Wednesday, April 16, 2014

No wasted food, no hunger, no cost

Hunger in Portugal is widespread, mostly far from obvious, sometimes cloaked in shame.
Among those taking concerted action against hunger is an American with a dynamic project he is developing throughout Lisbon and spreading to urban areas in other regions of the country.   
Hunter Halder, 62, originally from a village near Richmond, Virginia, is the brains behind the so-called Re-Food programme designed to help end both hunger and food waste.  
Launched in Lisbon 2011, it so far involves 750 volunteers collecting and repackaging food from more than 300 outlets and distributing it daily to about 850 beneficiaries.
Almost all of Lisbon’s 24 parishes now have a Re-Food team, either already in action or being formed, says Halder. He has introduced the system to Oporto and just last weekend he ‘seeded’ the idea  at two well-attended meetings in the Algarve. While targeting other cities on the mainland, he also hopes to set up teams in the Azores and Madeira.
The scheme is intended to complement the work of the Portuguese federation of food banks and private charities running soup kitchens. They have been working together in Lisbon, helping each other where they can, even though Re-Food operates in a somewhat different way. 
“What Re-Food brings to the table,” Halder explained, “is an abundance of excellent, ready-to-eat food every day at no, or almost no, cost.
“This is a very big deal because reducing food insufficiency is only possible if massive amounts of food at practically no cost can be obtained daily.
“We target every single scrap of excess prepared food within our neighbourhoods by going to every café, restaurant and grocery store every day they are open.
“We raise a team of hundreds of local volunteers - walking, riding bikes and using cars when necessary - to harvest 100% of the previously wasted food, every day, rain or shine. 
“We deliver that food to people who are not being served by existing institutions, be they homeless, jobless or in any other condition that leaves them without the means to secure the food they need.
“We go door to door to find and serve those who are ashamed of their need and who, therefore, are practically invisible.”
The project is totally non-profit-making and no one connected with it is paid anything.  
“We want everyone who ever serves or donates to this project to know that 100% of their effort, goodwill or resources will be applied exclusively to expand the benefits of our work,” says Halder.
Although he describes the project as being still in the early stages of development, he is optimistic that Lisbon can become the first city in the world with virtually no food waste and no hunger. He foresees no limit to the Re-Food model and believes it can go national, even global.
Using four basic criteria - reducing unnecessary food waste, reducing food insufficiency, strengthening community ties and replication – he is happy to share the Re-Food model with anyone keen to implement it.
The charismatic Hunter Halder has lived in Lisbon for 23 years. His first visit was during a pilgrimage to Fátima in 1988. He married a Portuguese tour guide with whom he had a son. It was his son Christopher, now 24, who came up with the name Re-Food and co-founded the project with his father.
Before that, Hunter’s two young daughters from his second marriage frequently commented about wastage in restaurants and this inspired him to do something about it. His daughters, Mayara, 22, and Raissa, 19, are now both involved in Re-Food.   
Halder’s sights are set high, but because of his organisational and operational skills he remains pragmatic.
“It is, of course, impossible to end all food waste,” he conceded, giving as an example the top of the onion you cut off and throw away when making a salad.
“But it is possible to end the trashing of enormous amounts of perfectly good food. The Re-Food model can achieve this because of the power of community mobilisation and the fact that we work at the local community level.
“With respect to ending hunger in Lisbon or anywhere else, a dose of humility and reality is in order. We have always had hunger with us and it will not go quietly away. That said, it is also true that the public and private institutions, as well as businesses and citizens, have worked, and are working, to alleviate hunger. All of these efforts are needed.
 “Our strategic trajectory has always been to complete our work on the micro local level,  replicate throughout the city of Lisbon and then throughout all cities.
“But reality does not follow strategic models. We began replicating throughout Lisbon and beyond long before completing the full implementation in the original parish.
“Similarly, we began replicating in other cities long before Lisbon has been fully implanted. We expect to be replicating internationally long before completing our national work.
“We have to try to build the capacity to respond to all who want to replicate. The project is universal and we intend to make it universally available,” said Halder.
So far, the project has encountered remarkably few difficulties. The biggest was taking the initial decision in March 2011. Since then it has been easy-going, except for the work involved, of course.  
“The food is there for the taking. The volunteers are hungry to help. The community has all of the resources needed. But the true driver is that people want to bring these benefits to their own neighbourhoods.” 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Saying sorry for centuries of slavery

Portugal faces a controversial set of demands to make amends for the centuries-old transatlantic slave trade.
The 15 member states of the Caribbean Community common market organisation CARICOM, have unanimously approved an action plan seeking reparations from Portugal and several other European countries.
Portugal pioneered the trade in Africans slaves in the Atlantic region. For two hundred years - in the 15th and 16th centuries - Portugal had a monopoly. It was also the last European country to abolish slavery. It did not do so until the late 19th century, by which time it had transported more than five million slaves across the Atlantic, far more than any other country.
    Estimates vary, but it is thought that Europeans forcibly moved at least 12.5 million African slaves to the New World, mainly to toil in colonial plantations and mines. The multi-national trade reaped huge profits throughout the 17th century, and peaked towards the end of the 18th when 100,000 slaves a year were being transported.
The destination for most of Portugal’s human trafficking was Brazil. Portugal also helped supply slave labour to Spain’s American empire. It was less directly involved in trade with the islands of the Caribbean administered by the British, French, Dutch and Scandinavian colonialists.
The wealth accrued from slave labour was vast. It helped finance Britain’s Industrial Revolution. With their sugar plantations, the British West Indies were among Britain’s most valuable colonies.
Ships sailing the triangular route from Europe to West Africa, across to the New World and then back home, were always heavily laden. The central ‘cargoes’ were people shackled in chains.
Such were the horrific conditions on board ships making the so-called ‘middle passage’ westward, that an estimated one in seven slaves died of disease or malnutrition before making landfall.
The action plan approved by the CARICOM Reparations Commission meeting in St Vincent highlights ten points, “to achieve reparatory justice for the victims of genocide, slavery, slave trading, and racial apartheid.” 
Top of the list of demands is a “full, formal apology.”
The chairman of the commission, Sir Hilary Beckles, said: “Reparations for slavery, and the century of racial apartheid that replaced it into the 1950s, resonate as a popular right today in Caribbean communities because of the persistent harm and suffering linked to the crimes against humanity under colonialism.”
Martyn Day, a lawyer who is advising the commission, said:  “This is a very comprehensive and fair set of demands on the governments whose countries grew rich at the expense of those regions whose human wealth was stolen from them.”
So far, the plan has attracted little international attention – certainly nothing to compare with the publicity bestowed on the Oscar-winning film 12 Years a Slave.
If the Europeans decline to negotiate, which seems likely, a long-drawn out process in the UN International Court of Justice may be the only option open to the Caribbean Community.
The commission insists its main objective is not to exact huge sums from European taxpayers. And it is not looking to be compensated for slavery itself, but rather slavery’s lasting legacy. 
Referring to one of its 10 demands - ‘Debt Cancellation’ – the commission says: “Caribbean governments that emerged from slavery and colonialism have inherited the massive crisis of community poverty and institutional unpreparedness for development. These governments still daily engage in the business of cleaning up the colonial mess in order to prepare for development.”
Other demands focus on cultural, educational, psychological and public health issues, and also on a repatriation program for descendants who wish to resettle back in their ancestors’ countries of origin.
At first glance, the apology demand would seem to be the easiest to satisfy. Some governments have already issued ‘statements of regret’ rather than full apologies, but in the commission’s view these are unacceptable because they “represent a refusal to take responsibility for the crimes committed.”
Cash-strapped European nations such as Portugal will fear that making full apologies and paying reparations would set a precedent under which they could be expected to compensate all of the nations they exploited in colonial times.
In other words, saying sorry could open up an expensive Pandora’s Box of wrongdoings in bygone empires.