The Alimenta philosophy goes beyond offering food. It aspires to completely change the paradigm and model of social nutrition in Barcelona. This is possible thanks to the partnership between the city council and organisations and companies.
“Within this coverage of basic needs that we like to understand as a right, there has always been a concern to avoid excessively, or even exclusively, assistance or paternalistic responses,” explains Sonia Fuertes Ledesma, Social Action Commissioner of the Barcelona city council.
We can make the population see that they are perhaps the best agents to provide to people in need because we make a circular economy
“The immediate response given when there is an economic need – you need food, we give you food – in the long term does not add value beyond people having access to food,” adds Josep Antoni Arroyo, director of the project. “It is extremely important. But we do believe that, if we go a little further, we flee from models that stigmatise and put the label of ‘you are even more vulnerable than what is really happening to you at this time’.”
Beyond food provision
For the Commissioner, food provisions are very short-term responses that can serve at a particular time to cover a need. But in the medium-long term, they neither give the person tools to improve their precarious situation nor contribute to being the owner of their life project. “In the end, certain responses that are seen very often in the orbit of food, such as the strict provision of food, perpetuate chronic situations.”
Alimenta Barcelona goes beyond, says Josep Antoni. “Through food, we will be able to achieve inclusion of these participants.”
The project seeks inclusion in ordinary circuits such as buying food, but it also incorporates studying or working with the community they live in. In essence, the initiative becomes a tool to better access the labour market.
There has always been a concern to avoid excessively, or even exclusively assistance or paternalistic responses
“We began to redefine a project that should focus on three areas of work. The first part is rethinking the demand for food and the responses we give as social services. Another part is the generation of community ties and innovation and, therefore, spaces that we call ‘Alimenta spaces’. And a third part introduces the axis of sustainability, fresh food and encouraging a diet that is varied,” says the Commissioner.
The Alimenta spaces
“The procedures that currently exist to prescribe or to link people to one resource or another are very weak. They are poorly defined, and with the pandemic, it has become evident that we have to dedicate an important time to reordering and to improving the circuits.” He affirms that an inappropriate resource is often prescribed for reasons such as geographical efficiency or just mere ignorance.
The Alimenta spaces constitute a more concrete action for society. “These spaces are committed to a different vision than that of providing the social food service. They accompany it by labour inclusion and community inclusion, moving away from stigma, empowering people, making them protagonists of their own process and, ultimately, promoting social nutrition as a right.”
As a pilot project, three physical spaces have been opened in the Catalan capital. Getting a minimum of ten throughout the city can efficiently respond to a need as palpable as social nutrition, explains Josep Antoni.
Throughout 2022, Alimenta Barcelona intends to provide the possibility of cooking in these spaces by offering a communal use of the kitchens.
Users do not participate in the training processes per se defined in a programme, but rather a tailor-made suit for each of their needs
In the Alimenta spaces, a figure called ‘energiser of the Alimenta space’ welcomes them, interviews them, and analyses the situation in which the person finds themselves. This personalised assistance can put the person in contact with existing services on the territory or other activities that the project creates to work on users’ community and labour inclusion.
In the words of Josep Antoni, users “do not participate in the training processes per se defined in a programme, but rather a tailor-made suit for each of the needs of the participants.”
Sustainable food chains
Next year, two actions will be carried out to evaluate the impact of introducing elements of health and sustainability in food.
A food reuse centre in Mercabarna – Barcelona’s wholesale food distribution centre – will be the first step. Market traders will donate the leftovers to this centre instead of throwing them away or taking them to the green dot to be recycled. The designated centre will redistribute surpluses among the social entities of the city.
“When this centre starts up, and the distribution of food can be channelled, a considerable increase in food reuse is expected in all social entities. The volume of food thrown away on a surface like Mercabarna is abysmal,” says Josep Antoni.
The second element is the incorporation of food products provided directly by farmers. They will be seasonal products: those cultivated plus the surplus from the field.
Certain responses that are seen very often in the orbit of food, such as the strict provision of food, perpetuate chronic situations
The idea is to provide food to the spaces and accompany the entities towards the transition to a healthier and more sustainable diet, he adds, to introduce this view of health and sustainability of food in the social sphere. “Many times the food supplements that people take home in the distributed lots, are insufficient or do not meet the health needs of these people.”
In the long term, the director of the project believes in “incorporating vital agents, such as municipal markets, small businesses, local businesses. We can make the population understand they are perhaps the best agents to provide to people in need because we all create a circular economy.”
And so, as a result of teamwork, Alimenta Barcelona integrates these new concepts and stakeholders into the bare (but essential) right to food. “Because we always talk about the right to adequate and sustainable food,” reminds the Social Action Commissioner.