Living by the Principle of Sharing – an interview with Raphael Fellmer
Raphael Fellmer has dedicated his life in the war on food waste by multiplying initiatives like the website foodsharing.de and creating a global network of food waste activists. Thorsten Wiesmann interviewed Raphael Fellmer in February 2013.
In 2008, Raphael Fellmer decided to live entirely through the principle of sharing as a alternative to the unsustainable methods he saw around him. Along the way, he established a global network to expose unethical conduct by firms, promote transparency and increase the pressure on companies to change their environmentally damaging practices. He is also responsible for international press and media relations, as well as the coordination of volunteers and ambassadors for foodsharing.de, a website exchange platform that promotes the sharing of food that would otherwise be wasted.
Thorsten Wiesmann: How did you get interested in the issue of food ?
Raphael Fellmer: The starting point for me was the injustice of the distribution problem. I always asked myself what are the reasons for all this. I’ve always wondered what I myself could do so that all people could have the same privileges – life without hunger, without war and suffering. I’ve never understood why children come into this world to die of hunger. Originally I wanted to become a millionaire to be able to help people. Then I wanted to become an aid worker. I found however that this was not the right thing for me. Then I began a “consumption strike,” to publicly declare that I would live without money. My intent is also to bring attention to the fact that society is not talking about the people who die needlessly every day.
How can we let people die, even though we have so much? Something has to happen, I thought, and that was also part of my motivation for the strike. Drawing the media’s attention to these issues is not the only purpose. I am also trying to decrease as much as possible my and my family’s environmental footprint. The underlying trigger for the money strike was actually also the knowledge that we won’t reach the paradise that we all want on this planet, for millennia if we continue life this way. The strike is a means to attract attention but, even more practically, to illustrate in an extreme way the potential of the sharing economy today.
You have submitted a letter to the Chancellor of Germany, a proposal against the injustice of the waste of food products and raw materials. What steps do you see as necessary on the path to a life in harmony with the Earth?
Recent studies reveal there is presently enough food for 14 billion people. Fundamental to the creation of peace is the need for each person to demonstrate harmony through his/her words and actions before anything can change in the world. One step toward this would be that people remove themselves from the stress and distraction all around them.
The more trust and love I see, the more I also harvest. This is especially relevant for people who were not fortunate enough to grow up with affection. We should give to such people the experience of love and trust. When I first tried CouchSurfing, my hosts treated me as if they were my caring parents. It opened my heart more. When one enters into trust, it’s stimulates a potent and ongoing process of growth. Trust removes fear. As well, those lucky enough to grow up with peace and trust should share this experience with those who did not have such good fortune.
Any practical steps to humanity’s ills should therefore necessarily come from an inner attitude of peace. At the same time as people in a society we must transform our thoughts into words and actions. We must have confidence, which again is socially contagious. The thought that we are connected with everything brings us to the realization that every human being is part of the whole, part of a wonderful organism. To see ourselves as part of a whole and to recognize it, that is to have a holistic vision of the world, is also fundamental. We can then behave accordingly. There are so many ways you can then take action.
It is estimated that on average Europeans consume, per capita, about 150 liters of water a day. However, in truth, 5,500 liters of virtual or hidden water are actually consumed by each of us every day. The production of one kilogram of cotton, for example, consumes more than 12,000 liters of water, and a kilo of beef even more than 15,000 liters because it requires a lot of soy. The production of textiles and food consumes a lot of water. We must ensure that we not only send food to Africa, because in truth we steal and pollute their water. None of us know this because it is not discussed. The real consumption of daily resources, the gray invisible energy which is intrinsic to the production of all things, is today barely noted in our consciousness.
Anyone still insisting on endless growth, still consuming products blindly does not see the damage he or she is doing. Every euro I consume blindly translates into 1000 Watts of power consumption for the production, transportation, storage, sale and disposal of a product and related services. The energy required to produce a new car, which is not necessary anyway, as there are already too many cars in the world, is equivalent to the energy consumption of a four-person household in Germany over the course of 15 years. In Germany we have 50 million cars, but this does not translate into better mobility. If we reduced the number to 10 million cars, we would have better mobility as there would be less pollution, less traffic jams, less stress, fewer accidents and better social relationships. At present we have more bicycles than people in Germany, and more household drills than households, etc.
Borrowing, gifting, sharing, and renting are not new ideas per se, but the internet enables a greater proliferation of these ideas. Here in Germany you are building a platform for food sharing and for drawing the connection between consumption and sustainability. What does this entail, in practice?
Less is definitely more: that’s the basic idea of sharing. Shared joy is double joy. Sharing has nothing to do with giving something up. It is actually something that makes one feel better. Our true nature is to share. The basic intention of foodsharing.de is to create more awareness about the huge discrepancy between abundance and scarcity. Worldwide, more than one billion people are hungry and thousands are dying every day from malnutrition. We all share responsibility for this.
With foodsharing.de we want to give people the opportunity to actively do something about the over-production of food. Through the sharing of food surpluses, overproduction is reduced. A lot of food doesn’t end up where it belongs.
In Germany alone, food waste is currently estimated to be 50 percent. The platform makes it possible for individuals, supermarkets, farmers, canteens, etc. to give away food. I can share my surplus food with people before it is given to animals, or to energy companies which use it for the production of biogas, or to be incinerated or thrown away. We not only want to encourage people to share their food, but also to help them with their buying behavior so that traders do not continue to support the wastage of food.
The largest bio-supermarket chain in Berlin and Brandenburg now already fully working with us and there are more business affiliations to come. Moreover, our work is different than that of organizations where the practice of receiving gifted food is stigmatized – such as is the case with food stamps or welfare. One doesn’t have to prove the need to legitimately receive food. Food sharing works mainly online. I can offer a food basket and specify where it can be picked up. To all with whom we come into contact we say: the responsibility lies in your hands. Ask the stores in your area to also get involved.
Our work is different than that of organizations where the practice of receiving gifted food is stigmatized – such as is the case with food stamps or welfare. One doesn’t have to prove the need to legitimately receive food.
So everyone can encourage their own local supermarkets by asking what happens to the food that is no longer sold, but still edible? If there are surpluses offered, our volunteers collect it and make it accessible to the food sharing network. In only 2 months, we’ve introduced more than 12,000 users to the idea of sharing food. At this very moment, throughout Germany are about 400 food baskets ready to be shared, and every day there are more. The magic of ‘sharing is everything’ is already there.
Food sharing is another tool to bridge the gap between resources and the people who are in need of them. We are delighted to encourage people to actively participate in sharing, simultaneously inspiring more people to share.
What other projects have you collaborated with?
A few months ago, here in Berlin, I started the group LebensmittelretterInnen (Food Rescuers) and now there are over 150 people in organic supermarkets, bakeries, grocery stores, etc. taking still edible food and consuming it themselves or offering it online to other people in need. The wonderful thing about this is that it doesn’t only mean less food wasted, but also encourages the culture of sharing on a very practical level. Each member of this group have signed a legal contract and are recognized by a membership card.
Another project I initiated with a few friends is a transparency campaign called WasteLeaks.org where videos, pictures and documents of unethical working conditions and the waste of raw materials and food can be reported. As I often have the opportunity to talk on television on the problem of waste, we have already been able to create powerful consumer pressure on some local high-end supermarkets with just a few homemade videos. People nowadays want to see this. They want the pure truth and are willing to confront the gruesome daily practices of the commercial world. To share information is a central task of the new era, where we not only share private photos on Facebook, but also expose the ecologically disastrous and inhumane conditions of industry.
I would like to see Berlin become the German city that wastes the least amount of food by 2014. The perversity of our wasteful society happens every day and we can all help stop this reckless behavior.
On your blog you describe your life as an ecological family in Berlin. You also introduce other people who, like you live without money. How do you mutually inspire each other?
I’m not a very well-read person, but have always tried to connect with other people, asking them questions, particularly through hitchhiking, which is an easy way to get to know people very quickly. I get a lot of suggestions from people this way, for which I am very grateful. Also the biographies of MLKing, Gandhi, and Hammarskjöld have given me important ideas and inspiration. Short pithy expressions have often inspired me more than long books. When I hear someone speak from the heart, it’s like rain that makes the seeds within me grow.
How far have you managed to merge activism and art into a single unit to manifest a new kind of consciousness?
We have inquiries from all over the world and foodsharing.de already has over 27,000 Facebook fans. More than 30 people have volunteered to translate the website into dozens of languages. We have to decentralize our work, so that each country has a core group that coordinates everything. In addition, I am working to ensure that the platform attracts patrons as soon as possible who can further represent us and our work. I am also currently developing a platform for connecting all related activities, such as land sharing, or CouchSurfing – so that participants can create there a profile for the people. This way we can build mutual trust built within the global sharing community.
Not a day goes by without each of us finding more and more opportunities to share, as a new trend: borrowing or swapping instead of buying, or giving away instead of throwing away. The U.S. magazine Time recently called “Collaborative Consumption” or “the sharing economy,” one of the most important emerging movements. How do you see this development?
I’ve been living in this way for many years, in a culture of sharing. I know many people from 15 to 75 years old who are effectively already living this way. It is a beautiful development that has always existed in the background. We actually come from ancient cultures where there was no “yours” or “mine.” Most of us have only been indoctrinated by the dominant western cultural view of possession. The love of all is the love of oneself. To do something beneficial for my neighbor means in truth to do something beneficial for myself.
We were not taught this in our modern culture. We are now using the internet as a tool to bring us together again, to reunite us, because we are so individualized today. At this moment, there are now quite a lot of groups working to establish sharing as a way of life, offering for example such things as skill sharing.
it is always important to share without the expectation for something in return
With all these developments, it is always important to share without the expectation for something in return, thereby generating added value. When I share things like love, joy and wisdom, they don’t diminish but increase in my life. More and more people are waking up to this discovery. By sharing the basic things of life they get more. It is like a seed in the forest, which functions in accordance with the same law. By recognizing that law we are setting up a trust to plunge into this river of life. This is the new kind of art, in which all of us on this planet are now engaged.
Guest post written by Thorsten Wiesmann.
Thorsten Wiesmann (born 1968 in Berlin, Germany) is an artist, activist, researcher, web-author and speaker.