Sailor cap on his head, calm voice and deep tone, M’hamed, 79 years old, has the charisma and eloquence of wise old men. The Montpellier man is not here to joke, he intends to defend ideas. “Access to healthy food should not be a charity, but a right,” he says. M’hamed is one of those who imagined a new model in Montpellier (Hérault) and in its region in order to fight against food insecurity. An old phenomenon which is increasing against a backdrop of inflation, as evidenced by the resounding cry of alarm launched recently by Les Restos du coeur. The situation is getting tense: in November 2022, 16% of French people said they did not have enough to eat*.
100 euros per month
In Montpellier, since February 2023, a group of residents, led by associations and researchers, has decided to test the idea of Social Food Security. The principle of “The common food fund” is simple: each member contributes according to their means (between 1 and 170 euros, or even 200) and receives in return, every month, an envelope of MonA – a digital currency created for second-hand – equivalent to 100 euros, regardless of the initial stake. The model is based on trust because the contributor himself estimates the amount he will pay. In any case, this amount can only be spent to purchase food products in a network of partner businesses favoring the short circuit and organic products.
Currently 300 people are taking part in the adventure. Among them, Baptiste. That afternoon, this father of a 7-year-old boy stopped by La cratette, a cooperative supermarket in the center of Montpellier. Zigzagging between the shelves, the 38-year-old man puts together his basket: fruits and vegetables, madeleines, compote, crème fraîche… At the checkout, the screen displays €39.90. That’s good, Baptiste still has the equivalent of thirty euros in his MonA account; he will pay the rest with his bank card. “It’s a valuable help because I have money problems at the moment. The food fund allows me to have access to products that I was previously deprived of, which are of better quality,” he explains. .
A subsidized model
The initiative is distinct from the current food aid circuit. This desire to transform a system dominated by mass distribution and the giants of the agri-food industry pushed Cécilia, 38, to embark on the adventure. “I wanted to make things happen by bringing agricultural consumers and producers to the table. We have overlapping interests,” she emphasizes. Members were able to visit several farms, in particular, to observe the work done by the farmers and to understand the prices of fruits and vegetables.
Financing and viability remain key elements for imagining the large-scale deployment of such an approach in the future. Because the budgetary balance of the food fund today relies on contributions but also on an envelope of 200,000 euros in public and private subsidies. “We are doing an experiment in food democracy, we are moving forward. It is a long process. It is not tomorrow that we will find a magic formula to guarantee everyone the possibility of eating with dignity”, insists Pauline Scherer, sociologist, member of the scientific committee. The fact remains that this attempt is being closely watched by several organizations and communities who also intend to try this philosophy. A drop of water in the ocean, or the first seeds to sow the future of healthy and sustainable food.
* Survey by the Research Center for the study and observation of living conditions (Crédoc).
Restos du coeur, Red Cross… What are the reasons for the crisis in the associative world?
- On September 3, Les Restos du coeur, in financial difficulty, launched a call for help. The next day, the French Red Cross followed suit.
- The association founded by Coluche has never welcomed so many people: 1.3 million people this year, compared to 1.1 million in 2022. The Red Cross records a 7% increase in demand in the first half, after an increase of 22% already in 2022.
- Associations find themselves caught in a wedge by the effects of inflation. Firstly, rising prices increase demand for food aid. On the other hand, it weighs on the bill of NGOs which purchase part of the products to distribute them.
- Several associations had to reduce the size of food packages, or even restrict the number of beneficiaries.
- The government announced “put on the table” 15 million euros to help Les Restos du coeur. However, 10 million were already budgeted. The Arnault family, owner of the luxury giant LVMH, donated 10 million to Restos du coeur. Other groups will put their hands in their pockets. The Les Restos du coeur association, founded by Coluche, estimated its needs at 35 million euros.