Feeling Good About Food Waste

Enough with the dismal stats about how much food is wasted at each point on the food chain--the unharvested crop that's tilled under, the unsold merchandise at the grocery store, the leftovers uneaten at restaurants, the food that rots in many of our fridges. 

Today I'm proud to share some good news about food waste, via work that's been done right under our noses for decades--at food banks! The two hundred food banks across the US don't get as much buzz as a great ugly fruit campaign, or the new grocery stores selling food that would otherwise go bad. But get a load of how the food bank I work for, which serves 530,000+ people across DC, Maryland and Virginia, tackles waste every day: 

  • Of the 42 million pounds of food the Capital Area Food Bank distributed last year, 33 million was food that would have otherwise gone to landfills. Food banks are inherently food waste fighters.
  • When grocery stores buy more than they can sell, food banks come in to pick up that excess food, sort it, pack it up by category, and get it into the hands of non-profits and neighbors who need it. The Capital Area Food Bank's trucks make on average 100 pickups at grocery stores every week! 

My job is to spread awareness about how the Capital Area Food Bank is working to improve access to healthy food in the Washington metro area, so last week I hosted a group of young professional women who work in the food sector. As I explained while awkwardly walking backwards in giving a tour of our facility (check out one of their insta-shares above!), food banks connect the food waste issue with our food insecurity problem through their very existence. From their inception in the late 70's and early 80's, food banks have focused on collecting and redistributing excess food from the community to feed the hungry. The CAFB works aggressively to collect nutritious excess food from retailers, restaurants, gleaners, farms, and others.

Despite the fact that grocery stores are getting increasingly smart in managing their inventory (more good news!), and therefore have less to donate, in the past year the CAFB has increased the amount of excess food donated by retailers by 50 percent.  Most of that was driven by an increase in new retail donors coupled with more frequency in pickups.  Another factor was an increase in meat donations that was made possible by collaborating with retailers to improve our pickup process.  We had to upgrade our own meat sorting capability to make sure that we were able to distribute the higher volume, and set up special meat shopping days so our partner non-profits knew it was available.

Going forward, we will continue to work with retailers and others to make it easier for them to set aside excess food for the benefit of the community.  We are currently meeting with retailers to begin a dialogue about the kind of food most desired--which is NOT sheet cakes, or snacks made of corn.  Only once we have reduced the amount of soda and candies in our inventory that come in via retail donations, will we be able to use our facility to store the kind of food we are committed to distributing: fresh fruits and vegetables, and shelf stable food that is low in sugar and salt, and high in protein and fiber.

  My coworkers and I squeezing into a produce truck to celebrate Giant's recent donation of 10,000 apples

My coworkers and I squeezing into a produce truck to celebrate Giant's recent donation of 10,000 apples