One of the great (and sometimes not so great) things about our modern, hyper-connected world is that we have become much better at keeping track of people and things. That provides the opportunity to not only recognize how incredibly wasteful our society is, but also to do something about it.
One of the areas in which we are incredibly wasteful is food. We talked about that here last week and disclosed the fact, as originally reported by the National Consumer League, that 40 percent of the food grown in this country is wasted. Some readers had a hard time believing that which is understandable.
Putting these two things together is Food Cowboy, a company started in 2012 that uses mobile technology “to safely route surplus food from wholesalers and restaurants to food banks and soup kitchens instead of to landfills.”
The company was founded by Roger Gordon, a lawyer and former caterer; his brother Richard, a long-haul produce trucker; and Barbara Cohen, Ph.D., the author of the USDA’s Community Food Security Assessment Toolkit.
If you check out this video on Food Cowboy's website, you will begin to understand what happens. Most of the produce sold in this country is delivered by truck. Truckers usually make their deliveries between midnight and 6 a.m. Palettes or sometimes even entire truckloads are often refused for cosmetic purposes — the potatoes have too many eyes or are the wrong shape, or the tomatoes are too close to being ripe. The truckers need to make room in their trucks for their next load, and given that they are often in unfamiliar locations in the middle of the night, they have little choice but to discard this food in a dumpster or a landfill.
What Food Cowboy has done is established a network of food banks and other food-related charitable organizations that are willing to accept unwanted, but still wholesome, food. Then the company developed a smartphone app that allows truckers to enter what they have, where they are and where they're headed. Once a match is made with a network member along the way, the trucker delivers the food to those hungry people instead of the nearest dumpster -- and everybody wins. The grower gets a receipt and the trucker gets an e-coupon upon delivery.
In addition to its work with truckers, Food Cowboy now offers a local solution to work with grocery stores and restaurants, which today throw away enough food to feed millions of hungry people every year. It’s not that grocers and eateries want to waste -- they just can’t get it to where it needs to go in time.
Now, when a produce manager is packing up produce he knows won’t sell, or a restaurant manager needs to clean out his cooler, all they have to do is hit the 'donate' button on their smartphone app, and the connection is made. Consumers can get involved by offering to help with transportation.
This sounds like a great use of technology to help those in need and spare the planet at the same time. Apparently we’re not the only ones who think so. Fast Company magazine named Food Cowboy's president and co-founder, Roger Norris Gordon, as one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business in 2014.
Image courtesy of Food Cowboy
RP Siegel, PE, is an author, inventor and consultant. He has written for numerous publications ranging from Huffington Post to Mechanical Engineering. He and Roger Saillant co-wrote the successful eco-thriller Vapor Trails. RP, who is a regular contributor to Triple Pundit and Justmeans, sees it as his mission to help articulate and clarify the problems and challenges confronting our planet at this time, as well as the steadily emerging list of proposed solutions. His uniquely combined engineering and humanities background help to bring both global perspective and analytical detail to bear on the questions at hand.
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RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work has appeared in Triple Pundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, Grist, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering, Design News, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, Environmental Science, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Eniday, and engineering.com among others . He is the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 53 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP was the winner of the 2015 Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week blogging competition. Contact: email@example.com