By Julia Vié and Ivana Solar
— Luana Carretto walked down the stairs in AUC after class in her long flowery skirt, her dreadlocks curled up into a large knot on her head. She is only 25 years old but already an inspiration for many AUC students to believe that change is possible as long as you really want it.
Although she is a third year student at AUC, where she studies Law, Sociology and Environmental Economics, and is the founder of Taste Before You Waste (TBYW), an initiative to reduce food waste, she hasn’t been used to being successful all her life. “When I was young, I had problems at school and I was sent to a Lom school, which is a school for kids with behavioral or learning problems,” she said. Generally, children that go to Lom schools end up at low levels of the education system, but Carretto worked herself up and had the opportunity to start a HAVO/VWO education at the Amsterdams Lyceum. In her second year she was already doing VWO. “Exactly the fact that they send me to the ‘dumb-people school’, that’s how I used to call it, motivated me. I really felt that I didn’t belong there so I worked extra hard to get myself out of there,” Carretto said smiling.
Shortly before Carretto started studying at AUC after having travelled for more than a year, she saw a documentary about dumpster diving, which is looking in garbage bins for usable food, that changed her way of thinking. “After travelling, I generally came back with a different mentality,” she said. “I was not happy at all with the system in industrialized countries.”
She decided that she wanted to do something about food waste, but that dumpster diving was not the solution since it wouldn’t contribute to improving the situation. “The problem with dumpster-diving for me was that food is actually still classified as waste, while it actually shouldn’t be,” she said. “For me there was a logical solution: if people are throwing away food into the dumpster and then other people are taking it out, why not just take the dumpster out of the equation?”
Without a plan but purely relying on her determination, she went to talk to different stores in East Amsterdam, which were all very willing to give her food that would otherwise be thrown away. “I guess that was one of the happiest days of my life, because it meant that society was not lost yet,” she said.
She and her husband, Dennis, looked for places in the neighborhood to bring the food to. At the moment, they deliver the food they pick up seven times a week from approximately 15 stores to three different charities, with the help of 35 volunteers that bring around food on delivery tricycles. “My idea has never really been to create a charity organization or an NGO, and I actually started with no idea at all, but I was just like ‘I’m not going to sit still while the possibility is there for me to do something about it.’” Carretto said.
Dennis, who is responsible for everything concerning the tricycles, has witnessed Carretto become a food waste fighter from the very first second, and enjoys working together with her for TBYW. “Since we are life partners and used to doing things together, it feels very natural and familiar to work with her,” he said.
Carretto couldn’t agree more, and added: “We really complement each other. I plan and arrange things, while he is very skillful with practical things. The only downside to doing this together is that sometimes we can’t even escape work at home…”
Together with all the volunteers, they try to do more than save food from garbage bins. “Our goal is to make people more conscious about the waste of good food,” Carretto said. TBYW also cooks in a community kitchen and holds two free food markets each week. “I think what really works for TBYW is that we are not pointing fingers and telling people what they are doing wrong,” she said. “The people that visit the free food markets and community kitchen are often surprised and interested in knowing more about what we’re doing. We like to provoke them to ask the questions instead of pushing them to listen to us.”
Sophia Bensch, a third year AUC student who helps with delivering and writes the TBYW newsletter, said she enjoys working with Carretto because she is a source of inspiration. “What I value most when working with her, is that she does what she does with full conviction, never half-heartedly,” she said.
After having worked very intensively on the project for the past two and a half years, Carretto almost made the decision to leave TBYW, this state of mind only lasted her two weeks however. “I get bored quite easily if I keep doing the same thing, the concept is there but now it needs to be maintained.” She said. “TBYW is actually the first project that managed to keep me hooked for a longer period of time because of its diversity,” said Carretto, also confirming that as of next year she will be working full-time with TBYW along with Sophia and Sabrina Alexandra Roy, a master’s student and volunteer.
The next step for Carretto is to find funding for upscaling and to spread the concept of TBYW. “The main focus is on getting the funding to enable multiplication of the concept, but I also want to continue doing more workshops, which I love.” She said.
TBYW as an organisation relies quite heavily on Carretto and this is also something she wants to change. “Things stagnated quite a bit while I was travelling and so much of what we do depends on how much time I have,” she said, “I’ve worked for two years on getting more people so I can shift that.”
Carretto is focusing on securing the continued success and growth of TBYW even while she is away on her lengthy trip around Asia. “I just want to make sure it’s continued and keeps getting bigger and better in any form.” Her determination is more than admirable, “I’m waking up at 4 AM, writing e-mails and thinking about new ideas and collaborations,” she said, “I’m even dreaming TBYW!”
Carretto said that, although she started with no plan or expectations at all, she is very proud of what she has achieved thus far. “Ever since I was young I have always wanted to win the Nobel Peace Prize,” she said laughing. “Although that didn’t happen yet, I do feel that I made a difference.”