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Denmark Targets Consumer Behavior In Campaign To Reduce Food Waste


People in Denmark are throwing away much less food than they used to - 25 percent less according to recent numbers. Sidsel Overgaard reports one reason is Danes are becoming less intimidated by not-so-perfect food.

SIDSEL OVERGAARD, BYLINE: Celebrity chef Claus Holm is working on a stew. He's here in the small Danish city of Middelfart giving a cooking demonstration on the sidewalk as part of a regional festival.

CLAUS HOLM: (Speaking Danish).

OVERGAARD: Holm chops and stirs, explaining as he goes.

HOLM: (Speaking Danish).

OVERGAARD: But this isn't like a TV cooking show with its neat little bowls of picturesque ingredients. Instead, Holm is working his way through two huge kitchen carts piled with a messy array of meat, dairy and produce all at or past their expiration dates.

HOLM: (Speaking Danish).

OVERGAARD: He picks up a container of cream with a big yellow sticker advertising its reduced price and dumps the whole thing into his copper pot.

HOLM: (Through interpreter) I know this is just fine even though the expiration date is today. There's nothing wrong with it - nothing.

OVERGAARD: Holm says after years of warnings about food safety, many Danes have become overly anxious about what they eat. But that is starting to change.

HOLM: (Through interpreter) Now it's started to be kind of legal again to eat leftovers and food like this.

KRISTINA RIIS: (Speaking Danish).

OVERGAARD: Taking a bite of one of Holm's samples, onlooker Kristina Riis echoes that sentiment.

RIIS: (Through interpreter) I'm not as creative as this, but I don't really look hard at the date. So no, I don't have a problem using something expired.

OVERGAARD: If Holm is an ambassador in the movement to reduce food waste in Denmark, then the queen has to be Selina Juul. Seven years ago, she started an organization called Stop Wasting Food. While industry often gets the brunt of criticism when it comes to food waste, Juul decided to focus on consumers.

SELINA JUUL: I said, who can we move? Well, can move the people. So we started focusing on the people.

OVERGAARD: Through countless media appearances and on-the-ground campaigning, Juul and her team broadcast the message that use before does not mean toxic after. She told consumers they could save money by eating leftovers, making careful grocery lists and buying slightly bruised fruit at a reduced price. And they listened.

JUUL: And right now, because it has become a trend of not wasting food, the companies and food producers and the retailers are starting to act as well.

OVERGAARD: Denmark is a small country with an accessible national media. Juul gets that. Still, she hopes that what consumers have achieved here can stand as an example of what's possible in other parts of the world.

JUUL: I mean, imagine if this could happen in the United States. I mean, that - it could be epic (laughter).

OVERGAARD: Epic because while Danish consumers are now estimated to throw out about a hundred pounds of food per person per year, in the U.S., it's more than 250. For NPR News, I'm Sidsel Overgaard in Denmark. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

After taking a semester off from college to intern with Vermont Public Radio in 1999, Sidsel was hooked. She went on to work as a reporter and producer at WNYC in New York and WAMU in Washington, DC before moving to New Mexico in 2007. As KUNM’s Conservation Beat reporter, Sidsel covered news from around the state having to do with protection of our earth, air and water. She also kept up a blog, earth air waves, filled with all the bits that can’t be crammed into the local broadcast of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. When not interviewing inspiring people (or sheep), Sidsel could be found doing underdogs with her daughters at the park.
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