«Food Waste was Unknown» – Idy Bischofberger-Benz

Lisa often says that her Grandma Idy Bischofberger-Benz is one of her biggest role models. The today 83-year-old Idy is one of the last generations’ activists and has invested her life for global humanity. She has witnessed the rise of affluent societies and the increasing impact of the West on the rest of the world and greatly influenced today’s sustainability awareness with her personal investment.

With herbal tea and biscuits, she starts to tell me her story in her apartment in Lucerne.

«Food Waste was Unknown»

Growing up in a village, the lifestyle lived by her parents was simply «sustainable». Fruits and vegetables were always local and seasonal. During the years of the Second World War 1939 to 1945, the population received so-called «Märkli», a kind of food stamps, by the municipal administration. Thus, food and other consumer goods like clothes and detergent were rationed. There were also no import products because Switzerland’s borders were closed. Careful management of the allocated amount was a must. Food waste was unknown. As a result, Idy is accustomed to utilizing food.

The recycling mentality was very strong even with clothes. Her mother was an artist to make old clothes appear new. She remembers that she received compliments for her beautiful dresses from classmates.

The Sense of Justice and Truth

© Max Havelaar Foundation

Idy learned through missionaries, which preached about their experiences in parishes, about life in other countries. Contrary to my expectations missionaries weren’t only spreading their belief system. In the last century, the mission societies views have changed considerably. The mission societies main purposes were in education and healthcare. They wanted to support people as a whole – in body and soul. At that time, global support was mostly carried out by missions. These reports have led to the emergence of various organizations and charities, where theologians often played an essential role.

At the end of the 1950s, the Catholic youth organizations proclaimed a year of missions, from which the relief agency “Fastenopfer” emerged. The result of this optimism was the emergence of other agencies and institutions, such as “Bread for all“, “Public Eye” or the “Max Havelaar Foundation“, which showed the relationship between countries of the South and of the North. At first, they were about collecting money and then they quickly proceeded to raise awareness for poorly paid jobs, human rights violations and environmental pollution in Switzerland.

In the 70’s three close high school friends from Idy’s husband Pius, which were missionaries, were murdered during the liberation struggles in Zimbabwe. At that time, the white regime of Ian Smith didn’t want black Africans to receive an education. This event had strongly influenced Idy and Pius and further encouraged them to commit themselves to social justice.

The sense of Justice and truth was what prompted many to engage in global issues. For Idy, religion was a central drive for her commitment. Christianity and her faith in God encouraged her, to take a closer look and take responsibility, specifically the Sermon on the Mount from the Bible was decisive regarding justice and support for the less-favored. A lifestyle that does not harm others, as well as fairtrade was also very important for her.

At this time different 3rd world groups originated from the churches. The above charities gave inputs for public activities and for verifying one’s personal lifestyle choices.

Tackling Global Connections Locally

In her own 3rd world group in Zurich Wollishofen the members came together every two weeks and thought about how they can tackle what relief agencies published about global connections locally.

They sold the first fair trade coffee Ujamaa from Tanzania and shopping bags from Bangladesh labeled «Jute instead of plastic» or «hunger is a scandal – think globally, act locally “. In the 80s one could get fairly produced bananas and coffee beans from Nicaragua from them.

But the reactions to their actions were not always positive. During the cold war, everyone who questioned the status quo was labeled a Communist. Her group organized a food stand with fair produced products from Caritas, as well as bananas and coffee from Nicaragua. Suddenly a man showed up who grabbed their stand and knocked it down while insulting them and labeling them as Communists.

One of the biggest successes of the 3rd world group was when they performed cinema films by African filmmakers in the neighborhood. People were not aware that African filmmakers could make good movies. The African literature enjoyed by Idy was also unknown.

Another exciting and successful event was a large November buffet they organized. There was Swiss cheese and prawns, lettuce and slaw, mango and pineapple juice, and local fresh apple juice. All participants received cards to count points. Import and not seasonal dishes were given minus points, the other plus points. Based on the score, everyone could see how sustainably they ate.

The Sustainable Lifestyle Today

Idy and Pius had a large garden. As Idy knew had learned from her parents, they dried their products for durability and preserved them in jars.

Today, they live in the city of Lucerne and buy local products in the supermarket, the nearby monastery shop or from a farm they pass on their walks. They now buy what they can’t produce. For example, Idy gave me a pack of dried beans, which she had bought in the monastery shop.

She’s no longer an active activist, but she supports good organizations, with whom she shares some personal history, with donations.

All those acts sharpened her contemporaries look for more complex connections and characterized their personal lifestyles. Idy is happy with the development that has been and is still taking place in Switzerland. Fairtrade products are available for almost all areas of life. At the time she didn’t think that such products would one day be found on the shelves of wholesale distributors with similar prices as conventionally produced products. Information about global connections is also more broadly distributed.

Like us, Idy sees the key in one’s personal lifestyle, in seeing that we don’t need everything we could have and in going deep on topics.

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