Through the portraits, we share the rich and diverse personal stories of women, shedding light on their journeys and accomplishments. Using their contribution to the food industry as an entry point, we touch on their journeys, philosophies, and accomplishments—creating conversations with staying power.
This month’s portrait of Friederike Gaedke of Berlin-based Die Gemeinschaft, a network of local artisanal food producers, restaurateurs, and cooks, is a very timely one, as those of us in Europe—and much of the world—find ourselves several weeks into practicing some form of social distancing and quarantining in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many restaurants have closed, and those that are open are only able to offer food for takeaway. We find ourselves acutely aware of how much we enjoyed our local cafés, restaurants, and bars and the simple pleasure of dining and drinking in those spaces with our friends and family. We encounter challenges in the larger systems of food and goods production, as certain items are cleared off the shelves.
These uncertain times have given rise to many positive initiatives and the push to support local businesses whenever possible. Many of the women we have profiled have reinvented their businesses, collaborating with peers and innovating new products that are perfect for takeaway. The Feminist Food Club cofounder Mary Scherpe of Stil in Berlin has put together an incredible, intensive series of talks on Instagram Live, including this one with Kavita Meelu of the Smells Like collective. These talks are an important resource, providing pragmatic support and community.
This interview with Friederike took place last fall, but we asked her to update us with her take on the current situation from her personal and professional perspective. Her insights into how we can support each other through these times follow the profile below.
There are many people working behind the scenes to keep us connected and nourished.
Tuck in and stay well.
Friederike Gaedke organizes Die Gemeinschaft (The Community), a network initiated by restaurants Horváth and Nobelhart & Schmutzig to connect food producers and chefs in Berlin through an annual symposium and other activities. She has also participated in Der Ernährungsrat Berlin (The Berlin Nutrition Council), a local food policy council advocating for sustainable changes in the region’s food systems. At the heart of her work and philosophy are a holistic approach and a deep-rooted desire to bring as many players to the table in order to create dialogue, community, and momentum to support the local food scene and propel real change within the country’s attitudes, practices, politics, and culture in regards to food.
“I don’t see myself in the kitchen or on a farm but in that in-between space. We really want to have everyone [present] because we think all of those ideas and views are important to bringing us all forward. [Last] year the topic of Die Gemeinschaft’s symposium was a new food culture—the idea being that it’s more than what is actually on your plate.”
She served for one term as a member of Der Ernährungsrat Berlin, which aims to bring food topics into politics and policy, democratically. The topics arise from general assemblies that are open to the public and “we put them into practice and we meet with policymakers about [these topics]. We are the force that guides [policymakers about food]; we also do smaller events that push those needs forward.”
“We need to start collaborating and start a real movement together. I want us to have a voice inside and outside of Germany. I would love to push forward with Die Gemeinschaft and have a voice [geared] towards politics and politicians to apply more pressure. We want to change things.”
Her vision and commitment to this vision make sense considering her academic background. Friederike studied at the premier Università di Scienze Gastronomiche di Pollenzo (University of Gastronomic Sciences of Pollenze or UNISG), which was founded by Slow Food, an international non-profit association started by Carlo Petrini and a group of activists in the late 1980s. Slow Food was initially created to “defend regional traditions, good food, gastronomic pleasure, and a slow pace of life.” Since then it has evolved to take on a holistic approach to food that honors the connections between food, the planet, people, politics and culture. While the Slow Food philosophy is not directly taught at the university, its ethos of sustainability is everywhere.
Friederike’s thesis focused on closed loop or sustainable restaurants. She explored concepts of a circular economy and “how you can make [a restaurant] into a closed circle because in agriculture and nature, this concept already exists everywhere. A restaurant is not sustainable in itself. It’s very luxurious and we’re wasting things while we cook [for] and host people.”
This interest in circularity brought her to CRCLR, a center for circular economy practices in Neukölln, Berlin, which she was integral to building from the ground up. While she learned a lot about circular economy, sustainability, and other fields like fashion, her main takeaway from her two and a half years there was learning about mental health and work environments. “My parents were both workaholics. I had never heard of a working environment that harms you, what did that mean? I learned about this [concept] as much as I learned about sustainability and circular economy.”
As a result of her time at CRCLR, she brings an important perspective to Die Gemeinschaft. There, she does the organization, the accounting, the communication; she arranges the annual member meeting; and she finds funding for the project. While she has support from other members, she is responsible for all of this alongside producing the programming for the symposium.
Her hands-on approach and joy in taking responsibility are what brought her to food in the first place. “My mom was always working and my dad as well so I was home alone and I started to cook by myself. It was never good but I started to do it because I had to. I was cooking and making the whole Christmas dinner.” There were other significant factors, including her Tagesmutter (childcare provider) having an agricultural farm and her Polish grandmother’s extensive backyard garden.
She studied social sciences at university but “I had no idea why I was doing it. It really frustrated me so I stopped after a year. I was thinking about what I could do with food. Everyone tells you all the time, ‘Do you really want to make your hobby a professional thing?’ But there was just something inside of me where I was like: I need to decide now that this is going to be what I do—because this is the only thing that I feel excited about.”
When she looked into food-related education in Germany, the only options were in hotel management, nutrition, or chemistry but none of those resonated. “I looked outside of Germany and found [UNISG]. It fit perfectly; [UNISG] has a program where you study [everything] from social sciences to chemistry and physics, but also history. You get a really good overview and look into so many topics, all related to food.”
Now that she has fully committed to her passion for food with her current activities and involvement centering community, connection, and collaboration, she wants to truly change things in Berlin and Germany. With Die Gemeinschaft, she strives to bring about sustainable, holistic perspectives and practices in all aspects of the food culture. She acknowledges that this won’t be easy and may not happen in her lifetime. “It is very hard to change food systems here. If you go around Berlin, there are all of these vegan offerings and this wave of identifying with what you eat has [finally] arrived here. But if you look at the broad spectrum, food doesn’t have such a high priority in German culture.”
She believes this is also evident in the German language: “‘du bist ein Bauer’ (you are a farmer) is an insult. We never really valued the people who make our food or the food itself. It always has to be very efficient. So it’s very difficult to change something and say: Look, this should not be luxurious but this should be the norm because it is about health, it is about culture. How we treat our farmers shows a lot about who we are and how we treat each other.”
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These days, Friederike is speaking with the members of Die Gemeinschaft, connecting them and supporting them however she can. In the first weeks, she created a list of resources with many of the restaurants and grocery offerings available in Berlin. More than ever, it is important to support these local businesses, which in turn support local producers and communities. As she notes, it is often the smaller businesses that work very hard to keep their staff employed via Kurzarbeit—an option in Germany where one has reduced work hours and wages, which are then partially offset by unemployment benefits.
“Everything you can do from using the takeout options to buying [gift] vouchers, to give a bit of liquidity [helps these businesses]. Support those small independent businesses, and the same goes for where you buy your groceries. Supporting good, regional produce is now important to consumers. A lot of people ask me, ‘Where can I still buy regional produce? How can I support local farmers?’ Maybe this is an opportunity to truly bring change in the future.”
Friederike is producing interviews for Die Gemeinschaft in collaboration with Lorraine Haist and B-EAT Magazine with different actors from the local food scene. They aim “to [perhaps] inspire some people that don’t know what to do yet. Also [we want] to [find out], ‘What do you think the future will look like?’”
“I am really feeling a momentum of change. I believe it is a chance for sustainable change in the food world. Egos are being put aside and the cracks in the systems are showing, giving [us] the opportunity to re-think the system we want to go back to. I don’t think we will face the same industry as we [experienced] before.”
Right now, our privileges are on full display. Some of us have the privilege of working from home and some of us do not. Some of us are experiencing a real lack of food and resources. “I think this is the time [to think about] the privilege that you may have, how you can share it, and how you can support other people in doing so. For me personally, [it is also clear] how much more we need to support from political and financial standpoints these kinds of food systems in hospitals, in schools—everywhere in the public sector.”