The waste and the want find a better way in Jozi

The waste and the want find a better way in Jozi
The waste, such as these stone fruits and granadillas, before it gets to the consumer amounts to 95%. (Photo: NOSH)

Working backwards, from the Jozi food parcels and the soup kitchens to the charity feeding schemes that support them, who supplies and supports those charities themselves?


The writer supports Nosh Food Rescue, an NGO that helps Jozi’s soup kitchens, shelters and feeding schemes with food and produce “rescued” from the food chain. Please support them here 

I’m sitting on a set of yellow metal steps leading up to the loading platform of Bay 315 of the vegetable section, of the Johannesburg Fresh Produce Market in Selby, south of Jozi. People in overalls swarm over it, little forklifts with pallets beeping and weaving among them. I see a woman with a huge pumpkin, one of those bluish ones, on her head, gracefully walking it into the market, rather than out of it.

I also wonder about what pickings-up from this section would be going into a van that is for PaleoPet “biologically appropriate” 100% raw food. Next to that is the longest, double-pantechnicon size vehicle I’ve ever seen, belonging to the Welkom Mini Market. A covered bakkie whips in next to it.

Hanneke van Linge drops out of it and we barely pause for introductions, heading straight into the market at a desperately fast trot. She’s the CEO, okay well er everything, for NOSH Food Rescue. I’m spending the day with her if I can keep up. Here we’re seeking food donations, so to speak.

Hanneke van Linge is the CEO, okay well er everything, for NOSH Food Rescue. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

NOSH, is the Jozi NPO that does the groundwork, the fetching, the begging, the scurrying, the sorting of rescued food that would be utterly wasted if NOSH did not intervene between the throwers out and the landfill. 

It’s the charity that feeds the produce and supplies into many Jozi food charities like Chefs for Compassion, Makers Valley, Jobs of Faith and many, many more, soup kitchens and the like. 

Witpoortjie soup kitchen closed because of Covid when most needed. (Photo: NOSH)

As a meta-charity, NOSH doesn’t seek to benefit from it’s close-by community in say Fontainebleau, where it’s based, but it shares and distributes, donates all the rescued food that would actually be going to waste otherwise, city-wide. 

As we scurry about, Hanneke says she’s in the business of feeding bellies and not landfills, by rescuing food. At the market she’s “soliciting donations of produce that would otherwise be discarded”. 

Wow, I notice a lot of sacks and boxes of vegetables that have not made it through the system because of some disfigurements or broken stems. Some are mislabelled or the packaging is not optimum. I wish we could scoop up all those but the market has its own by-laws to protect the agents and farmers, which have been applied as they are since 1974. This potential food is declared unfit for human consumption and heads for the dreaded landfill. 

Some vegetables are mislabelled or the packaging is not optimum. (Photo: NOSH)

There’s not a lot Hanneke can do about that meantime, without it actually being donated. I see bags of carrots waiting dangerously close to a skip. “They’ll be gone by tomorrow,” says Hanneke ruefully, who’ll be here again tomorrow. Back, attempting to reduce Jozi’s food insecurity by diverting perishables (and other surplus foods from other places) to be repurposed and redistributed because they are still wholesome and nutritious.

In March last year, Daily Maverick reported that “the average person in a South African household wastes between 8kg and 12kg of food per year, which equates to a total of 25 to 50 tonnes of consumer food waste annually”. Those tonnes wasted by us, the consumers, amount to five per cent of the overall wasted food. It’s not good at all but nothing like the rest of the percentage.

“The supply chain, the agricultural and production stage, processing and packaging, and distribution and retail, is responsible for the other 95%.” 

This is where NOSH Food Rescue wants to be more and more active, as today.

A few donational promises have been made en route for a bit later and so Hanneke and I dart into a little café off the market floor for a quick coffee. The choices are instant Ricoffy and Jacobs Krőnung. I put my privileged coffee concerns aside. This is hardly the day for them.

“According to the WWF and probably some others, I believe about a third of South Africa’s food is dumped?” I venture, hoping Hanneke will say it’s not as bad as that. Because it means that every year about 10 million tonnes of our food are never able to be eaten by anyone. It’s food just wasted and that’s far, far more indigestive news than my coffee.

Precious vegetables like these, fruit and also cereals make up more than two thirds of that wastage, all along the line.

Precious vegetables like these pepper rejects make up more than two-thirds of the wastage. (Photo: NOSH)

But it seems to be true. “Those figures are so huge, we can’t conceive what the massive amount looks like. Imagine a hungry person knowing that!”  The Johannesburg City Council said last year that 27% of the people in Jozi are food insecure and that this becomes 47% in the inner city.

Hanneke says hunger is even worse now, even since those figures, because the last Covid year has seen such an increase in the need for accessible food. “Most of the children who attended school because of the food and could attend school because of the food were dropped. There was no school and they depended on it for getting fed.” 

I’m interested to hear of social studies indicating that fewer rapes, for instance, happen when more people are fed and nourished. Bad nutrition of course does lead to increased illness of all sorts, poor education, unnecessary suffering among the poorest and that increased violence too, it seems. 

The time comes to hit the floor again and it appears that some of the donation promises were not able to be kept. And it is Thursday, apparently not a great day for them. But one charity-minded woman does pay for and donate quite a few bags of okra. With those, we leave the market with its strange underlying smell of green rot. Two volunteers for NOSH load them onto their otherwise empty bakkie for delivery to Chefs for Compassion. The bags look a little lost in all the metal space on the back.

Okra for delivery to Chefs for Compassion. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

We make a flying visit there too, very close by, to see what else the charity has. It seems as though it’s mostly kale, where half the leaves are not edible any longer and the other halves good when separated, as well as sound mealies, cauliflower just a little discoloured on some surfaces, chillies, pumpkins and the okra. There are also boxes of plastic cutlery. 

While Hanneke makes calls to supermarkets, Jane Gqoza, the manager of the Chefs for Compassion warehouse or sharehouse as she calls it, tells me what the charity really needs now that Jozi’s Covid-volunteer chefs are mostly back in their own restaurants again. It’d especially like to be able to get a cold room so that Chefs for Compassion can take advantage of meat donations.

We also zip over to Makers Valley at the Victoria Yards in Lorentzville see here who have run a soup kitchen at the Troyeville Hotel and have had a good food parcel programme. They are currently battling with a home-grower programme because of water issues and encouraging other domestic programmes such as that of a local woman who feeds homeless boys. 

Makers Valley is a beneficiary of NOSH. Together, next month they’ll be holding one of the fundraisers that benefit NOSH and Makers Valley, called the Odd Box Picnic at the Victoria Yards, where the Odd Boxes are filled with cheffy food only made from rescued produce that would otherwise be consigned to landfills, provided by NOSH. Previous similar Odd Plate Dinners have been sell-outs.

Hanneke and I hurtle over to a Shoprite-Checkers store at Cresta and then one at Emmarentia. Wads of papers change hands and vertical trolleys full of just-past sell-by date pastries, cakes, garlic bread, frozen pizzas, vegetables, herbs and fruit are wheeled out. From those, I pack the crates and Hanneke loads them into her bakkie.

Wads of papers change hands and vertical trolleys full of just-past sell-by date goods are wheeled out for loading. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

In South Africa there’s a lack of legislation about what should be usefully be done with food waste. So food retailers create their own policies. Or not. Retailers are often reluctant to organise any fair distribution of wasted food because of the logistics. Smaller operations often prefer to improve chance relations with people who remove waste, like the plastic and cardboard recyclers and leave the waste food distribution or picking up to them.

We unload the crates onto the driveway in the shade for collections. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

At the NOSH address in Fontainebleau, we unload the crates onto the driveway in the shade, ready for collections. There are 13 full crates. It’s late afternoon and we make a late lunch of two overripe apples each. I’m ashamed to be so ravenous and wolf mine down pips and all, of course.

Before I leave, I’m delighted to meet Patson Ndlovu who’s rolled up in his bakkie, from Jobs of Faith, a beneficiary of NOSH. I’ve heard about this man who feeds the street children of Yeoville and, who, since the first lockdown, has also been feeding the wider Yeoville community. As if he’s not busy enough, he also helps NOSH with some of its collections and even the market runs sometimes.

Patson Ndlovu’s bakkie being loaded to feed children and adults of Yeoville. (Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

NOSH Food Rescue or Hanneke van Linge, really, provides Jozi’s food charities with ingredients that feed about a hundred thousand meals. It clearly needs money itself for “another Hanneke” and more petrol because it could be doubly efficient with two vehicles whizzing around, trying to be everywhere at once. Rescuing what would become waste, for those who want. DM/TGIFood 082 338 4538,  011 793 6390


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