They do not care about an expiration date

The Frie Café Groningen collects food that would otherwise be thrown out, and makes a vegetarian meal twice a week. Ret Teun (tje) Zijp.

Mariska van Sprundel

The avocado has brown spots and the ciabatta is clearly not from today. Ah, what was that supposed to be? The rest of the vegetables and grains do not actually show or taste that they are discarded goods. It is about six in the evening. About fifty guests have settled down at the wooden tables in a former school building in Groningen on Travertijnstraat, west of the city center. The dilapidated room serves as a restaurant every Sunday evening, run by Free Café Groningen. This civic collective collects food that would otherwise end up in the trash, and prepares a vegetarian meal of it. Everyone can join for free.

Tonight there is advance soup with celery and baguette on the menu. The tables are then allowed to pass the buffet one by one. The metal heat trays contain lettuce, spaghetti, spicy rice with split peas, cauliflower, broccoli and sweet pepper from the oven, asparagus, fruit salad, pieces of watermelon and stew of potato with carrot. The Frie Café originated as an artist initiative to draw attention to food waste, says volunteer Teun (tje) Zijp, while spooning the soup. “To show how ridiculous the idea of ​​an expiration date is. You can still eat this fine.”

Citizens are increasingly taking matters into their own hands, according to planning researcher Ciska Ulug. For her PhD research at the University of Groningen, she researched several local food initiatives in both the Netherlands and the United States, where she originally comes from. These collectives, created by citizens, want to offer an alternative to the system by which food is produced and consumed worldwide. At the expense of the environment and local farmers. “People are done with it,” Ulug said. “They think ‘come on, we’re in a crisis, do something about it!’ “If the government does not take action, then you as a citizen feel responsible for doing something yourself. And hopefully attract attention.”

In the theme How the climate affects you, NEMO Kennislink will in the coming period dive into the climate and energy world. We collaborate with the Studio of NEMO Science Museum, where you can visit the Energy Junkies exhibition from June 8, 2022. In this exhibition, you make choices for the future. How would you make energy addiction a healthy habit?


On an average Sunday, at least eight people walk around to help, including a group of international students. There is plenty to do: cook, decorate the restaurant, do the dishes and clean up. On Wednesdays, a team cooks for takeaway. And then there are the collectors. Zijp, who graduated in nanoscience last year, goes to the market with white boxes to collect leftover food. Another goes to the bakery and food bank, where food is left, especially bread.

“What is it?” An elderly man in Adidas sneakers points to one of the trash cans. “Rice with split peas”, the chef replies. “What should?” Rice with split peas, repeats the chef in a loud voice. “Oh”. At Fri Café, they often see the same faces. Lots of retirees and students. It’s not just the blackheads who make the free meal. “There are a lot of hippies here, that’s how I identify myself,” Zijp says. “People who just can not function in a capitalist society. For that group, the social aspect is very important. ”

Social cohesion is an essential part of the local food effort, says Ulug, who has analyzed Den Frie Café on the basis of observations and in-depth interviews. In general, however, the focus is primarily on sustainability. In addition to The Free Café, she researched three neighborhood gardens in northern Holland, such as Pluk and Moestuin in Eenrum, and a number ecovillages in the United States, where the entire lives of residents are organized around sustainable lifestyles. “The need for the village’s kitchen gardens is growing. The hope is that the municipalities will see this and feel encouraged to include sustainability issues in their political agendas. “

Shared kitchen garden in Bos en Lommer district in Amsterdam.


Through collective action, you can achieve more than just to change the world. However, there is also criticism of local initiatives, by Ulug. They would only focus on their immediate environment without looking any further. Will the few saved breads and courgettes really have an impact on the global food problem? Yes, it is, the researcher believes. “When we think of sustainability, we quickly think of technical issues, such as food production and transportation. Finding a solution to this is usually the easy part. The biggest problem with sustainability is how to organize and run it. “

This is where the real value of projects such as Den Frie Café lies, where new forms of collaboration are being experimented with. Everything is organized democratically, according to Ulug’s analysis. Who’s the boss? The man most volunteers appoint as supervisor shakes his head. Not him. There are shifts, but they are not carved in stone. You help where needed. The group organizes itself.

To grow? No, that’s not what they’re after at Free Café Groningen. If there are soon 100 people at the door, more volunteers will be needed. “In addition, we do not have control over the supply of leftover food. We cook with what we get and see who we serve it to, ”says Zijp with a shrug. “Sometimes the food is ready before the last people come in. It is uncoordinated. “

The Frie Café may not expand in size, but the concept is spreading. There are several groups that call themselves that. Anyone can set up a restaurant to provide free meals. “When I myself visited the Café a few years ago, visitors came from another city to see how such a food collective works, with the purpose of arranging it myself,” says Ulug. “This kind of project also revolves around awareness and knowledge sharing. That is where the biggest impact lies. ”

Action groups want to turn Lutkemeerpolder in Amsterdam into a food park instead of a distribution area.

Space for kitchen garden

Food collectives are becoming smaller and smaller a niche. And there are many people who would like to see it become a bigger movement, but it is not easy. An umbrella organization to share knowledge and resources would be useful for the future, Ulug believes. So the existence of local food initiatives becomes more secure. “There’s a lot of trial and error.”

A major barrier is physical space. You and your collective must be close to the people you want to reach. And just ‘somewhere’ is not enough. For example, for a kitchen garden, you need good soil where vegetables can grow. Not temporarily, but for years. What is happening now in Lutkemeerpolderen, which is located on the edge of Schiphol, illustrates the problem, according to Ulug. It is about a piece of land of 57 hectares, where action groups want to create a food park. But the zoning plan for the municipality states that a business park must be created, with which a piece of fertile land would be lost.

In the restaurant in Groningen, the plates are empty around half past six. Before going home, visitors rummage around the table with leftover bread, take half a whole grain or a packet of bake-off rolls with them. Are there still remnants? Then there’s Peter. He rides a round through the city on his cargo bike, past dormitories, the asylum seeker center and a refugee hotel. Nothing is wasted.

The restaurant has been in its current location for five years now, but the former school building is on the list for demolition before the end of this year. “We are making good use of it at the moment, but the building is really worn,” says Zijp. Finding another place without money is always a challenge. Will visitors soon move to a new location? “In part, we take our audience with us, on the other hand, this is just something very local. The café is changing and that’s okay. ”

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