No, it’s not what you’re thinking…

Today the population of the world is approximately 7.4 billion and this is projected to hit slightly over 11 billion by the end of this century, after which it’s expected to gradually fall. Ever since Thomas Robert Malthus extrapolated population growth and warned of impending mass starvation, there’s been no shortage of people telling us we’ll run out of food. Today many people worry that we can’t possibly feed eleven billion mouths.

In fact, we already produce enough food to feed eleven billion people.

The problem is, we waste around 40% of everything we produce. In developing nations, due to inadequate infrastructure, food rots before it can get to market. In the spoiled and pampered West we throw away around 40% of all food produced. This is either discarded by supermarkets once it’s reached its “best before” date or left to rot in the back of people’s fridges at home.

You’d think there’d be some use for all the food we discard. Sadly, you’d be wrong. The food we humans now consume is too full of additives and the supply chain is often too poorly controlled for us to risk feeding unwanted food to chickens and pigs. Simply put, it would make them sick.

Which of course tells you something about the so-called food we cram down our throats on a daily basis, but that’s a subject for another article.

While it would be a Herculean task to fix the mess we’ve got ourselves into, requiring all manner of new legislation and a total change of attitude by hundreds of millions of people, a few thoughtful individuals are trying to make at least a small difference here and there.

And this is where we come to the Äss-Bar.

Started by two young men in a small shop in the Swiss town of Freibourg, the Äss-Bar now boasts several locations including one in Lausanne where I currently live. During my return from the forest above the city today, I happened to meet Thierry as he was getting ready to resume business from tomorrow as Switzerland rolls back its covid-19 measures.

Maintaining a politically-correct two baguette’s length separation between us, he told me about the enterprise.

It began several years ago with a conversation over coffee in a patisserie in Fribourg late in the afternoon. Four earnest young people were debating ways in which they could personally help make the world a slightly better place. Relief work in Africa was one option. Training to become a nurse or paramedic was another. As the minutes ticked away to the moment when the patisserie had to close, they noticed that many of the tartelettes, croissants, and gateaux were unsold.

“What happens to those?” Günther inquired of the woman behind the glass counter.

“Oh, we throw them away. Everything we sell is freshly made each day.”

And so the idea was born: what if someone drove around all the town’s boulangeries and patisseries at the end of the day and relieved them of their unsold stock? Using modern refrigeration, surely some of these items could be sold the following day at a hugely discounted price?

That way, the food wouldn’t all go to waste and could be enjoyed by people who’d otherwise be unlikely to afford a tartelette aux framboises or an éclair au chocolat. And what student wouldn’t like to buy a baguette at a third of the cost elsewhere?

Food in Switzerland is expensive. As in: three times what you’ll pay for a similar item in the USA. So as you can imagine, the Äss-Bar quickly became very popular with everyone on a tight budget.

Although this is a small-scale operation, the Äss-Bar already has outlets in several major Swiss cities. Imagine if the idea spread all across Europe: lots of low-income people would find it easier to feed their families and food waste could be reduced by at least a percentage point or two.

I’d like to think a similar idea could work in the USA but I suspect there are laws that make such things illegal. The USA hasn’t come far since the days when farmers dumped kerosene on fruit they couldn’t sell, just to ensure no poor people could eat it. There are probably huge liability issues in The Land Of Eternal Litigation.

But here in Europe, where people aren’t insane, the Äss-Bar is worthy of emulation. French supermarkets, for example, already donate all their unsold produce to food banks.

Oh, and why the name Äss-Bar? Well, the young people who came up with the idea were primarily German-speakers. And in German the letter Ä is pronounced “eh” and hence for German-speakers Äss sounds like “ess” which conjures up the German word essen meaning “to eat.”

So the Äss-Bar is where people go to get something to eat, at a price they can afford.

Simple. And a very worthwhile endeavor.

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