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BLOG: Planet on a plate

Planet on a plate? -Reunion? -A high school reunion?

These are questions that’s been asked of us, International club members, ever since the start of this project. So, let’s start by clarifying everything.

Planet on a plate, or PoP. What does that mean? Briefly told, is a group of young minds from Finland, Reunion, and Croatia who meet in each partner country around the theme of sustainable food. Our first Youth exchange for the PoP project took place 27.11- 5.12.2023 in Reunion. The underlying philosophy of youth exchanges is rooted in non-formal learning, experimental education, and hands-on engagement. Our recent experience in Reunion included all the above.


Reunion Island

Located in the Indian Ocean, it stands as both an overseas department and a region of France. While French holds official status, Creole prevails as the everyday language. Despite its modest dimensions, approximately 60km long and 40km wide, Reunion Island contains a population of almost 860 000 inhabitants.

Known for its active volcano, lovely mountains, and delicious vanilla, Reunion also stands out for its marine life. Including the formidable presence of sharks, as one of the top 10 biodiversity hotspots globally, Reunion Island fosters a diverse aquatic ecosystem, hosting over 150 different coral species.

 

Experiences, facts, learning moments, and why they all go together so well.

Following 33-hours of travel, consisting of loss of appetite and sleep deprivation, our group dynamics faced a considerable challenge. To shift our focus and get a positive spirit within the group. We immersed ourselves in the workshops right away upon arrival. The workshops allowed us to comprehend the interplay between nature and human impact.

As earlier mentioned, the workshops are characterized by a pragmatic approach, focusing on hands-on engagement. So that’s what we did.

fish
vegetables

While exploring Reunion Islands arid landscapes, mountains, stunning beaches and vibrant coral reefs, and at the same time trying to comprehend the effects of the human footprint on all these things has been an eye opener. Identifying the human as the biggest threat for nature has been brought up to speech multiple times during the project. Our exploration took us from the jungle in the mountains, to the colorful marine life in the coral reefs. Exactly the path that the trash from us humans take. The litter that carelessly gets thrown out of the car window, because we are too lazy to find a bin. The litter that works its way everywhere in between air and water.


Up in the mountains we visited Les Jardins de Fond Imar, where the local people worked in harmony with nature. We learned about agroforestry principles and experimenting with biodynamics. Since it was a hands-on setting, we actively participated in planting various things, among them a banana tree. Unfortunately, we also witnessed the adverse effects of human activity on the natural landscape, and how waste can seamlessly hide among the cover of vegetation.

people sailing on boats
Handmade

During our trip we got the opportunity to paddle in a nature reserve, where nature is able to grow freely and live in peace, protected from the human. The reserve was a big area in between the sea and the mountains. We paddled in freshwater, which isn’t as salty as the Indian Ocean. This makes the nature reserve a place for uncommon animals and plants to thrive. The nature reserve was filled with fantastic vegetations and birds, but unfortunately also trash. Trash from the human, in form of plastic, like water bottles, wobbling around. Trash that’s been washed down from the mountains.

man sleeping on the grass
people planting plants

At the end of our journey, we got to swim and go snorkeling among incredibly many different species of beautiful and colorful fish and coral reefs. As we walked along the beach, we discussed marine wildlife, and looked for whatever we could find in the sand. Small crabs, capsules and seashells. The waves washed up dead corals on the beach, where we also saw a huge dead crab, along with plastic litter. Lots and lots of plastic litter. As the evening went on, we browsed through books about coral reefs, to see what we’d found. They have over 150 different species of corals in the waters of Reunion, here at home in the Nordics, we have zero. But does human activity truly  affect nature? Is plastic really that much of a bad guy? Is it us humans causing the death of coral reefs and marine life? Essentially the answer is yes, it is us, humans, who pose the greatest threat.


Sorting trash, using biological materials and keeping sustainability in the back of our mind, is important for us to reduce the sense of guilt. At home we agreed that we all sort quite well, but is it sustainable enough?

people drink coconut milk
people sitting at the table and discussing something

We buy and discard a lot, so we had a lot to learn from the participating countries about making the most out of what we already have. Banana peels can be used to nourish your plants and garden. Used glass jars can be reused for storing food, before recycling them. Croatia on the other hand, also has a sort of waste sorting system. They try to sort as well as they can, but they don’t have a separate system for plastic. This means that it’s a guessing game for them, where to put the plastic, and the youngsters can’t confirm what will happen to the trash afterwards. Is that sustainable enough? Reunion Island has to purchase services from neighboring countries to handle their waste. They pay Madagascar to pick up the
waste by ships, including glass bottles for recycling. Collaboration is mostly good, but is it always? Is this truly sustainable for our society?


For now, there remains significant work for all of us to undertake. Ranging from individuals to nations, we have to continuously behold the impact of our everyday life choices, to achieve a more sustainable society. Food resources and waste management deserve careful consideration. Throughout this exchange, we have shared information about each other’s cultures and nations. We’ve tried diverse new experiences, ranging from hiking in the mountains and kayaking in a nature reserve, to encounters with marine wildlife. The central part throughout the project was Planet on a Plate, and we strive for this topic to get heightened attention.
-Take what you eat, eat what you take. Don’t litter.

 

Writer: Ella Koski, International Club

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