From the Netherlands, musician Eric Corton speaks about the incredible work of Buurtbuik, an organisation close to his heart and stomach.
In 2014 in Amsterdam a group of young citizens founded BuurtBuik, which stands for “district belly” in Dutch.
Buurtbuik is a non-profit organization that wants to reduce food waste by giving it a second chance, inspired by Portuguese startup Refood. The organization opened 12 locations across Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht by successfully applying ‘social franchising’.
The concept is fairly simple: volunteers pick up food at local suppliers (e.g. grocery stores, canteens, restaurants), improvise three-course meals and offer these meals to neighbours for free. Pre- and post-covid through seated lunch, at this moment through delivery and pick-up.
Buurtbuik is about bringing people from the same neighbourhood together, whether you are a guest, supplier or volunteer, and together eliminate food waste. Everybody contributes to a more sustainable way of living and stronger social network.
What really makes Buurtbuik unique is it’s accessibility. Everybody can sign up and will be welcomed to have a free lunch. And the volunteers – the driving force behind Buurtbuik – can decide whenever they want to help. As a result, the average retention rate is very high.
Buurtbuik’s ambassador and biggest fan is Eric Corton, a famous Dutch presenter and musician.
Next to his day job, he likes to volunteer as a cook on Monday evenings at one of the Amsterdam locations. We asked him to share his experience:
Where did you learn about Buurtbuik?
“I developed a special interest in sustainable food, was inspired by Dutch top ‘waste-free’ cooking chef Nel Schellekens and decided to start practicing this style. On Instagram I came across Buurtbuik and thought “what a weird name”.
Quickly I found out that this organization prepares meals with food that otherwise would be thrown in the bin. First thing in the morning, I approached the location nearest to my home and asked if I could help.
On the third night, when I was appointed as chef for the first time, I thought “oh god, do I really need to manage a team that is going to cook a three course meal for 80 people?” Everything went well and since then I have been volunteering every week.
How is your experience so far?
It’s super! Amongst other things, the fact that it is always a surprise which food will be collected, makes it a very interesting and fun experience. It is a pity, but absolutely understandable, that due to covid-19 we are forced to shift to a delivery model.
Receiving guests and having lunch together, is to me the most rewarding part of doing this work. The experience is like running a restaurant, which has always been a secret personal dream of mine. After a while, the guests start to get to know you and do not hesitate to have a chat, which is both heartwarming and educational.
Knowing why our guests signed up and what they like most is super important and that’s why I am really looking forward to opening our doors again.
What do you like most about the Buurtbuik-story?
It is really cool to see the mix of people that are attracted by Buurtbuik. Not everyone is unfortunate, poor or in need of help.
Some people might feel somewhat lonely, whereas others look for new contacts in the neighbourhood or take advantage of the luxury to avoid standing in the kitchen once per week. It is great that nobody has to show an “I am old or poor” card and that no questions are asked. We cook with passion and love everybody.
What do you want to contribute to your local environment?
I live in Amsterdam and use a lot of what it has to offer. I believe I can return the favour as well. I do that by gently paying my taxes [laughs out loud] but also by volunteering at Buurtbuik.
Living in a big city is getting more expensive every day which results in increased pressure on the corners and edges of our society. People who used to meet their ends, now get in trouble and that is something I care about.
Buurtbuik offers the platform to meet new people, share stories and experiences, while enjoying a free meal. I am proud to contribute to that.
“Recently, our BuurtBuik-crew had to prepare a meal with only bread, grapes, melon and tomato as ingredients. Good Luck!”
What was your favourite BuurtBuik-moment?
We used to have an older lady as a guest. She could speak Dutch, intermediately, and every time she wore beautiful sweaters with emblems on it, like a parrot.
I welcomed her by saying “good evening lady, welcome at Buurtbuik” (in Dutch) and guided her to her seat, which made her blush. It was very clear she enjoyed the food but didn’t have too many conversations.
At Christmas, she brought a box with chocolates for every volunteer and yes, that teared me up. These small things, that’s why I am volunteering. That is my way of caring for each other in a sustainable way. Something that makes me happy.
Are there also challenges during a Buurtbuik event?
“My advice is you always have a plan B. “Recently, our BuurtBuik crew had to prepare a meal with only bread, grapes, melon and tomato as ingredients. Good Luck! [laughing]
To be honest, I was anxious because over 90 guests were waiting. I went to the supermarket, asked to donate pasta, since a core principle is not to buy ingredients, and was able to prepare a course.
But I admit it all was a bit messy. To avoid this situation from happening again, I promote our suppliers on social media because without them there is no Buurtbuik.
Do you have any other advice?
It is important to find out what energizes you in life. In my opinion, at Buurtbuik we are doing such important work and that gives me purpose: “we not only reduce food waste, but also offer meals to those needing it.
For them, reality is harsh. Food waste cooking is a honourable charity, but creating a platform to boost social cohesion and offering meals to those in need is what really makes a difference in people’s lives.
I would like to emphasise the importance of staying aware of that.
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