Residents of Copenhagen, Denmark, can cut their grocery bills by as much as half thanks to a new supermarket that opened in the city this week. WeFood, started by the nonprofit DanChurch Aid, gets all its products—from dairy to meat to dry goods—from supermarket chains that would otherwise throw the food away.
The market, which was financed partially through a crowdfunding campaign, is working with two large Danish grocers as well as a number of smaller retailers to stock its shelves. As is the case in the United States and elsewhere, foods are often pulled before they spoil or present any kind of food-safety risk. But there are deep-seated preferences and prejudices held by both consumers and retailers that have made it difficult to sell less-beautiful produce, for example, or products that have passed an arbitrary sell-by date.
Located in the Amager neighborhood of Copenhagen, which has largely gentrified its way out of a very working-class past, the market appears to be more symbolically neutral than similar efforts undertaken in the U.S. Former Trader Joe’s exec Doug Rauch, for example, opened the Daily Table, which sells “rescued” food at cut-rate prices, in Boston last June. Between its location in the largely poor, brown neighborhood of Dorchester and the baggage that cast-off foods come with, the effort was met with resistance from black and food-justice activists.
People in the community said, “ ‘Here’s a millionaire from a different community coming into a community of color and telling them he’s going to set up shop and sell them other people’s garbage, basically,’ ” Ernest “Duke” Bennett, a neighborhood activist, told TakePart last year.
Denmark certainly has its own problems with identity politics, especially as refugees from Syria and Iraq continue to make their way to Northern Europe. Still, with Danish Princess Marie and Eva Kjer Hansen, the Minister of Food and Environment, on hand at the Monday opening, the idea is being presented more in terms of environmental sustainability for all at WeFood instead of affordable (and possibly stigmatized) food for some.
“WeFood is the first supermarket of its kind in Denmark and perhaps the world as it is not just aimed at low-income shoppers but anyone who is concerned about the amount of food waste produced in this country,” DanChurch Aid’s Per Bjerre told The Local, an English-language Danish news site. “Many people see this as a positive and politically correct way to approach the issue.”
It’s estimated that Danes throw out more than 650,000 tons of food annually, but according to a report published by the government last fall, waste has dropped by 25 percent in just five years. Elsewhere in the world, progress has neither been nor is expected to be so rapid. For example, in the U.S., where 133 billion pounds of food is scrapped every year, President Obama has set a goal to cut the number in half by 2030.
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