad offering it to neighbors or can leave the food (with a note listing their name and the date) in a public fridge for anyone to come and enjoy.
Way to take charge, France! Dites non aux gaspillage alimentaire.
*The law specifically targets stores that are at least 400m².