Food waste, insects and urban gardens at the Feeding 9 billion challenge

From Saturday, September 17th to the following Sunday, students from the University of Guelph worked tirelessly to develop a tangible solution to food insecurity. The event, called the Feeding 9 billion Challenge, was originally developed by Guelph Professor Evan Fraser and has spread to universities across the country. Over the course of the weekend, students divided into groups based on shared interests. By the end of the challenge, some amazing ideas had formed that have the potential reduce and food insecurity.

Judges giving feedback to the groups. Image: Ideas Congress via Twitter

It was very encouraging to see many of the groups focus on reducing and redirecting food waste for their solution. One promising idea was “Late Night Bite”; an app with with users can buy discounted food (that would otherwise be tossed) from restaurants and businesses just before closing time. Other ideas included a food truck that serves recovered food waste, as well as an increase in insect protein consumption to replace livestock-based diets.

The students involved in the challenge will be developing their ideas over the course of the fall semester and will undoubtedly have some amazing final pitches in December.

You can read more about the Feeding 9 Billion challenge here.

How much do you know about global food security?

(Image from http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/03/global-food-waste-statistics)

Do you think you know all there is to know about global food security? News website The Guardian has created a quiz to test your knowledge on the international issue and included a few questions on food waste.

So go on, test yourself – you may learn something about the relationship of food waste to the bigger issue of food insecurity.

Take the quiz here:

www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/feb/03/global-food-security-challenges-take-our-quiz

 

Reclaiming food waste at the Mexican-U.S. border

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, CEO of Borderlands Food Bank, near her home in Nogales, Arizona. The border between the U.S. and Mexico can be made out in the background. Photograph by Bryan Schutmaat

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.

Food rescue retail

Former president of Trader Joe’s, Dough Rauch, has opened a groundbreaking new type of grocery store: a non-profit model that tackles food insecurity, reduces food waste, and promotes good nutrition.  The Daily Table store opened June 4, after managing to pass the hurdles of non-profit approval and convincing authorities that wasted food can be safe and nutritious food. The shop is located in the low income community of Dorchester, Massachusetts, and provides access to healthy food at very low prices.

produce at The Daily Table

This new initiative is a major departure from more traditional food charities. It is strongly committed to providing nutritious meals that can compete with fast food in its price and convenience. At the same time the retailer is committed to preventing food waste by collecting donated food and selling it fresh or transforming it into ready-to-eat meals.The shop is challenging cheap, unhealthy calories in a way that is financially and environmentally sustainable while ensuring the health and dignity of its patrons. There are many non-profits that serve rescued food, but the distinction here is that Daily Table allows customers a choice – they are not simply recipients. Being in a retail space enables Daily table to be grounded in the community, provide employment and training, as well as make money to cover costs. I’m excited to see how this project will fare as it employs it’s innovative approach to food waste, nutrition, and food insecurity.

Check out a National Geographic interview on Daily Table with founder Doug Rauch  here, or more coverage from NPR.

Probing the “Rescue Food: End Hunger” Parable

At a recent food-waste event, the manager of a leading food-recovery charity joked to the audience, “We want to reduce food waste, but at the same time, we want it because we use it to feed hungry people”.

Hold on!

This comment suggests that food waste is the solution for food insecurity in the city.

This rhetoric is enormously problematic

Upon questioning, the speaker admitted her comment was made lightly. Knowing and respecting her, I can verify that it is uncharacteristic of her actual morals and work. Nevertheless, I employ her comment because it represents an entire discourse in the food waste and food security worlds. Consider, for a moment, these screen-clips from websites of leading North American food-recovery charities:

Food Recovery Screen Clips

Each draws a connection between hungry mouths and excess/surplus food. At first glance, you can’t be blamed for thinking that food-insecurity and food waste are two problems that together, solve each other.

-What to do with all these hungry people? Give them surplus food!

-What to do with all this surplus food? Give it to hungry people! Win, win, win. Problems solved!

But in reality, each is a discrete and gargantuan problem. We cannot be complacent believing that the current food recovery and donation model can solve both. Allow me to illustrate:

Misunderstanding #1: Aren’t food recovery groups doing a terrific job diverting food from landfills?

Sure! Food recovery groups play a critical role in saving food before it becomes “waste.” I strongly believe in them, and volunteer myself. But we cannot forget that they represent David against the Goliath that is food waste globally.

Any conversation that portrays food recovery as the solution for food waste is misleading. In reality, the scale of food waste is gargantuan. For instance, refer to City Harvest’s outstanding accomplishment above: they rescue 136,000 lbs of edible food EVERY DAY in New York City. However, consider that against the ~11,532,000 lbs of food waste the city generates daily…and it quickly becomes apparent that food recovery is not a meaningful solution for an overwhelming food waste crisis.

WastED_2 Waste vs Recovery NYC

Overall, less than 5% of food waste in America is diverted from landfills[1], and this encompasses all forms of diversion (biogas, composting, animal fodder, not just food charities).

 

Well, great! That must mean that everyone’s got more than enough to eat! Actually, no. Now let’s consider the other problem in this situation:

Misunderstanding #2: Isn’t the vast quantity of food waste a terrific way to solve hunger?

Unfortunately, even with unimaginable levels of food being thrown out, food banks and charities are unable to eliminate hunger. They are far from reaching all food-insecure individuals. Food Banks Canada, for instance, reported serving 374,698 Canadians in 2014…only a sliver of the 1.2 million Canadians who experience food insecurity.

WasteED_3 Food Bank Usage

Many reasons account for this, including access or informational barriers, unsuitable food offerings, and the sense of shame associated with charity food procurement[2]. In short, the charity food recovery model does not have the capacity to end hunger. So when considering Feeding America’s mission of “solving hunger” and “feeding America’s hungry” (see above), we must question if this current charity-based strategy will ever bring this goal to fruition.

 

Food Recovery is not SOLVING food waste or hunger. So what could work?

Let’s be clear: food banks and soup kitchens were designed to fill a short-term need. However, every year more people come to depend on them, thanks to the retreat of government from social service provision and escalating levels of poverty.

Charity cannot end hunger. Hunger is an issue of poverty; and poverty is a problem for policy.

Luckily, some organizations are recognizing the limitations of the charitable food-recovery model and turning toward the core issues.

On the hunger front, some groups are starting to work beyond food handouts. They are looking “upstream” to address issues such as housing, inadequate wages, and the lack of social services for the most vulnerable.[3]

WastED_4 FoodShare

Addressing these deeper issues will help lift people out of poverty, making them less dependent on food charity. FoodShare, for example, engages in advocacy in tandem with its food-hamper handouts. Community Food Centres Canada runs food-skills education and advocacy groups alongside its food access programs. Their efforts focus attention squarely on government, highlighting that the voluntary sector ought not, and cannot be responsible for the problems of hunger and poverty.

Meanwhile, on the food waste front, groups such as Feeding5K, the Pig Idea, and LoveFoodHateWaste are working to identify the policy levers and affect change that will meaningfully reduce the amount of food waste being created.

Over to You!

As individuals, we can help immensely by volunteering with food recovery organizations. But it is incumbent upon us to work for deeper change. This front-line work should only be part of our efforts, because the core problems of food waste and food insecurity need deeper policy change. I invite you to explore the organizations in your hometown that are working for long-term change, and contribute half of your energies into immediate short-term relief, but another half into advocacy for long-term structural change. Let’s work together, on various fronts, to eliminate these problems.

[1] http://thecorr.org/programs_food_waste.php

[2] Loopstra, Rachel, and Valerie Tarasuk. 2012. “The Relationship between Food Banks and Household Food Insecurity among Low-Income Toronto Families.” Canadian Public Policy 38 (4): 497–514.

[3] http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/cathycrowe/2014/12/socks-are-not-enough-social-justice-lies-upstream-charity#.VImkSEh7z-4.twitter