Spain has made progress in closing food cycle gaps by stopping food waste at its source. The social organization “Espigoladors“, or gleaners, recruit volunteers to harvest rejected farm produce, which is then donated to food banks. Those volunteers who already use food banks are allowed to take home a box of their harvest at the end of the day. Gleaning has long been a tradition in Spanish culture: it is understood to uphold the dignity of the poor by providing them a job of harvesting crops and allowing them to take home a part of their harvest as payment. In modern day Spain, this old practice has been revived and may prove to be effective in feeding the hungry while reducing food waste.
A lot of preventable food waste occurs on farms, where rejected fruits and vegetables are left to rot because of strict aesthetic standards set by grocery chains. However, donating the produce or selling to a different buyer can be expensive or logistically challenging for farmers who often do not have the resources to carry out food-rescue programs. Volunteer programs such as the Espigoladors are needed to move food from the farm to those in need.
In addition to redirecting rejected produce to food banks, the Espigoladors have started a line of products called “Es Imperfect” (Is Imperfect) of jams, soups and sauces made from rescued produce. The label has seen incredible success and the company is looking to expand further.
With the Euro Cup and Wimbledon behind us, and the Rio Summer Olympics underway, 2016 is shaping up to be a truly phenomenal year for mega sporting events. Yet, mass events are nearly always associated with mass food waste. In order to ensure that all athletes, fans and workers are fed, catering companies produce incredible amounts of food, of which some inevitably is wasted.
There is also an issue with garbage separation during such events. During the London 2012 Olympics, cross-contamination of biodegradable and non-biodegradable food items proved to be a challenge for properly composting discarded food. The leader of the London 2012 sustainability program, David Stubbs, told The Guardian that cities must have the infrastructure to deal with the excess amount of waste in order for any recycling or composting program to be successful. In Rio, programs are being put in place to help curb waste, including Refettorio Gastromotiva, a cafeteria set up in Rio’s favelas that uses excess food from the Olympic village. Run by world-renowned chef Massimo Bottura, the cafeteria serves free meals to anyone who comes to their door. Bottura has invited chefs from around the world to participate in Refettorio, and has worked with organizations in the city of Rio throughout the process so that the cafeteria will still operate after the Olympics are done.
From discount surplus food stores to hosting the Green Growth Forum in their capital city, Denmark has established itself as a world leader in the global fight against food waste. The country has more initiatives to reduce food waste than any other European nation, which have all contributed to a 25% reduction of food waste over the past few years. Their success is largely due to the grassroots initiative Stop Spild Af Mad or, Stop Wasting Food, a NGO founded by Danish graphic designer Selina Juul. The group aims to educate consumers on the impacts of food waste as well as bring media attention to the issue, through campaigning and being active in policy making. One particularly successful campaign tackled the issue of “UFOs” or “Unidentified Frozen Objects”.
Speaking to The Guardian, Juul said “we ran a campaign about having a clearout once a month to eat your UFOs…We also promoted ‘Sunday leftover tapas’, and the idea that if you’re going away, you give your neighbour everything in your fridge – and they do the same for you.”
Juul also campaigned, and was largely successful, in breaking the stigma associated with asking for doggy bags at restaurants. The practice was previously unpopular among Danes who were embarrassed to be taking home the leftovers, as their name implies the food is only good enough for a dog. Over the years, Stop Spild Af Mad has worked to rebrand them as “goody bags”
Image: Bo Welfare via The Guardian
Stop Spild Af Mad has also partnered with Bo Welfare, a social housing organization in the Danish city of Horsens. They have worked together to establish a pop-up shop where customers pay 20 Kroners (about $3.90 CAD) for a reusable bag, then fill it with any amount of surplus produce from the store shelves.
Another prominent organization in the food waste revolution is WeFood, Denmark’s first surplus grocery store that sells food originally destined for the trash, for 30-50% cheaper. The store has been a huge success partly due to its intentional resistance to being branded a charity. Anyone, from all walks of life can buy the discounted fruits and vegetables. This removes the stigma associated with going to a food bank and allows people from all socioeconomic backgrounds to benefit from inexpensive, healthy produce- all while reducing food waste.
A UK add for the Too Good to Go app
A startup company that has seen amazing success in fighting food waste is Too Good To Go, an app that connects users with leftover foods from all-you-can-eat buffets, which are popular among Danes. The app has now spread to 9 countries, prevented about 200 tonnes of carbon emissions by redirecting food waste and has provided thousands of meals to those in need.
Denmark is making big moves in the fight against food waste. It appears that all of the food waste organizations are taking a bottom-up approach to the issue and are working towards shifting society’s relationship with food from away from indifference and towards one that is more positive and conscientious. As a majority of food waste occurs in the household, these grassroots movements are exactly what is needed to end food waste and create a sustainable food system!
Thousands of pounds of produce cross the Mexican-U.S. border everyday, destined for grocery stores all over the United States and Canada. Once they arrive, truckloads of fruits and vegetables are assessed based on factors like market demand and physical appearance. If they do not fit the bill, they are dumped near the boarder or sent to the landfill.
Yolanda Soto took notice of the waste and its potential to feed needy members of her border community of Nogales, Arizona. She began intercepting and redistributing food destined to be wasted at the border. Soon after, she started a food waste diversion program called “Borderlands Food Bank”. The program now serves over 16 000 people, providing fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as healthy recipes to food collectors.
Yolanda Soto, Founder and CEO of Borderlands Foodbank (photo via nationalgeographic.com)
Now the CEO of Borderlands, Soto oversaw the redirection of 39 million pounds of food in 2015 alone. The company’s lengthy list of recipients includes over 150 non-profit hunger organizations across the United States as well as the Mexican State of Sonora.
Soto’s hard work has not gone unnoticed, with stories of her success emerging in National Geographic.
Read more about Borderlands Foodbank and Yolanda’s story here.
World-renowned chef Massimo Bottura is joining forces with three Canadian chefs to combat food waste and end hunger. Bottura is the owner and chef at Osteria Francescana, a three Michelin star restaurant known for pushing boundaries and fostering innovation in Italian cuisine. Now, he is fostering a solution to hunger and food insecurity in Italy and around the world, by opening soup kitchens that serve gourmet meals made from rescued food. Bottura’s campaign against food waste began when he converted an old theater in Milan into a soup kitchen during the Expo Milan in 2015. Using only food leftover from the Expo, Bottura and a team of Canadian chefs created a gourmet meal and served anyone who came to the theater doors. After completing a project called “Theater of Life”, a multi-media documentary based on his efforts to reduce food waste, Bottura is now planning to open another soup kitchen at the Rio Olympics using excess food from the events.
After both completing a masters degree in environmental studies, Halifax residents Lindsay Clowes and Lauren Schut began brainstorming ideas to reduce food waste. Focusing on food redirection, they came up with the idea for FOUND, an initiative that collects, saves and uses food that would other wise be destined for the trash.
The first two features of their three-pronged approach to reducing food waste include talking care of unsold produce at farmers’ markets and helping farmers outside the city get rid of unsalable produce by organizing volunteer harvest days. The third approach is to organize urban harvest events, which will see the harvesting of forgotten gardens around the city.
Members of the community are already taking great interest in the initiative. Farmers offer their extra or “unfit for market” produce, and organizations provide meals to people asking for their rescued goods. Clowes and Schut also plan to preserve unused food to resell.
Delegates from across America (including award-winning chefs) recently took part in a food waste review conducted by the House Agricultural Committee, an organization that oversees agricultural policy in the United States. The hearing was centered on current issues relating to food waste and initiated an imperative discussion on future policies and solutions. Participants heard from a variety of actors and industry leaders, who spoke about the need to reduce food waste along the commodity chain.
The review has spanned two days so far and has been spearheaded by many prominent industry actors such as Diana Aviv, CEO of Feeding America, who aims to raise consciousness of the paradox of excess food waste existing alongside poverty and hunger in the U.S. In her statement at the hearing, Aviv emphasized the importance of food rescue and food waste redirection to charity organizations that serve those in need. According to Aviv, Feeding America and its charity networks provided 3.7 billion meals in 2015 with food that would have otherwise been destined for the trash.
This is a very positive step forward for food waste reduction in America and I hope to see a similar event in Canada in the near future, possibly with participation from organizations such as Second Harvest.
You can read further on the food waste review and its progress here.
Starbucks, the largest coffee company in the United States, has recently pledged to donate 100% of their unused food to shelters, food banks, and charities over the next five years.
Although the company has donated food in the past, this initiative is a commitment to going beyond shelf-stable food and pastries to include perishable, “ready-to-eat” products that will be donated with the help of refrigerated trucks, with the hope that the food will be delivered to those in need within 24 hours of donating.
Previous concerns were about the viability of donating these perishable foods, especially in areas with warmer climates. Logistics for this scale of food donation can be daunting without the right equipment and rigorous commitment to quality along all levels of the supply chain.
There are cafés popping up in the UK and all over the world serving accessible, healthy meals made entirely from diverted food waste! These cafés, run by the incredible Real Junk Food Project in the UK, are run on a Pay As You Feel basis and provide an important source of healthy food for low income residents in the area.