Podcast: Breaking Bread at the Capital Area Food Bank

Can you believe today is November 1st, and just like that, the season of giving is upon us? Maybe it's because the election is shining light on the struggles many Americans face every day, or maybe it's because bringing a little girl into the world fills the well with limitless love to share....but I hope you all are, like me, thinking about who you can give to before year end, if you're able.

CAFB's food assistance partners learning all the best reseeding techniques in our Urban Demonstration Garden

CAFB's food assistance partners learning all the best reseeding techniques in our Urban Demonstration Garden

One idea: the Capital Area Food Bank, which I have to admit I miss thinking about daily now that I'm on maternity leave! Speaking of, if you have 25 minutes, I invite you to have a listen to an interview I gave last month about the food bank's work for a new podcast, Breaking Bread--a few listening options are here:




If you've ever been curious to learn more about the CAFB, here it is through my eyes. As always, welcome questions or feedback :-) 

Here's to health and sharing!

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

New Year's Resolution: Waste Less Food!

I was at a British-themed party recently and came across the tome to the right, which included instructions for US personnel headed to Britain during World War II.


As you can see in the text I photographed below, the manual has some explicit advice for American Servicemen regarding waste. In short, “…when you destroy or waste food you have wasted the life of another sailor.”

I passed these juicy bits of history to my friend Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland, and he shared it on his food waste-focused blog. Here’s what he had to say:

“The instructions are also enlightening on what food and fuel meant in wartime Britain. In contrast to the food-rich US, Britain relied upon imported food (and fuel). During World War II, when the German navy threatened all shipments, British sailors risked their lives to secure such supplies. In addition to the need to feed soldiers, this risk provided all the more reason not to waste food.

I’ve never seen stronger anti-waste words. And I’d never heard such a direct correlation between food waste and ‘the ultimate sacrifice.’ Hopefully the below passage reminds us how fortunate most of us are and inspires us to avoid waste in honor of those past sacrifices.”


Earth Day 2012: Announcing Bi-Rite’s Food Waste Challenge

“One half of the food prepared in the US and Europe never gets eaten.”–Dive!, the movie

We as a society might waste this much food, but we’re also coming up with good ideas about how not to. Here are just a few ways we’ve already talked about combating the problem:

  • Getting involved with one of the organizations that have cropped up in the past couple of years to solve our country’s waste issues. Halfsies offers restaurant-goers a choice that provides a healthier portion size, reduces food waste, and supports the fight against hunger; Food Shift works with consumers, businesses and communities  to build awareness and close the gaps in food delivery and consumption; and Marin Organic hosts a gleaning program which gathers excess produce from farms and delivers it to public schools, to name a few.

It’s this last point that brings me to the matter at hand today….I’m pleased to announceBi-Rite’s first Earth Day Food Waste Challenge! Yes, the name could be sexier. But the idea couldn’t, because the point of this challenge is for us all to practice how we asindividuals can put a dent in the amount of food that goes to waste. For an issue as complicated and overwhelming as our waste-disposal system and the challenge of feeding everyone who’s hungry, I’m empowered by the ability each of us have to waste less in our own day-to-day.  So how will the challenge work, you ask.

1. We want to hear from you, our community, about what foods you find yourself throwing out most often. First that comes to mind for me is herbs; I’m always challenged to finish the whole bunch (although the “Any Greens Pesto” recipe from Eat Good Food makes it easy!). Tell us in a comment here which foods you can never seem to use up before they go bad.

2. We’ll take the answers we hear most from you, and make those our target foods for our Food Waste Challenge, which will take place at Bi-Rite Market the week leading up to Earth Day (Sunday, April 22nd).

3. During that week, we’ll give you recipe cards for each of the target foods. Each card will have a few different recipes that make use of its featured ingredient. We’ll invite you to email us a photo of any dish you cook from it–I’ll post each photo sent in on our blog.

4. We’ll donate 10% of proceeds from sales of the target foods that week (up to $1,000) to Three Squares,  an organization that works throughout the Bay Area to provide nutrition education and improved access to healthy food in low-income communities. They’re teaching people how to shop for ingredients and cook smartly, and this will help them towards the 600 classes they teach every year!

So without further ado, let’s kick this thing off! Please reply to this post with a comment on what foods you find yourself throwing out most often, so we can help you find creative ways to use them up next month! 

Can't resist a good retro food poster!

Can't resist a good retro food poster!