By Paula White
Bay Area foodies flock to Farmers Markets, hipster food trucks, and restaurants featuring locally sourced produce. Meanwhile, farmers across the country dump tons of produce that doesn’t meet exacting cosmetic standards, so-called “ugly” fruits and vegetables. Food waste warrior Tristram Stuart travels the globe putting on huge banquets that serve thousands, all made from food that would otherwise have been thrown away. His goal is to raise awareness of the social and environmental toll caused by food waste and push for relaxing standards for appearance by large food distributors. Here in the Bay Area, Jordan Figueiredo managed Oakland’s Feeding of the 5000 event in Oakland. 11,000 pounds of donated food went into soup pots at St. Vincent de Paul and into food bags distributed to hungry people. Figueiredo’s ongoing UglyFruitandVeg campaign catches the eye with so-ugly-it’s-cute produce and addresses the problem of food waste through education and activism.
In school cafeterias, up to 40% of food is wasted, roughly 20% of which could be safely eaten. The Watershed Project works with schools to reduce waste by increasing recycling rates and composting food scraps. Students learn that keeping food out of the landfill reduces greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. But what about all of the food that hasn’t been opened and is perfectly good to eat?
Nearly 46 million people in the U.S. are food insecure. Food Banks struggle to keep up with the demand for fresh fruits, vegetables, and milk in particular. This Contra Costa County based all-volunteer organization picks up and delivers surplus food to hungry people across the county. Their approach is simple: respond to the need as best you can with the resources you have. Their open-hearted and open-minded philosophy of giving not only feeds hungry people, it puts a smile on the faces of the volunteers and keeps perfectly good food from rotting in the landfill. The community has responded to their generosity with gifts of their own, from refrigerators and freezers and storage space to time and labor.
Borrowing a metaphor from ecology, White Pony Express and others like them are building a food web of sorts, one where surplus food is regarded as a resource, not waste. They occupy a critical niche as connectors, bridging the gap between abundance and need. During the next few months we will work with the school District to facilitate the collection of edible leftovers from the school cafeterias of our Waste Matters school partners to make sure that from the ugly we can bring out the best use of all our resources.