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Combating food hunger and waste.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, in 2013 and similar to each and every year, a third of all food produced around the world ended up being thrown away (1).
To Hunter Halder, an American now resident in Portugal for a number of years, that is not a fact but an error he seeks to redress through his project ‘Refood’. This initiative, in conjunction with others such as ‘Ugly Fruit’ (2) and the ‘Zero Waste Movement’ (3), has worked out so well that the aforementioned United Nations organisation has turned to Portugal as a model for what can be done to combat food waste.
We find Hunter in amongst cakes, yoghurts, fresh vegetables, some fridges and various piles of washed dishes. Dressed like a true native of Virginia, complete with straw hat and braces, Hunter is but a common man who, contrary to the majority of us, faced unemployment in middle age as an opportunity and the occasion to carry out an examination of his own conscience. This fact led him to understand that, despite the range of careers he had had over his life, in reality, he had never done anything for other people. As we are in Portugal, where there may be no destiny but there certainly is fate, his was to have a son who, while working at a hotel in Lisbon, noted daily with impotence and frustration the amount of food being thrown out.

Hunter Halder
Hunter Halder

Hence, emerged the origins of Refood, and as necessity is the mother of invention, Hunter headed out into the parish of Nossa Senhora de Fátima where he lived to talk to restaurant owners and ask them whether they might be interested in gifting him their leftovers while in parallel looking into the potential legal obstacles. Here, Hunter duly recognised the critical role played by the pilot António Costa Pereira, who, while not connected to the project, carried out an enormous public relations campaign on making proper use of leftovers and making an unquestionable contribution towards a change in mentalities. Probably because of all of this, of the 45 restaurants and bakers initially contacted in the parish, 30 immediately agreed to cooperate with ‘Refood’. The next stop involved gaining the support of the local church and the facilities necessary to house the organisation – and which still exists even if far greater in size and much better equipped.
In amongst all this, a bicycle plays a strange role for a series of reasons as with much of the rest of this story. Hunter’s son had a friend who had left his bicycle at the house of the Halder family and had never come back to pick it up. When Hunter tried out making his collections by bike, he concluded that it would be the best way of doing his rounds.

In this phase, Hunter was still doing everything all alone, which meant late afternoon he would do a tour of the dozen pastry stores and bakers in Nossa Senhora de Fátima before then returning to the headquarters with all of the surplus stock. At night, he would cover over a dozen restaurants and make the same journey with the leftovers. The food collected was then sorted out before its final distribution and a series of tasks that would consume far more than the eight hours of daily labour that Hunter would have had if taking up a different career.
However, Hunter was not alone for very long at ‘Refood’ – in reality, it was but a month as his zipping around on his bicycle with multiple boxes of food had already triggered the interest of various passersby. And while on the first occasions he was confused for a hawker, once having explained just what ‘Refood’ was all about, it became just a matter of weeks before the recruitment of his first volunteers. And so effective were those first six months that the (then) start-up served up 6,000 meals for the price of €600 that all came out of the pockets of those involved. Thus, each meal came at a cost of 10 cents apiece. Despite this major achievement, Hunter explained that “more important than taking advantage of the food was leveraging the goodwill of people, a still worse wasted resource”.

refood bikeIf by this phase, Hunter was already able to count on the support of various entities and persons, when ‘Refood’ won the ‘Youth Volunteer Award’ from Banco Montepio in 2011 (4), the project went truly viral. Currently, in addition to ‘Nossa Senhora de Fátima Refood’, there are delegations in Telheiras, Estrela and Lumiar and they are under preparation in Alfragide, Cascais, Carnide, Belém, Benfica, Parque das Nações, Alcântara and Campolide. And this is only in the Lisbon area where the idea has spread faster than the flue. However, we can also find chapters dotted around Portugal that, while not yet fully operational are undergoing their launch phases and in places as disparate as Almancil, Algoz, Fundão, Covilhã, Porto and Braga. Furthermore, Hunter wants to reach far further and plans to open between 15 and 20 delegations across Portugal through to the end of the year. This additionally all makes perfect sense given that with just the means hitherto available to him, a total of over 300,000 meals have been delivered thus far with each one of the four Lisbon operations delivering an average of 15,000 meals monthly to around 845 beneficiaries. And given that waste levels do not stop at the Portuguese border, Hunter is already contemplating the scope for international expansion with the main initial candidates being the cities of Madrid and Amsterdam.

While at the beginning, Hunter was perceived as just that “weird foreigner going round on his bike picking up  leftovers”, nowadays, beyond having already lost count of the constantly rising number of volunteers, there are few brands that do not want their name associated to the project. A quick tour of the original headquarters of ‘Refood’, around the back of the church, to see the quantity of Portuguese companies already chipping in to the life of this association whether with the bags from the insurance company Mapfre or the partnerships with a number of the major summer music festivals.
According to Hunter, this only contributes to the ‘Refood’ mission, which also involves “re-educating in order to enhance the value of food as once happened in the time of our grandparents”, he confirmed. The principle means recognising that food is a precious good maintains ‘Refood’.
Meanwhile, Hunter remains as committed as ever to demonstrating how “we all have the power to change what is wrong with the world and its just a matter of doing so rather than waiting for the government.”

Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário de Fátima
Avenida de Berna – Lisbon,Portugal
Facebook: www.facebook.com/refoodportugal
Twitter: www.twitter.com/re_food
Website: www.re-food.org/blog

About the author

Hugo Filipe Lopes:Has a degree in sociology and a post-graduate qualification in clinical nutrition from the Egas Moniz Faculty. Collaborates with a number of online publications, a trainer and nutritional therapist. Honourable mentions in the Casa da Imprensa and Lisboa à Letra competitions..

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