By Lauren Palumbo
Earlier this year, I attended the Global Sustainability Summit in Denver, Colorado which focused on food waste and sustainability. These causes resonate closely with me both personally and professionally as COO of Lovin’ Spoonfuls, a Boston-based food rescue organization. This conference was groundbreaking due in large part to the attendees. Big names such as Walmart, Pepsi Co. and Unified Grocers attended the summit to discuss the growing problem of food waste, and steps they were taking to overcome it. Food waste is no longer a small scale issue recognized by few, but a growing problem the food industry at every level has identified and is taking steps to solve. Now that is progress.
Finding alternative channels for upcycling food has become increasingly important as lawmakers take a stance on reducing food waste. In 2014, Massachusetts passed the Commercial Food Waste Disposal Ban, which regulates the amount of food businesses and institutions across the state can dispose of in a given week. Furthermore, the USDA and EPA recently set an initiative for a 50 percent reduction in food waste by 2030, the first national food waste reduction effort. Partnering with a food rescue organization is a valuable outlet for the businesses and institutions affected by food waste, as it reduces costs associated with disposal fees, earns tax breaks, and benefits both the environment and community.
Forty Percent of Our Food Goes to Waste
On a daily basis, I am faced with America’s food waste and food insecurity crisis. 49 million people in the United States are food insecure, yet our country wastes 165 billion pounds of food each year, which is 40 percent of the food we produce. In my home state of Massachusetts, more than 375,500 households are food insecure, meaning they do not know when and where their next meal will come. And the face of hunger is changing. It now includes our neighbors, family members and friends with full time jobs who still struggle financially. They must decide whether to heat their homes or buy food for their next meal.
A Replicable Solution
The good news is that most food waste is preventable and can be overcome by responsibly connecting resources with need. That’s where food rescue organizations come in. We provide a solution to hunger by connecting community resources and linking grocery stores, produce wholesalers, and farms to local meal programs and social service entities serving those in need.
With a mission to reduce avoidable food waste, Lovin’ Spoonfuls crafted a replicable solution to rescue nearly expired or imperfect food that would otherwise be discarded. The perishable food is distributed daily via refrigerated trucks and utilized immediately, providing greatly needed healthy meals for food insecure families and individuals. Since 2010, Lovin’ Spoonfuls has rescued more than 3.2 million pounds of food, feeding one million individuals in need. But the work doesn’t stop there. Our team provides our beneficiaries and those they serve with the education, tools and know-how they need to store, prepare and further utilize the food that we deliver to them.
Food date labels may not have much to do with safety, but they certainly have an effect on sales. The Natural Resource Defense Council reports that the average supermarket throws out an estimated $2,300 worth of perfectly decent food every day because of expiration dates. The department also estimates that $15 billion worth of perfectly edible fruits and vegetables are tossed every year.
Today, we work with more than 30 supermarkets to fill our trucks with healthy, nutritious food. One of our most valuable partnerships is with Whole Foods Market, a company already dedicated to crafting a sustainable future through education and accountability. Whole Foods Market donates food every day to food rescue organizations that may be cosmetically blemished or dented, but still edible and nutritious.
“The mission of Lovin’ Spoonfuls aligns so closely with that of Whole Foods Market. We are proud to be able to support our communities in a manner that not only provides nourishment, but also works to minimize waste and promote our green mission. Lovin’ Spoonfuls is working to improve the lives of our neighbors and we are proud to be a partner in that endeavor,” says Karen Franczyk, Whole Foods Market.
In 2015, together we have rescued and distributed more than 500,000 pounds of food, feeding more than 150,000 people in need.
With large corporations and lawmakers taking a stance on food waste, it’s time for us as individuals to understand the consequences and do our part to spread awareness and action. So what can we do at home? We can look more closely at how we grocery shop and what we prepare for ourselves and for our families. We can start to truly value what we’re growing, eating and buying. We could mobilize a community wide food rescue effort through every town and every state in the country. Working together, communities, corporations and individuals, can solve food waste; protecting our environment and feeding those in need.
Lauren Palumbo is chief operating officer of Lovin’ Spoonfuls. Since 2010, the organization has been breaking new ground in the food rescue movement working with retailers like Wegmans, Hannaford Supermarkets and Whole Foods Market, to rescue 25,000 pounds of fresh, healthy food per week from more than 50 locations. Lovin’ Spoonfuls utilizes a direct distribution system where its refrigerated trucks pick up fresh, healthy, perishables foods from donors and deliver it directly to meal centers within the same day.
Image credits: Lovin' Spoonfuls