It's a shocking statistic that we waste enough food to feed the world, and yet tackling food waste has proven surprisingly difficult.
However, a renewed focus on corporate responsibility — combined with innovative business models and technology — is beginning to shine a light on how we can slash food waste and promote social justice at the same time. Here are some of our favorite programs and businesses that are taking a bite out of the problem.
Starting in the north of England, the idea of social supermarkets has recently spread to England's capital — and won the vocal support of Boris Johnson, London's Conservative mayor. Working in partnership with companies in the retail and food sectors, workers at Community Shop repurpose soon-to-be-expired or otherwise surplus food products, sell them at a considerable discount to low income community members, and provide job training, financial counseling, healthy eating advice, cooking lessons and other lifestyle information. In order to reduce the impact on surrounding businesses, Community Shop limits the number of customers at each location, and membership is renewed regularly to monitor whether a person's circumstances have changed.
Food For Free
Launched last year, Food For Free’s prepared food rescue program in Massachusetts is the only food rescue program locally that finds and distributes prepared food from institutions and universities at scale. Set up specifically to deal with the problem of expiring frozen foods, Food For Free has the capacity to store up to 4,000 frozen meals and an additional 6,000 meals in its cooler for defrosting until a partnering organization, shelter or meal program can receive the food. Currently the program collects prepared food from Harvard University (about 2,500 pounds weekly), MIT (40 to 100 pounds weekly) and Whole Foods Market (about 1,000 to 2,000 pounds weekly). Food For Free will also be expanding its partnership with MIT in the fall.
Food waste cafes
Dumpster diving for food tends to elicit mixed reactions. While some folks see it as a more appealing alternative to letting food rot, others are turned off by the idea of rescuing food from trash cans. Not so the folks at Skipchen in Bristol, England, who set up a pay-what-you-can restaurant that rescues all its food from the trash at supermarkets and other businesses. True, this model may not be for everyone — and it makes food hygiene folks and public health officials nervous — but it's got people talking. In fact, the team is sharing its message across Britain with the Real Junk Food #skiptour.
Redeeming ugly food
One of the saddest things about our food waste problem is that the waste itself often has nothing to do with hygiene or safety. Perfectly good food often goes to waste because it is deemed "ugly," "non-standard" or otherwise unmarketable. In France, at least one grocery store is fighting back, making a specific point of selling ugly fruits and veggies — and it has proved exceedingly popular.
All of these individual initiatives are commendable, but they're unlikely to make a huge dent in the food waste problem unless wasting food gets a whole lot harder or more expensive. And that's where legislation comes in. Indeed the Food For Free program mentioned above was at least partially a response to Massachusetts commercial food waste ban, which prohibits institutions from disposing of more than a ton of organic waste per week. Now France has joined the fight, mandating supermarkets to donate waste food to charity or face fines or even jail time. French legislators have been explicit in their hope that the law will provide a model for other nations.
We expect to see a whole lot more innovation on the heels of laws like these.