Wednesday, March 18, 2009

San Francisco - Replate

This blog is mostly about the built environment and how creating positive space leads to positive action from ordinary people. While most American cities are largely devoid of these sorts of spaces, San Francisco is full of them. With that in mind, it seemed foolish of me to leave the city without finding some sort of evidence that might support my contention that good things happen in good places.I head heard about a homegrown movement that was trying to address various issues relating to food waste and hunger and decided to look them up. The concept, called Replating, was started by Josh Kamler and Axel Albin. They had begun to notice doggie bags left atop public trash cans instead of inside them. After giving the idea some thought, they launched Replate, a website designed to spread the word about conserving food and helping out the homeless. I was able to track them down and have a quick chat with them before I left town.

Replating isn't for everyone. You have to eat out, order too much food and then be willing to part with it. Anybody with busboy experience could tell you that there's no shortage of these people. Restaurants are usually stuck throwing this food out. More enterprising individuals ask for the remainder of their meal to go, or perhaps the whole meal was to go and they failed to finish it. For many, cluttering the fridge is a bad option so the half-eaten and neatly packaged meal usually ends up in the garbage.

The behavior can be observed directly and indirectly, as the hungry go through garbage cans looking for something to eat. The alternative is called Replating, where the doggie bag is instead placed on top of--or next to--a garbage can. It requires an individual to acknowledge that they hold something of value in their hand and that it is something they ought to share.

It would be wrong to look at this as an environmental issue, though there is probably some small benefit (food morsel vs. doggie bag). This is a consciousness issue. An individual must be aware that less fortunate people exist and that they would appreciate a bite to eat. That awareness provides some small measure of defense against ever-growing excess and consumerism.

Replate is not the solution every problem anywhere, but it does a small part to make the world a better place. In essence, a movement like Replate is a symptom of a good city. I'll have one more report on symptoms of good cities before I'm through with San Francisco.

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