When I was seventeen I spent four months volunteering and living with families in South East Asia. That experience shaped my world view and awakened my understanding of the true value of food and the need for food recovery. I was struck by the excess, abundance and waste when returning to the US.
My obsession with keeping food out of the trash began in college.
I remember vividly the day I witnessed tray after tray of food being dumped down the garbage disposal in the cafeteria. I developed a habit of eating my friend’s pizza crusts and other leftovers from their plates. This resulted in me gaining twenty five pounds and I realized I needed to develop a better solution.
I spent the next 3 years developing a food recovery group on campus. We recovered excess food from 10 businesses each evening, from the dining hall on campus twice each day, and we had 45 students involved in food recover efforts by my senior year. Our excess was helping to feed 500 people in the Bronx every day. This experience prompted me to found FoodShift, a project of the Earth Island Institute, in August 2011.
Wasting More Than Just Food
Food recovery groups like Food Shift exist all across the country and yet the problems of hunger and food waste persist; they are in fact more heightened than ever before. 40% of all the food produced in the US is wasted while one out of every six Americans is food insecure. We are producing more than enough food to feed everyone yet 50 million Americans don’t have adequate access to food!
Each time food goes uneaten, so do all the resources that went into producing, processing, packaging, and transporting that food too. You can learn more about the environmental impacts of wasted food here. And then there is the financial cost. Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year in food and it is costing $750 million per year for disposal.
Food Shift’s Vision for Food Recovery
What if businesses and municipalities were to shift just a fraction of these funds towards the recovery and redistribution of edible food instead? What if we were to invest in the creation of a professionalized food recovery service sector as an extension of our current waste management system and as an opportunity to create jobs in the green economy? This is Food Shift’s vision.
This is a realistic strategy that can begin to tackle the largest component of our waste stream and move us closer to our zero waste targets. Rather than investing in waste disposal, we need to invest in and replicate models that ensure good food is eaten and not sent to the landfill, where it decomposes into methane which is 23 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Volunteer food recovery programs that provide a free service, depend on volunteer commitments and have limited financial support are not equipped to handle the national food waste crisis alone. Additionally, distributing emergency food assistance is important but it does not tackle the economic disadvantage that leads to hunger in the first place. Rather than perpetuate and grow these models that clearly have limitations, we need to develop models that have the potential to reduce waste, generate revenue, and create green jobs.
The Food Waste Business
Food Shift is piloting a few such strategies in partnership with St. Vincent de Paul. We’re determined to find a grocer or market partner who is keen to reduce their environmental footprint and find an outlet for their excess food. Food Shift’s food recovery service is a way for businesses to cut waste disposal costs, reduce wasted food, help the community, increase overall sustainability and play a key role in developing this critical service sector. Food Shift’s programs will employ individuals from St. Vincent’s job training program in food recovery and in the creation of a low-cost market and value-added products.
Incorporating a revenue-generation model into food recovery gives it the potential to expand and increase impact both from the waste reduction side and the employment side. Food Shift is a laboratory, committed to piloting models that can keep more food out of landfills and feed more people. There is no reason that in a country of such abundance anyone should be hungry and there is no reason that we should be allowing any food to go to waste.
Join the movement to reduce food waste through food recovery by signing the pledge at www.foodshift.net and please let me know your ideas for preventing good food from going to waste.