The German "Tafel" - a sustainable way to deal with food affluence?
Institute of Sociology Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, Germany
The main idea of "The Affluent Society" (Galbraith 1958) was that highly industrialized societies were experiencing a fundamental shift from deficiency to affluence. If there are more people suffering from too much and "wrong" than from insufficient food, the socio-economic problem of how to deal with affluence is more important to society than that of poverty. Over the last fifty years production and consumption dynamics have expanded - with lots of socio-ecological consequences. Nowadays, accelerated by globalisation processes, both affluence (a larger variety of food) and problems of poverty and exclusion are growing. An indicator is the recent raise of a special social movement in Germany called "Tafel" (similar to Food Banks). It collects excess food and distributes this to people unable to satisfy their demand via the market. In Germany the first local "Tafel"-group was founded in 1993, and now there are about 800.
Taking these developments into consideration we need a new understanding of affluence: it is ambivalent because it refers to wealth and prosperity as well as to more or less unintended consequences like waste and exclusion from wealth; and relational because it is only to be understood in relation to deficiency, necessity, and excess. That´s why from a sustainability point of view affluence is to be understood as a challenge for creative politics. I will refer to an ongoing (qualitative) research about the "Tafel" asking if it is such a creative option to deal with affluence or just a symptom of unresolved affluence problems.
A contribution to socio-ecological sustainability should achieve both less excess food and less social exclusion. Obviously the really problem of the "Tafel" concept is that it needs what it wants to overcome. There is especially the tendency to use the excess food just as a resource for charity distribution. Some empirical results show the danger of becoming part of the problem than of solution. But there are also efforts to find ways out.