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GARBAGE

Frenchman eats from Europe’s bins in protest

A Frenchman is making his way from Paris to Warsaw surviving only on a diet of food he's salvaged from waste bins to show Europeans just how much they are throwing away. He tells The Local which countries' supermarkets have been more accomodating.

Frenchman eats from Europe's bins in protest
A Frenchman is on a journey to show Europeans how much food they waste. Photo: Baptiste Dubanchet

Before he left on his 3,000 mile bicycle trip to Warsaw, Frenchman Baptiste Dubanchet thought he had a pretty good idea of how much perfectly good food European supermarkets, bakeries and restaurants threw away. 

But the voyage, which is intended to raise awareness about waste, has even been an eye opener for him.

“I really didn't think we were wasting as much as we are,” he told the The Local. “Even when you know about it, it's still surprising to open a garbage can and find so many potatoes, so much fruit, yogurt, sometimes 500-litre or 1000-litre bins are filled with things that are still good enough to eat.”

Dubanchet left Paris on April 15th and has passed through Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. He has also cycled all over Germany, stopping at Düsseldorf, Cologne, Frankfurt, Nuremberg and Berlin. His final destination is Warsaw which he aims to reach in two weeks time.

He is using the website couchsurfing.org to find accommodation and his first goal when he arrives in a town is to seek out supermarkets or bakeries that might give him food that they would otherwise throw away.

“I have to find food fast because after all the cycling I am tired and I need the energy,” he said. “Is my stomach full or empty? That is the most important thing, not what I am eating.”

The ease he has in finding food when “dumpster-diving” (pulling food out of rubbish bins) varies from place to place, with French towns landing somewhere on the spectrum between the relatively easy Germany and the rather difficult Czech Republic.

Only one out of every ten places where he asks for food actually offers him anything.

He said the general policy of the companies is not to give away free food because it would be bad for business.

Many store workers also told him what was in the garbage was inedible and that was why it had been thrown away. Yet, many of these same supermarkets keep their garbage bins inside or, if they're outside, they're locked up behind fences. Sometimes the enclosures are even topped with barbed wire, Dubanchet said.

When hunting for food to rescue, he uses a sign written in each country's language to explain the project, which he named La faim du monde (World Hunger), but says the signs do not always work. In Pilsen in the Czech Republic he had to ask 50 places for food before one said “yes.”

“The Czech Republic was the hardest, people just didn't understand the concept,” Dubanchet said. “They associate taking trash with homeless people. Finally, I was given a lot of leftover bread from a bakery which I made last for five days.”

At the start of his journey he walked into a French supermarket and explained his project and walked out with a bag of muffins, juice boxes and fruit. All of it was bound for the trash and the store manager was happy to give it away rather than see it go to waste.

“That was the only time that's happened,” Dunbanchet said, adding that he plans to make another pass at French markets on his way home. “I imagine I'll see things a bit differently after my trip.”

‘They didn’t choose to be poor’

The idea for the project came to the 25-year-old when he went travelling in Colombia, as well as South East Asia and Tahiti after he finished his masters in sustainable development. He said the extensive poverty he witnessed gave him a bad conscience.

“I was rich in poor countries. I was sad these people were so poor. These people have no choice, they did not choose to be poor, so I decided to do something to show how much good food we waste,” he said.

In his experience the people who come from poorer countries tend to be the most understanding of his project. Dubanchet said Turkish and North African shop and restaurant owners frequently wanted to give him food that would otherwise have been tossed away and sometimes food that wasn't going to be thrown away at all.

Dubanchet attributed their desire to help to their experiences of fasting during Ramadan, but also because they had come from countries where people were going hungry. 

In a bid to raise awareness Dubanchet also visits schools after his 60 some kilometres of cycling per day to talk about the issue of waste and the impact it has on the environment.

“I tell them how much non-renewable resources are consumed every day and that one day these will run out,” he said.

He also shows them how much energy is used to create just one plate of food and the effect the waste the western world has on developing countries. “We import so much food, for example rice, that it puts the prices up in the poor countries and then we just end up throwing so much of it away.” he said.

According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) Hunger Report from 2013, 842 million people in the world are starving or undernourished. Around 25,000 people die every day from starvation or hunger-related causes.

Europe against waste

Dubanchet chose to undertake his mission this year to coincide with the European Year against Food Waste, which is being led by the European Parliament.

By making changes in labelling food and providing support to sustainable food production systems, the European Parliament hopes to halve food waste in the EU by 2025.

The FAO says that every year roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption – approximately 1.3 billion tonnes – gets lost or wasted.

They estimated that even if just a quarter of the food currently lost or wasted globally could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people in the world.

And the philosophy of Dubanchet’s trip is “less is more”.

“The project has been a way for me to protest,” he said. “If we produced less, food would become more precious to us.”

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FRANCE EXPLAINED

Apéro to digestif: What to expect from every step of a French dinner

Whether it's Christmas dinner with your French in-laws or a meal with some new friends or neighbours, after you have been in France for some time you will probably be invited for dinner in a French home - so what should you expect and what manners do you need to know about? 

Apéro to digestif: What to expect from every step of a French dinner

In France, like every other country, manners and formalities vary – where you are in France, the age of the people you are socialising with and the social setting will all have an impact – some families are very formal and traditional while others are more casual.

Naturally the occasion matters too – a formal state dinner is very different to being invited round for a family meal with some parents from your kids’ school.

But here is a guide to some of the things you can expect, the first thing being that – in general – French dinners last longer than in the anglophone world and have several different courses, with short pauses in between that are intended to help facilitate socialising.

When you walk into your French friend’s home, the first thing you should do is say hello to everyone that is already there. Many anglophones underestimate the importance of saying bonsoir, and as such, risk being perceived as rude by giving a general ‘hello’ to the whole room.

There are some other faux-pas to keep in mind while eating in a French home, like keeping your hands on the table rather than in your lap. You can learn more from The Local’s guide on table etiquette:

READ MORE: Cheese knives, hands and wine glasses – French table manners explained

Step 1: Aperitifs

This initial step typically involves a light alcoholic beverage before food is served. Apéro has its own culture and  if you’re invited to apéro don’t expect food beyond a few little snacks. Apéro generally takes place between 6pm and 9pm, though certainly before dinner.

READ MORE: Apéro: All you need to know about the French evening ritual

But before your big meal with your French friends or family, you will likely be offered a glass of something – whether that be champagne, Kir (or Kir Breton, if you find yourself in Brittany), Pastis (for those in the south) or a light cocktail. This is the time of night where people are chatting with a drink in their hand, and that drink will likely be influenced by the region you are visiting, so if you are in the south west you might enjoy an Aperitif of sweet wine or a Pinneau if you’re in Charente.

In terms of snacks, the relatively universal trend is light and salty – so you might expect to see olives and nuts, and perhaps even some raw vegetables with a dip. 

For those looking to avoid alcohol, soda or sparkling water, like Perrier is often the go-to alternative.

Step 2: The Entrée

The entrée – not to be confused with the main course, as it often is in the United States – is the first course – the starter or apetizer. In French, the verb entrer means “to enter” and this is the symbolic start of the meal.

As with most parts of your French dinner party, the food and drink offered will depend on regional tastes, as well as what is in season. For example, during the winter, you might have an onion soup. 

The first course is often cold or room-temperature foods – like Œuf mayonnaise. Some other common appetizers are smoked salmon canapé and escargot, the latter most common in Burgundy.

If you are along the Mediterranean, you might be offered tapenade – a purée of chopped olives, capers, and anchovies, and if you are on France’s western coast you might eat oysters.

If you are given a specific utensil to eat with – for instance a special fork for snails or a long pick for bulots (whelks) – then that should be used. If you’re having oysters they are traditionally slurped, all in one go, straight from the shell.

At this point in the meal, there will likely be  bread on the table to accompany the food but remember to save some room, because there are lots more courses to come. 

Step 3: The Main Course

Now it is time for the plat principal. Hopefully you are still hungry.

Tradition dictates that you should let your host serve you with wine, and old-fashioned French households would say that this rule applies specifically to women, who should wait for a man to come pour their wine. That being said, times have changed and most younger French people cheerfully ignore this. 

The wine poured will be paired with the meal, and the French abide by the general rules that red wine goes with red meat and tomato-based dishes, while white wine goes with fish, seafood, and dessert.

One for Americans – in France it’s considered polite to keep your fork in your left hand, and your knife in your right, and try to avoid the temptation of switching as you cut through the meat.

While it is considered polite to finish what is on your plate, if you find yourself getting full you can always say “C’était délicieux, mais ça suffit” (It was delicious, but that’s enough). While it may be tempting to tell your host “Je suis plein” (I am full) – be careful of false friends, you might be accidentally telling your host that you are pregnant. 

READ MORE: From rude to mince: 21 French ‘false friends’ that look English

Step 4: Dairy

This step in the French dinner timeline is not for the lactose-intolerant. After finishing the main dish, your French host will likely take out a cheese platter.

As there are hundreds of different types of French cheeses, it would take a long time to list all of the possible options you might encounter. The main thing to remember is not to use your hands (or your fork) when eating cheese. That might sound a bit tricky, so you can consult The Local’s cheese etiquette guide to prepare for this part of the meal.

READ MORE: Best Briehaviour: Your guide to French cheese etiquette

In some households – especially with children – your host might offer you a yogurt instead of cheese. This will likely be a small pot (cup) of a plain yogurt that you can add fresh fruit or compote (cooked fruit) to.

Step 5: Dessert

Dessert in France comes after cheese (not before as in the UK) and is generally quite small. Do not go into the meal expecting to leave lots of space in your stomach for a huge, sugary banana split ice cream or a sticky toffee pudding and custard. Instead, dessert might consist of some light pastries, chocolate, or small crème brûlée (when eating crème brûlée it’s considered elegant to tap the burnt sugar layer to break it first, rather than just shoving your spoon into the dish).

While eating dessert, you might be offered a sweet wine, like one from Sauternes.

Step 6: Coffee

At this point, it might be pretty late at night, but you will likely still be offered a coffee. Typically, this will be an espresso. If you want a little dash of milk in your short coffee, you can always ask for a noisette

Step 7: Digestif

This is the true end to the meal. Now that you have finished eating, and you’ve likely had a few glasses of wine, your host might put away the wine and take out a bottle of Cognac, Amagnac or similar.

The digestif is meant to settle your stomach, and they’re usually pretty strong so be careful if you have to be up early the next morning. Depending on where you are in France you will often be offered a local speciality like a Calvados (apple brandy) if you’re in Normandy.

Digestif: Do France’s after-dinner drinks actually help to settle your stomach?

Children

If you’re invited for a family meal, expect that the children will eat with you and will probably eat the same thing.

Depending on the age, the children might go away and play while the adults have the cheese and dessert courses and continue to chat but it’s usual for even young children to sit at the table and eat the first course and main course with their parents.

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