Free food! What’s the catch? I reviewed the flyer for a date and fine print. I didn’t find any. The instructions led me to a brightly painted fridge filled with food. There was no one standing guard or taking surveys. ‘The Love Fridge’ was accessible to anyone twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I took a handful of fruits and went about my day. Every time I walked past The Love Fridge near my home, I thought about who was stocking it and how long it would remain in operation.
My research led me to discover that community fridges and pantries are mutual aid solutions to the food insecurity and food waste issues in America. Community fridges are commonly set up and run by anarchists. However, to receive or donate food, you don’t have to identify as one. You don’t need any permission to participate because anarchists don’t believe in hierarchical leadership. They are empowered by mutual aid, not charity. Everyone will give and take according to their needs.
The Coronavirus pandemic was a major cause of unemployment. Limited finances forced more families to choose between paying bills and purchasing food. This issue led to the federal government implementing the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). This three-part program involved distributing “pre-approved boxes of fresh produce, dairy, and meat products to food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other non-profits serving Americans in need.”
However, unlike food banks and public food programs, community fridges users remain anonymous; they don’t have to live in the neighborhood or show proof of need. Best of all, community fridges will remain stocked long after these programs lose funding. How? The USDA estimates that 30-40% of produced food is wasted in America. Community fridges help to ‘rescue’ this food as it’s sourced from leftovers or overstocks from local groceries, bakeries, restaurants, farms, and generous neighbors.
Even if you think you are not in need, you can still enjoy the fridges’ contents. It really is free food, no string attached. In fact, by consuming the older items, you are helping to reduce food waste in your community. You’re welcome to replace what you took with fresher items. Also, seeing the fridge in use might encourage someone in need to take and someone with the means to donate.
Community fridges are great for those we don’t require long-term food assistance. Those who are unhoused also gain access to normally refrigerated foods (e.g., cheese, milk, pastries).
Setting up a community fridge doesn’t always have to be elaborate or take a team. During the coronavirus pandemic, some people have chosen to convert their free book libraries into micro pantries. So, instead of housing books to exchange with passerbys, they’ve filled the little cabinets with packaged and canned foods.
Supporting an existing fridge is easy. Simply search “community fridge” and your neighborhood to find one near you. As stated, most community fridges are run by the community, not an organization, so you’re free to decide when and what you donate.
Here are some items that DO work: sealed packaged or canned foods, cheeses, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, table sauces (condiments), pastries, bread, unopened pasteurized milk and yogurt, unopened fruit juices, fresh eggs (with a use-by date), and cured meats (in a sealed container with a use-by date).
Here are some items that DO NOT work: raw meat, raw fish, alcohol, raw milk cheeses, unlabeled multi-ingredient items, half-eaten leftovers, expired foods.