In the past few weeks we performed a food sharing experiment in our neighborhood, installing a public refrigerator in our front yard (at 812 Douglass Avenue in Davis-CA). Over 29 days of operation, 122 food items were exchanged, an average of about 4 items per day! In the last days of operation we also had 3 books being shared, which led us to the creation of a space dedicated to book-exchange. See our inventory here: http://bit.ly/1wNKabY
The name of this project is free.go. Our goal is to reduce food waste and build a stronger community through food sharing; we receive no profits, or personal benefits (except for some tasty items that show up in the fridge and need to be consumed fast…). This is an idea starting in Davis, but we recently heard that similar projects are happening in other countries… you might say: convergent evolution!
We would like to see this project become big, with the installation of fridge sharing mechanisms in other areas of Davis, the country, and the world. But right now we have a big obstacle to overcome, and that is why we need your help.
Welcome to the world of illegal food sharing…
free.go has been described as “Illegal food distribution” by the Yolo County Environmental Health inspectors who have condemned our fridge because “it lacks supervision and creates an opportunity of food contamination”. Inspectors state that free.go has no “permit to operate” and that “no permit can be issued”. They said we were violating the article 114381 of the “California Food Retail Code” (even if we don’t sell any food) and the fridge had to be removed.
The article 114381 of the “California Food Retail Code” states that “A food facility shall not be open for business without a valid permit”. However the same Food Retail Code describes a food facility as being “an operation…that sells food for human consumption to the general public.” We conclude that it’s quite hard to violate any article of the “California Food Retail Code” if you don’t sell any food. In our understanding free.go is not selling, distributing or giving away any food, it is just providing a place where food sharing can occur and therefore should not fall under the category of a food distribution facility.
After our refusal to comply we were notified by our property manager that “failing to remove the fridge and its enclosure” would result in “eviction” from the house. We were informed that “the health department would be contacting the District Attorney about this and pursue us in court if need be”. free.go was only 2 months old and already a tremendous law-breaker.
This situation made us ask ourselves many questions:
· If we invite friends for dinner and they take some leftovers home, is this illegal food distribution?
· If we have a fruit tree in our front yard and want to put a sign saying “help yourselves”, do we need a permit for that?
· Wild turkeys can be found in riparian and uncultivated areas of the City of Davis. Should this be considered illegal food distribution?
· On social networks (e.g. Facebook) there are many groups dedicated to food trading and food-exchange. Is this illegal food distribution?
Even if we were actually violating anything, we still could ask:
· What is the role of the law: Improving citizens’ lives or maintaining the status quo?
· What happens when the law cannot evolve as fast as society does?
How safe is the food inside free.go?
Most of the food shared in the fridge is non-perishable, like canned vegetables, canned juice, candies, packed cereals, uncooked pasta, tea bags, coffee, etc. Perishable items are also shared, but they normally don’t stay long. Products with higher contamination risks such as fresh meat are rare, and when they appear we only leave them there for a couple of days, or until their posted expiration date. We perform regular safety checks on the fridge, at least twice a day. We look for expired items and items that look “suspicious”. The fridge is cleaned at least once a week. The risk of food contamination is therefore very low, but of course not zero.
Unfortunately there is no way to make sure that this food is 100% safe, like there is no way to make sure that crossing a street is 100% safe.
Why fight against food waste?
The FAO says that in industrialized countries, about one third of food production is wasted. More than 40% of this waste occurs at the retail or the consumer level and very often the discarded products are still packaged…
Meanwhile, roughly 870 Million people in the world (about 1 in 8) suffer from chronic undernourishment. Even in the United States, where we produce over 10,000 calories per person per day, 17.6 million (14.5%) households were food insecure in 2013.
These losses at the consumer level cause unnecessary overproduction and demand more natural resources than we really need. Entire regions rich in biodiversity are destroyed to produce more food and about 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture and deforestation.
We need your help!
We want free.go to be legal and we are going to ask for the intervention of the City Council of Davis on this matter.
Please tell us what you think about this project and sign our petition if you want to bring free.go back: http://bit.ly/1zyrXAc
Thanks so much for your help…
The free.go team
How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world – Anne Frank
More information about free.go: