We have encountered enormous data about inefficiency and inequality in economy. My team and I have discussed about what kind of contribution that we could bring to at least increase the awareness of this sort of deficiency. We came up with a topic that is really common but often neglected. We saw that there are many parties (supermarkets and households) who waste food and dump it in trash bin, instead of giving it to whom who can still consume it. We chose “food sharing” as solution for this issue as our research, and tried to make a short video to get insight and then to share the result to other people. As Ruhr University Bochum students, we did know that the university has a “food sharing shelter” at a certain location inside the campus. This is our starting point to see how food sharing at Ruhr University Bochum (RUB) works and to analyze if this could represent a “social movement” and could be called a “prefigurative politics”. However, for the rest of this paper I might deploy my own analysis which does not represent our group’s view.
Having analyzed the data I attempt to answer our research questions that is, “can we promote a social movement and prefigurative politics from university level (community)? Could what the food sharing at RUB has been conducting be called a social movement and prefigurative politics?
To answer the research questions I would like to mainly employ Mario Dianis’s theory on four aspects of social movement dynamics (networks of informal interaction, shared beliefs and solidarity, collective action on conflictual issues, action which displays largely outside the institutional sphere and the routine procedures of social life) on his article “The Concept of Social Movement” (Mario Diani, 1992) and also article by Iris Marion Young on “Responsibility and Global Justice: A Social Connection Model” (Iris Marion Young, 2006).
FOOD SHARING AT RUB
Each year 1.3bn tons of food, about a third of all that is produced, is wasted, including about 45% of all fruit and vegetables, 35% of fish and seafood, 30% of cereals, 20% of dairy products and 20% of meat (www.theguardian.com); whereas Germany throws out 11 million kilograms of food every year which has been struggling to halve that amount by 2030 (www.huffingtonpost.com). On the other hand, the data shows that approximately 27.4% of the population in Africa was classified as severely food insecure in 2016 (www.worldhunger.org).
It does not need any deep thought to say that this in an “irony”. Although we could debate the ground or the philosophy why we (developed countries) should care about other people (poor countries) – one might say, “I work hard everyday and I pay taxes for my country. Those people (poor) should be able to stand on their own feet” – I would begin my analysis from a preposition that we all as humans are interconnected borderless and beyond time, which makes us responsible for the environment/ universe (global warming, etc), inequality and injustice wherever it might happen. According to my analysis, food sharing “movement”, so to speak, has ultimate goals on problems mentioned above, and not solely about wasting food per se.
On the video that our team made we interviewed more than 15 people at RUB to get insight about what happened at food sharing shelter at the campus. The food sharing activity is mainly organized by formal organization at RUB, called ASTA. They get food from different supermarkets who usually dump food in trash bin. They then put the food inside a refrigerator and on a cupboard where students (mostly) can reach and take the food. Although it is supposed to be a spot for exchanging food (contributing and receiving), we found out that most of the students only took the food without ever put some food on the shelves. However, that is bearable since the main goal is not to waste any food from supermarkets.
Most of students were aware of “food sharing” and understood the basic concept of it. However, not so many students were aware of food sharing at RUB. They all claimed that they would like to participate in food sharing activity at RUB should they have known from the beginning. Compared to the total number of RUB students which are more than thousands of students, those who actively take part in food sharing at RUB are less than 50 persons.
Students who actively participate in food sharing activity have similar reasons for why they have been joining. They care about the environment and the other students who are probably in need of food. The same reasons also apply for the committee that organizes the food sharing activity. All interviewees unanimously speak that food sharing activity is a good thing and the more people involved is the better.
FOOD SHARING AT RUB AS SOCIAL MOVEMENT AND PREFIGURATIVE POLITICS
Having explained the food sharing activity at RUB raises new question of whether it could be called a social movement and prefigurative politics. If not, is it still possible to promote social movement and prefigurative politics from university level is the subsequent question.
a) Networks of Informal Interaction
Students who participate in food sharing at RUB do believe that it is a good cause to not waste food and share that idea to other people. Even if they do not realize that such action or “joint” activity could be called a social movement, they engage one another to discuss some ideas in a non-formal background. Those who participate are not required to register themselves as members of the organization committee, even no registration or signing paper every time they take food from the shelves. Everyone is free to take part regardless which faculty they come from. There are no compulsory meetings they have to attend and there is no charge at all. The food sharing spot itself is located near a café where people could feel comfortable and it has a “friendly” ambience – no such “corporate” image which in many times make people reluctant to come over. As such, food sharing at RUB entails networks of informal interaction
b) Shared Beliefs and Solidarity
In a very basic concept of organization or community the reason why they build and sustain an organization is that they have common values, beliefs or goals. In order to achieve the goals they must work together and construct sort of relationship where they can help each other to bring about the best result of their interactions. Food sharing at RUB does consist of people who share the same values and beliefs, that is to save the environment as they decrease food waste and help those people who need food. Although it might not be as “dramatic” as helping other people in poverty in Africa, such activity contains the spirit of helping disadvantage people. According to my analysis, food sharing at RUB fulfills what Mario Diani explains on shared beliefs and solidarity.
c) Collective Action on Conflictual Issues
Although I would consider food sharing at RUB as collective action by various students, they do not (directly) take part in any political issues or confront any political parties or organization. As far as I made research on this, food sharing at RUB did not encounter any protest from any party. Albeit of some disagreements of people or students on German government’s way of taking care of food waste, they do not speak as representatives of food sharing organization or community at RUB.
d) Action Which Displays Largely outside The Institutional Sphere and The Routine Procedures of Social Life
As mentioned earlier, food sharing at RUB does not require anyone to formally join the organization committee. The nature of the interactions within is more informal and individuals, rather than organizational. In this case, food sharing at RUB displays outside institutional sphere. However, it might be debatable whenever food sharing at RUB could be considered as routine procedure of social life. The nature of “food sharing” or “not wasting food” itself is a very common activity that everybody can exercise wherever they are. There is no such demonstration, strike, protest and so on to leverage the idea of food sharing at RUB. Although the organization committees have been promoting food sharing activity at RUB on social media (Facebook and Instagram), the activity itself is the biggest showcase in order to induce other students to join in. In other words, food sharing at RUB is relatively in accordance with social structure without even crossing the line to get bigger attention.
Iris Marion Young on “Collective Ability”
As I have analyzed that food sharing at RUB fulfills only three out of four points (or presumably all point at a lesser degree) of Mario Diani’s theory on four aspects of social movement dynamics, employing Iris Marion Young’s theory of “collective ability” is pertinent. She writes that students at universities have more impact than those of individual consumers (Iris Marion Young, ibid) concerning issues about social or political. I would argue that food sharing at RUB is a social movement. In line with what Young writes, I believe that food sharing at RUB could construct a collective ability to not only increase the “awareness” of not wasting food, but also to engage other people in any society to really have a lifestyle of sharing food and not wasting food. I hold that university has sort of “credibility” and “neutrality” (not conducting certain political party’s policies in formal ways), which means university has strong power to influence the society.
In addition, I would argue that food sharing at RUB does have “prefigurative politics” faculty (although at a low degree) as they not only spread the idea of food sharing but also exercise it. As Darcy K. Leach states about prefigurative approach (Darcy K. Leach, 2013), I believe that food sharing at RUB attempts to create new lifestyle and “new society”, rather than seeking recourse to a revolutionary vanguard to seize existing power structures and implement revolutionary change. It is possible with such non-aggressive approach, the government would impose better policy regarding food wasting as the government might encounter more pressure from the citizens that are more aware with the issue.
Although food sharing at RUB only fulfills three out of four points of Mario Diani’s social movement dynamics, I would consider food sharing at RUB is a “social movement” and has a “prefigurative politics” power. I also believe food sharing is a good cause and such activity could be leveraged more massively starting from university level. I arrive in a conclusion that the main focus should be less about whether we should consider “an activity” is a social movement and prefigurative politics or not, but rather about the “degree” of it. I still believe that a small social movement like food sharing at RUB could be a good model and inspiration for the society to achieve higher goals even to decrease food waste to almost zero level in Germany, to create a safer and healthier environment, then to make contributions to those who need food the most like in Africa. Everything big starts with something little.
A contribution from Gerry Satria Simanjuntak
Diani, Mario. The concept of Social Movement. Bocconi University Milan. 04 June 1991, pp. 1-25.
Klockner, Jürgen. Germany Has An Ambitious Strategy To Halve Food Waste By 2030. Huffpost Germany. 19 December 2016. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/germany-food-waste_us_577e9650e4b0344d514e5558. Accessed 29 September 2018.
Leach, Darcy K. Prefigurative Politics. Research Gate. January 2013, pp. 1-2.
Lyons, Kate, Glenn Swann and Cath Levett. Produced but never eaten: a visual guide to food waste. The Guardian. 12 August 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/ng-interactive/2015/aug/12/produced-but-never-eaten-a-visual-guide-to-food-waste. Accessed 29 September 2018.
Young, Iris Marion. Responsibility and Global Justice: A Social Connection Model. Chicago: Political Science, University of Chicago, 2006, pp. 102-130.
https://www.worldhunger.org/africa-hunger-poverty-facts-2018/. 2018. Accessed 29 September 2018.