Meet the food heroes helping to rescue unwanted vegetables from the fields to fight food waste with Espigoladors – a Spanish initiative passionate about making a difference.
Trini Varo – volunteer gleaner
I have been volunteering for Espigoladors for the last two years. I work for MotoGP motorcycle championships and travel constantly for my job – across Europe, South America and Asia. But the second I get back from a work trip, I sign up to glean. Nothing makes me happier than a morning spent in the fields picking vegetables with other volunteers. It gives me a huge sense of satisfaction to see all the boxes of produce that we collect, which will feed those who most need it.
“Farmers don’t want to leave their crops after investing so much time in them”
I have always been conscious of what I eat, but I didn’t realise until I began to glean just how far down the production chain food waste begins. Farmers don’t want to leave their crops after investing so much time and resources in them, but market prices mean sometimes they just can’t afford to harvest them. Things have to change. I really admire Espigoladors not just for promoting gleaning [the age-old tradition of gathering the food that is left after harvesting] but also for educating people on food waste and would love to see similar projects extend across Spain. I love being part of the gleaning community. All sorts of people come, and everyone has a story.
“Once you peel and wash it, an ‘ugly’ vegetable has exactly the same taste!”
Mario Ruiz – kitchen team at Espigoladors
I started working at Espigoladors in May this year, after losing my job because of the Covid-19 pandemic. At first, I was told the job was just for a fortnight, but demand for es im-perfect® products – made with rescued fruit and vegetables – was growing and so I was kept on. I’m thrilled: I love the work, particularly the camaraderie with my work colleagues. I am originally from Peru and I am part of a team of seven who work the morning shift in the Espigoladors kitchens: the others are from Spain, Colombia and Morocco. Everyone pitches in and we all do a bit of everything – from selecting the produce and making the pâtés, jams and chutneys to canning, boxing and storing them. As a result of my time at Espigoladors, I have become more conscious of food waste and how to avoid it, and now I know how to use up supposedly ‘ugly’ fruit and vegetables in pâtés and other recipes at home. After all, once you peel and wash it, an ‘ugly’ vegetable has exactly the same taste! My wife, Maryory, is also a big fan of es im-perfect® products: She can’t get enough of the apple and onion pâté. Or the carrot pâté. Or the apple compote!
“The young people I meet in our workshops make me feel optimistic that things are changing”
Raquel Díaz Ruiz
Raquel Díaz Ruiz – head of projects at Espigoladors
I love my job because I see the impact of real and direct action every day – and my colleagues have a vision for the future and are committed to creating change. I have always been passionate about sustainability, and am particularly interested in food loss and food waste (I wrote my doctoral thesis on understanding food waste behaviour along the food supply chain). I coordinate a wide range of projects in order to promote research oriented to action, as well as increasing the visibility of Espigoladors and its mission. I find it shocking that, although a third of food produced is wasted, there is so little recent data. We need more, and more specific, research about exactly where the losses and waste occur in the food supply chain. I believe passionately that the global food system needs to change drastically because food is essential for our survival – it’s not a commodity, like a screw for example. The young people I meet in our workshops make me feel optimistic that things are changing. They don’t understand why there are people who don’t have enough to eat and yet we throw away food. They offer solutions to the problems of today.
“This means that people who are having a hard time can put some vegetables on the table”
Roger Torrents – farmer
I’m a fourth-generation farmer. We grow artichokes, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, broad beans, celery, tomatoes, aubergines and peppers on our family farm located just outside Barcelona. I got involved with Espigoladors because they help people in need, and it means that people who are having a hard time can put some vegetables on the table. The main reason for leaving crops unharvested is overproduction: if the market is saturated, the price drops so low that it doesn’t cover the cost of labour. I believe that one way to reduce food loss in the fields would be for farmers to cultivate crops with a prior agreement or contract, rather than growing them in the hope that they will be sold in the major wholesale markets. It’s a game of roulette: you might be lucky and win, but you might also lose. I am happy that the idea of local food, which is fresher and of a guaranteed quality, is being promoted and that people are coming to understand that so-called ‘ugly’ produce has just as much nutritional value. But, right now, the big supermarkets still have the most power.
“I am often asked how to use up leftovers, but that’s a solution and we need to concentrate on prevention”
Ada Parellada – chef, author and restaurant-owner
I am a chef, author and owner of the Semproniana restaurant in Barcelona. I was asked by Espigoladors to help create the im-perfect® line of pâtés and preserves a few years ago, although at that stage I didn’t really know anything about food waste. But, as I learned more, I grew angry and became an activist. I’m now a member of the Plataforma Aprofitem els Aliments (PAA), a foundation for the promotion of responsible and sustainable food use, and I passionately believe that we need to change our mentality, so that we value food beyond simply its price. I am often asked how to use up leftovers, but that’s a solution and we need to concentrate on prevention. Thanks to my experience running restaurant kitchens, I’ve got some tips for preventing food waste at home. First, plan meals in advance, so that you buy only what you need. And second, once a week prepare produce (for example, I like to roast a batch of meat and vegetables) to use as a base for meals throughout the week. Cooked foods last longer, and can easily be incorporated in different recipes. Public awareness is changing, though: not long ago, taking home leftovers from a restaurant was seen as being ‘cheap’, but now it’s accepted.
What can you do?
- Join a local gleaning group or find out how to organise your own here.
- Adopt a fruit tree. There are a host of different initiatives including Adopta Un Frutal in Spain and Landgoed De Lieskamp in the Netherlands.
- Plan your meals to avoid buying more than you can use.
- Make your own preserves to use up any fruits or vegetables past their prime.