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Alameda Kitchen: A New Recipe for Tackling Hunger and Food Waste

Words by 3p Contributor
Energy & Environment
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Last month, the USDA announced a goal of cutting food waste in half by 2030, and every day more people are waking up to the reality that food waste is an urgent problem.  Establishing a target and setting food efficiency as a priority is a step in the right direction and a move that has the potential to have a big impact on public health, the environment and the economy.  But how are we going to get there?  

Food Shift, an organization based in Oakland, California, is dedicated to this issue and has compelling insights into both what needs to happen on the ground with the launch of the Alameda Kitchen and what needs to happen to shift the system in a more sustainable direction.

One thing is for sure: We can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results.  Despite over 50,000 organizations across the country that recover and redistribute surplus food to feed the hungry, 40 percent of food in the U.S. is still getting wasted and 49 million Americans still lack access to healthful food.  As deeply as I feel connected to the hard work, big hearts and best intentions within the traditional models of food recovery and food assistance -- they aren’t solving the problems.  

Inspired by the nationally acclaimed nonprofit social enterprise, D.C. Central Kitchen, Food Shift is launching the Alameda Kitchen to transform fruits and vegetables that would otherwise be wasted into nutritious, affordable food products and meals for low-income populations.  In the process we’ll provide job training for the formerly homeless.

Here’s what Food Shift is doing differently and why it’s important in the effort to reduce wasted food and hunger.

Make it financially sustainable

Despite the value of their services, most food rescue and food assistance groups have limited resources, inhibiting their ability to hire staff, build capacity, and acquire necessary infrastructure to meet demand, expand their programs, improve efficiency, or innovate to meet current community needs.

As an alternative to the traditional charity model, Food Shift’s Alameda Kitchen will produce and sell food products to support the ongoing operations and growth of the program. It’s critical that both food recovery and food assistance groups expand the metrics by which they are calculating their impact to include not just the social but the environmental and economic benefit of their services in order to attract the resources they deserve to sustain their work.

While Alameda Kitchen demonstrates one approach, there are many more ways food recovery and food assistance could innovate in this realm.

Move beyond charity to provide jobs

We know that food alone will not solve hunger. A free meal is only a temporary fix to a complex problem rooted in unemployment and structural inequality. For the Alameda Kitchen, Food Shift is partnering with Alameda Point Collaborative (APC), a supportive housing community for individuals previously without a home and where 85 to 90 percent of residents are unemployed.  Community members will be hired as kitchen and processing staff. The revenue generated from the products we create will help us pay fair wages and allow us to expand our program to reduce waste and increase access to affordable healthy food.  

Be a catalyst for nutrition and good health

All too often food assistance centers are overwhelmed with donations of unhealthy, processed foods, like day-old cakes and sweets.  When we fail to provide healthful food for already vulnerable populations, we are simply adding fuel to fire and contributing to health issues like obesity and heart disease. Everyone deserves the option of nutritious food — and food recovery efforts should be no exception.  

The Alameda Kitchen will source locally and prioritize nutrition and improving the health of the community as a core value of our program. We are excited about the potential of creating products for local schools, senior centers, and for Hope Collaborative’s healthy corner store initiative.  By rescuing surplus food and bringing it into the kitchen we can transform slightly bruised apples into applesauce for seniors, overripe bananas into muffins for school children, or misshapen veggies into an affordable Food Shift soup!

Replicate what’s working

D.C. Central Kitchen hires unemployed individuals to process surplus produce into meals for homeless shelters, schools and other vulnerable populations, as well as operates a revenue-generating catering program.  

Last year, D.C. Central Kitchen recovered over 800,000 pounds of food, distributed 1.7 million meals, trained 85 students who had a 90-percent job placement rate, generated over $6 million in revenue through their catering program, and employed 150 staff.  

This model has been replicated over 60 times, and we need to continue replicating evidence-based solutions that shift the system and provide long-term results.

The Alameda Kitchen is a realistic strategy that embraces the potential of food to be used as a tool to empower people and strengthen communities. This is a way that we can do more than just feeding people through a soup kitchen by also “feeding” them through skill building, employment and opportunity. Rather than spending more resources on waste disposal or expanding our food banks, we need to explore, invest in and replicate innovative models that are creating opportunity and developing more healthy communities.

Food Shift recently launched a crowdfunding campaign with the goal of raising $30,000 to start the Alameda Kitchen -- with two weeks left to go, we’re $6,000 shy of our target.  The funds raised will help to pay fair wages to APC resident workers and increase access to healthy affordable food in the surrounding community. Those who contribute to the campaign can take advantage of several perks, such as a week’s worth of produce from Imperfect, an Oakland-based CSA that provides “imperfect” produce, a cheese making class from FARMcurious, a tour of Back to the Roots, or a ticket to the Alameda Kitchen launch party!  

Watch Food Shift's Alameda Kitchen video here:

https://youtu.be/_ArUrPWpMt4

Image credits: Food Shift

Dana Frasz is a sustainable food systems entrepreneur and advocate.  She is the founder and director of Oakland, Calif.-based organization Food Shift.  Food Shift is a key educator, innovator, and leader within the movement toward a more sustainable use of food and recently released a report highlighting challenges and opportunities within the food recovery space. Learn more at www.foodshift.net, on facebook, or on twitter.

Learn more about Dana here or connect with her at dana@foodshift.net or on twitter.

3p Contributor

TriplePundit has published articles from over 1000 contributors. If you'd like to be a guest author, please get in touch!

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