Monday, February 1, 2010

To the Rescue! Food Recovery Programs mean Greater Food Security for Thousands

I’m not sure we realize how much perfectly good food goes to waste everyday, in a world where so many are hungry and food security is a major issue. In the U.S., it is estimated that almost 30% of our food winds up in the landfill and we produce about twice the amount of food that is needed per person. The statistics are pretty shocking, which is why it is so exciting to hear about the growing number of food rescue programs working to reduce food waste, and feed people in the process.

Food rescue isn’t the same as dumpster diving. It simply means recovering food that is on its way to the dumpster, mostly from supermarkets and restaurants. The food is totally edible, but is no longer sellable, usually just past its sell-by date. As an incentive for participation, grocery stores and other businesses that are interested in donating food to rescue programs are eligible for tax benefits and are protected from liability lawsuits. It’s a win-win situation.

Farms can also give food to recovery programs. Farms will often allow volunteers to glean their fields after the harvest or pick up produce that is slightly bruised or didn’t sell at the market. Gleaning can be particularly worthwhile, as much produce is simply left in the field to be plowed under and make way for the next crop. Many food rescue programs are also beginning to “rescue” prepared food from institutions such as hospitals and hotels. The programs deliver the leftover meals to soup kitchens and other hunger-fighting projects for immediate consumption.

All rescued food plays a huge part in helping hunger organizations stay stocked and able to help those who are in need of immediate help. Refrigerated trucks zip from grocery store to restaurant to corporate kitchens all over a given city, and deliver the resulting rescued food to homeless shelters, food pantries, and soup kitchens. Like many non-profits, food rescue programs are often underfunded. Financial donations can help them continue to serve and grow. This is especially true considering today’s economic climate, which has meant that funds have been cut and more people than ever are in need of food.

Food rescue provides an inspiring model of redistribution and challenges the way we think about waste. What else can we do to turn what we cast off as unusable excess into something that fills an immediate need for many people?

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