Ronni Kahn started OzHarvest more than a decade ago and since then, the organization has delivered nearly 110 million meals to those in need while keeping over 37,000 tons of food from reaching landfills. Food Tank spoke to Kahn about how the organization has placed the issue of food waste into center stage. “We’ve created this problem, and we must create the solution. Our challenge then, is changing our behavior,” Kahn tells Food Tank.
Determined to rescue perfectly edible, nutritious, and tasty food from ending up in landfills, Ronni lobbied the Australian Government to help change laws that put donors of excess food at risk of lawsuits. OzHarvest now works with 3,500 businesses that donate food—food which OzHarvest prepares and delivers to more than 1,300 charities across the country. However, it may take a big change in consumer education to prevent wasting food in the first place, notes Kahn. “Because we’ve lost the connection of how food is produced and where it comes from, we’ve lost our own sense of confidence around how to manage and how to value food,” Kahn tells Food Tank. “So, if you look at labeling laws and the issue of labeling, we don’t trust ourselves.”
According to the Australian Government, the direct and indirect consequences of food waste costs the country’s economy AU$20 billion (nearly US$14 billion) per year. At the same time, the 2018 Food Bank Hunger Report shows that nearly 20 percent of Australians experienced food insecurity in the past year. To help redirect and prepare the rescued food, OzHarvest has enlisted the help of some of the country’s best chefs. This year’s CEO Cookoff brought chefs together with business leaders and executives to provide a gourmet meal to more than 1,400 vulnerable Australians, while also raising nearly AU$3 million (over US$2 million) to help fight food insecurity. Kahn tells Food Tank, “I started OzHarvest 15 years ago, and chefs were not celebrities then. Food waste had absolutely no sex appeal. However, chefs did represent good values around food. If you’re a good chef, then you care about food and about feeding people. There isn’t a chef that wants to see a scrap of good food go to waste.”
According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, people worldwide waste nearly one-third of all food that is produced—this waste creates enough greenhouse gas emissions that, if it were represented as a country, it would be the third-largest emitter. While organizations that are rescuing food and feeding hungry people are important, they may only be treating the symptoms of a sick food system. “I think legislation to compel surplus food to go and feed hungry people is less necessary than legislation to compel no food waste. Because if we create the infrastructure that surplus food should feed hungry people, there’s not as much education around preventing surplus food. I think that’s where the focus for us is,” Kahn says to Food Tank.
OzHarvest has since expanded its frontier in fixing the food system beyond rescuing food and feeding those in need, particularly through its education programs. “There are huge gaps in our education which means that these misconceptions about food exist. For me, a waste-free society would be one where in the education system, kids understood the impact of wasting food,” Kahn tells Food Tank. “Therefore, it becomes a social norm that it is unacceptable to waste food and to have lost its value.”
In 2017, the organization opened the country’s first-ever rescued food supermarket and last year released a feature-length film highlighting institutionalized food waste. Its platform has also become international and appears in South Africa, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. To reduce one’s individual foodprint, Kahn suggests looking to OzHarvest’s “look, buy, store, cook” mantra: 1. Look at what you have and check use-by dates, 2. Buy only what you need, 3. Store your food properly to increase its shelf life, and 4. Cook with what you have, use up your ingredients, and make use of your leftovers.
Photo courtesy of Livia Giacomini and OzHarvest