Cooking with the heart

Twice a week Collectactif organises tables d’hôtes that are open to everyone. The price of the meal is up to you: people pay what they want or what they feel able to.

We spoke to Mohammed Bouziane and Charlotte Lambertini, two members of the collective which will be cooking in Place Baron Horta, just next door to the Centre for Fine Arts between 28 May and 8 June.

It’s not enough to commemorate May ‘68 and to look back on these events 50 years later. It’s just as important to seek out initiatives launched today by citizens who lament the shortcomings of official bodies, just like the revolts of half a century ago. Collectactif is the perfect illustration of this kind of civic movement and deserved to be on the programme of BOZAR Occupied.

Interview with Mohammed Bouziane and Charlotte Lambertini (Collectactif)


Mohammed: Collectactif came about as the result of an initiative organised by a group of migrants, looking for meaning and involved in a political struggle. It’s the group SP Belgique (Sans-Papiers Belgique) which brought us together, an association which defends the rights of undocumented migrants and which came about as a result of a project of the non-profit organisation Pigment, a Brussels association which gives a voice to the destitute. We began distributing food parcels to people in need during the winter of 2013. We collected unsold food from shopkeepers in the Sainte Catherine district. Then as our meetings take place near the Abattoirs in Anderlecht, that’s how we came up with the idea of increasing the volume of food we collected and helping more people by approaching stallholders on the Abattoir market.

From the outset combating food waste was an important theme for our collective.
Yes. In fact, it was directly inspired from what we saw. When you have very little, or even nothing, you have to use your imagination and to look for different ways of coping and getting by. We started out from the Abattoir market because we saw the enormous amount of food waste it generated and so we knew there were enough resources to come to the aid of the needy families we were in contact with. Combating food waste is a popular subject at the moment but at the time it was quite revolutionary.
Mohammed: It’s when you’re actually there that you really become aware of quite how much food is being wasted. We saw all this food thrown in the bin with our own eyes while there are so many people out there who need it. You can’t help but call the current system into question. It’s everyone’s responsibility. When it comes down to it, not reacting is the equivalent of accepting all the inconsistencies and inequalities.

How did you approach the stallholders at the abattoir?
At the end of the market, we helped the stallholders to get rid of unsold produce or damaged fruit/vegetables.
Mohammed: It was difficult in the beginning, to put it mildly. It took us months to win the stallholders over. We finally achieved it by explaining our project and the logic behind it to them. Slowly but surely we noticed that the quality of the products that they left us improved and that the volume of food increased. We were collecting one and a half tonnes of food a week.
Charlotte: In our quest for a more sustainable approach we stopped working with the Abattoir and got in touch with Bio-Planet. We collect unsold goods from them three times a week.

Can you explain the system of horizontal solidarity? Am I right in thinking it's the very basis of collectactif?Mohammed: Yes. In my opinion it’s one of the cornerstones of our project. It’s about promoting knowledge sharing and helping one another. We make sure everyone is equal, whatever their skills. Our collective gives these people a chance to help make a difference.
Charlotte: We get involved on location. If something doesn’t work we’ll change it and we try to offer the most socially economic and sustainable solutions possible. If we manage to demonstrate that horizontal solidarity functions within Collectactif, then maybe we can convince people to deploy it on a much larger scale…
Mohammed: Positive thinking is very important to us. The goal of our project is to inspire, inform and mobilise as many people as possible. The message we want to pass on, not just to citizens, but also to organisations, non-profit organisations, etc. is that it’s possible to do things differently.

How did you manage to reach out to people, to convince non-profit organisations, to call upon your services?Charlotte: I would say it’s thanks to that little je ne sais quoi we have at Collectactif. We aren’t a classical catering company nor are we the fruit of a marketing concept, and you can taste that in the food.
Mohammed: I think our way of preparing the meals has a lot to do with it. What we achieved in Maximilien Park back in 2015 is no doubt the best example of this. At one point we were serving up between 1,000 and 1,800 free meals a day, in our little makeshift kitchen, built with the help of numerous highly motivated volunteers. That created a link between people. It was a real turning point for Collectactif.

What would you say to the BOZAR public to inform them about initiatives such as yours and encourage them to sample your cuisine?
Charlotte: I would say that in general culture and art are synonymous with diversity and mixing. And I would say that this same public could be affected by the cooking without borders that Collectactif offers and, who knows, end up making a small change to the way they look at the people from near and far who populate our streets.
Mohammed: In all the revolutions, whatever they are, the human being is always at the centre. I think everybody can create their own revolution. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a ‘big’ revolution even the most modest revolutions can encourage other people to join the movement and come up with fresh solutions. With a bit of imagination, we can achieve the goals that seemed inaccessible to us in the beginning. That’s what we did with Collectactif and that’s what we’ll continue to do.

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