Oakland, CA is a hot spot for inspiring food entrepreneurs and rad food justice organizations. In 2012, Food Shift joined their ranks with a focus on reducing food waste, feeding the hungry, and creating jobs in the process. 40 percent of food produced in the US is wasted, while 50 million Americans struggle to get enough food – pretty crazy, right?
Yet, until recently, with the Pope mentioning that throwing away food is like stealing from the poor, World Environment Day highlighting the issue, and Dana Gunders and Jonathan Bloom making some noise about it in recent years, food waste has been largely left out of the conversation. Food Shift is bringing this issue front and center through their community events, school presentations, and in September, an ad campaign that will launch throughout San Francisco’s public transit.
With funding from stopwaste.org, Food Shift recently launched a program with Oakland Unified School District to ensure leftover food from the school cafeterias is redistributed to students and families rather than thrown away. The program will be expanded to several schools next year and a toolkit will be created to replicate the model.
Food Shift is also experimenting with the development of food recovery models that generate revenue and provide job training in the recovery, redistribution, and processing of excess food. Food Shift is working with grocers to establish a fee-for-service food recovery model, and working with St. Vincent de Paul and Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency (BOSS) to make use of cosmetically imperfect and surplus food from farms and grocers. The collaborative effort will set up farmers markets in communities with limited access to nutritious food, and process food into jams and sauces which can be sold to sustain the program.
Models like these require a shift in thinking around both food recovery and food assistance. For decades, we have relied on charity groups to address these massive challenges of food waste and hunger. Despite their obvious value, most food recovery groups in the U.S. provide a free service, receive limited financial support, and depend on volunteer commitments to operate. This structure is unsustainable, and limits their ability to expand, increase impact, purchase necessary infrastructure, provide wages, and effectively tackle a crisis of this magnitude.
Additionally, as DC Central Kitchen has been saying for years, food alone will not solve the problem of hunger. A free meal or bag of groceries is only a temporary fix to a complex problem rooted in unemployment and structural inequality. And that is why Food Shift is working so hard to shift the paradigm around food recovery and food assistance from one that is volunteer- and charity-based to one that focuses on jobs and self-sufficiency.
These are realistic strategies that embrace the potential of food to be used as a tool to empower people and strengthen communities. This is a way that we can do more than just feeding people through a soup kitchen by also “feeding” them through skill building, employment and opportunity. Rather than spending resources on waste disposal, we need to explore, invest in, and replicate these models that are creating opportunity and developing more healthy communities.
Food Shift has an opportunity to win $50,000 in an online contest. In order to win, we need votes until noon on Friday, June 14 here. If you believe food is too good to waste, please vote, share with your community, and join the movement to end food waste.