The food saviour

Raphael Fellmer, who lives without money, is the co-creator of Foodsharing, a community of people who aim to eat free and stop waste by saving food from the trash. We talked to Fellmer to learn more about how Foodsharing began.

Image for The food saviour
Photo by Patrick Linke

The face of Foodsharing is that of Raphael Fellmer, a 31-year-old father of two better known as the author of Glücklich ohne Geld (“Happy without money”). Since 2010, Fellmer claims he hasn’t earned or spent a cent – although his wife buys some things they can’t get for free or barter for, like oatmeal for their toddlers. “I want to open minds, to show that it’s possible to live with less money. And I want to raise awareness about the topic of waste on all levels of society.” He and his family live for free in a room in a Zehlendorf villa, provided by a family who supports his project. And nearly all his food has been “saved” from the trash.

Fellmer first became aware of dumpster diving six years ago, through Lily Barlow’s documentary Skipping Waste. “I couldn’t believe it! So I went to the supermarkets and found a lot of food in the trash. I had more food and more variety than ever before in my life.” After a 2010 trip around the world during which he became a vegan and achieved what he refers to as “a master’s in dumpster diving”, Fellmer returned to Berlin and decided to scale up. He wrote to all the organic supermarkets in Zehlendorf: Bio Company, Denn’s, Reformhaus. “I said ‘I know what’s in your bins and we can make this better. You can save money, improve your image and be more responsible – I’m sure it fits your philosophy…’” At first, the only chain to reply was Bio Company. Like many food retailers in Berlin, they were already donating their unsellable goods to charity organisations like Berliner Tafel, the churches, the Verein für Obdachlosenarbeit and some animal shelters. Employees could also bring food home. But they still found themselves with leftovers, which was where Fellmer came in.

In March 2012, he began to pick up Bio Company’s non-sellable food legally for the first time. Through spreadsheets, Google docs and mailing lists, he expanded the network he called Lebensmittelretten (foodsaving) to more Bio Company supermarkets, as well as other stores and bakeries. His next step was to team up with filmmaker Valentin Thurn (Taste the waste, 2010) who’d been developing a network for exchanging food person-to-person. Together with the help of a volunteer programmer, they created a joint Foodsharing website in 2013.

Since then, they’ve attracted some 3000 users in Berlin, 1000 of whom are “very active,” and saved nearly a million kilos of food, according to Fellmer. They’re cooperating with 250 Berlin food stores, markets, restaurants and bakeries – which now include several Denn’s shops. They’re negotiating with LPG. And they’re expanding: the homepage is currently being translated. Fellmer says they’ve had an influence: “Many stores have already changed their way of ordering food, selling things about to expire at 50 percent discount and so on. That way, there’s less food for us to rescue.” In other words, if Foodsharing reaches its ultimate aim, it will no longer exist.

Originally published in issue #135, February 2015.