Food communities build solidarity in times of crisis

In many ways Chile and Denmark are very different. Denmark is a country with a well-functioning welfare system in the Global North, while Chile despite being one of the wealthier countries in Latin America and in the Global South, still struggles with inequality. An economic and social crisis which led to a political crisis in 2019, which has only worsened during the Corona pandemic.

However, at least in one area the two countries have something in common: Initiatives that form communities and solidarity in a time of crisis.

Food is a human right

Lock down, disease and unemployment hit the population very hard. Without a job and a fixed income, it becomes difficult to get food on the table, and three million Chileans do not have access to nutritious food. That is why neighbours, friends and families have joined together to revive a traditional distribution system, which secures a daily meal for thousands of families all over the country. The so-called Ollas Communes.

Marta Apablaza Riquelme, who is a freelance journalist based in the capital of Chile, Santiago, explains: “It is solidarity in a time of crisis,” she adds during a webinar organised by DDRN on Monday 26 April 2021 with financial support from the Danish Science Festival to share experiences from the Global South and the Global North.


Ollas Communes always resurface during a crisis; the first time a hundred years ago, when mine workers went on strike for better working conditions after an earthquake, or during another natural disaster, or as today during a pandemic. Since Spring 2020, 490 Ollas Communes have served every day about 70,000 meals across the country. This is a grassroot initiative, which steps in, when the government fails to help the people. Some of the volunteers have fallen sick from the virus, however that does not prevent them in their mission to help, because food is a human right.

They feel that they have to carry on helping and caring for each other during a time of crisis, says Marta Apablaza Riquelme.

But it is not just to eradicate hunger. The volunteers who get involved in Ollas Communesdo are to become part of the community, Marta Apablaza Riquelme explains. An initiative like the common kitchens in Chile brings people together and is based on values about caring for each other and welcoming everybody. That is why the volunteers offer more than the food itself: i.e., time, money and hours of work.

Open Fridge in Nørrebro

The volunteers at the Fridge of FællesSkabet are committed to the same values. Individual citizens and shops donate food for distribution among homeless, jobless and foreign youth with low income based upon the principle: “Give what you have, take what you can use”, says Irene Valentina de Lauro, action researcher and leader of the Open Fridge, who also participated in the webinar.

FællesSkabet has also distributed food during the pandemic, however, it differs from the Chilean initiative in taking its point of departure in surplus food – to stop food waste. Food waste is a luxury problem, with which we in Denmark – like the rest of the Global North – struggle to solve.

According to the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, every year 700,000 tons of food is wasted in Denmark. The food waste of households is 246,977 tons every year. This is about 36 per cent of total food waste, thus, obviously, the consumers are responsible for the largest amount of wasted food in Denmark. On the average, every Dane wastes about 43 kilos of eatable food in one year.

FællesSkabet tries to do something about this problem by making available a fridge in Nørrebro. Those who have too much food – e.g., supermarkets, bakeries, shops and private citizens – put it inside the fridge, while those who are struggling can find it on one of the shelves.

“The pandemic has justified the presence of the fridge even more. Due to the restrictions, many suddenly became jobless, however, the access to free food made the situation a little easier,” says Irene Valentina de Lauro and adds:

“During a time when many of us have been completely isolated, the fridge has been a way to safely engage with the city, because the fridge is outdoors. That creates a space for social interaction around food, because the purpose is to share food. Many come and go. Some donates food for the fridge, others make use of it for themselves.

Fod makes people come together

When we participate in such communities – whether it is FællesSkabet or Ollas Communes in Chile – we contribute to create a society of sharing more, says Marta Apablaza Riquelme.

“These initiatives are about solidarity not charity. Concerning new views on sharing food,” she says and further mentions that: “it has been proposed that the right to food must be included in the new constitution of Chile, which replaces the current – and widely disputed – which dates from 1980 when Chile was a dictatorship under Augusto Pinochet.

“I am sure that people would rather live in a more community-oriented society than an individualistic one, in which you go to the supermarket and buy your own food. Definitely, this is not the way we in Chile want to live,” she says.

Both initiatives are good examples of food communities creating solidarity during times of crisis. And also bring together the committed people. In these two cases about food.

“We have experienced a high degree of involvement. That is fantastic,” says Irene Valentina de Lauro.

“Probably, we have different problems. Denmark has food waste. Chile has food insecurity. However, it is my opinion that we need the same solutions, i.e., systemic solutions to these problems concerning food,” says Marta Apablaza Riquelme.

Mette Mølgaard Henriksen is a journalist, University of Southern Denmark & MSc in development and international relations with a specialization in Latin America Studies, Aalborg University