Food loss and waste in the US accounts for approximately 31% — or 133 billion pounds — of the overall food supply. Experts have projected that reducing food losses by just 15% would provide enough food to feed more than 25 million Americans every year, sharply reducing incidences of food insecurity nationwide.
Johnson & Wales University’s College of Culinary Arts recently hosted “Spread the Surplus: Getting Wasted Food to Hungry People,” a half-day forum to discuss current food initiatives and brainstorm food waste reduction solutions for Rhode Island and the greater New England region.
The packed event brought together policy makers, lawyers, chefs, journalists and tech startup representatives with the hope of starting conversations and forging connections across industry and regulatory lines. “We want to learn from each other,” noted Bridget Sweet, JWU Providence’s executive director of food safety and the conference moderator.
An early rallying cry came from Christine Beling, project engineer for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Assistance & Pollution Prevention Unit: “I want to be clear,” she told the crowd. “It’s not waste. We’re talking about wholesome food. We have a wasted food problem and a hunger problem — we’re looking at where they intersect.”
She laid out some sobering statistics:
- Roughly 1 in 6 Americans is hungry.
- Food production accounts for 50% of the land use in the US.
- A whopping 40% of that food is wasted.
- Consumer waste accounts for 47% of all waste, while 48% is generated on the food service side.
It’s not waste. We’re talking about wholesome food.” CHRISTINE BELING, EPA
The next speaker was Christina Rice, clinical fellow at Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC), who presented a foundational overview of the current legal landscape and how it relates to food waste.
“There is so much momentum at a local, state and national level,” she explained. She proceeded to outline some of the liability protections that govern food donations at the federal and state levels.
The FLPC serves clients from across the food sector, including nonprofits, government agencies and individuals. While Rice admitted that staying ahead of the ever-changing labyrinth of local, state and national regulatory policies that govern food waste can be difficult, if not impossible, the FLPC has created informative fact sheets and tool kits to help nonprofits more effectively navigate the system.
The startup sector was heard from next. Emily Malina created Spoiler Alert, a business-to-business platform to help businesses donate and sell their surplus food, when she was a grad student at MIT. (Spoiler Alerts’ Chief Technology Officer Marty Sirkin is a JWU alum.)
“We deal in fresh food that is perishable and precious — which is where technology can help us,” she explained. “Solutions are being created across the entire supply chain, which is good because waste happens across the chain.” Last month, Spoiler Alert raised $2.5 million in operating capital; they are now looking to build the platform and expand.
Phood Solutions’ Luc Dang demonstrated their data-driven dashboard that tracks trends in food waste and uses data to reduce top-tier waste. “You can't manage what you don’t measure. We believe that through analytics you can keep food out of the landfill.”
Ernest Julian of the RI Department of Health outlined food safety best practices to prevent illness. “DOH staff disposes of food in roughly 18% of all on-site visits,” he noted. Lorenzo Macaluso of the Center for EcoTechnology asked if organizations could improve those odds by following retail food guidelines. Yes, answered Julian, who added that “we want to encourage it — we want to decrease food waste.”
The final speakers brought hopeful messages from the retail and restaurant sectors, respectively.
“What is waste? Anything we are 'done’ with — that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value for someone else,” noted Karen Franczyk, Green Mission coordinator for Whole Foods’ North Atlantic region, which encompasses 44 locations. “On average, we donate just under a ton per week per store. Team members love knowing that food is going to someone to eat.”
Solutions are being created across the entire supply chain.” EMILY MALINA, SPOILER ALERT
Nicks on Broadway chef-owner Derek Wagner ’99 made a passionate call for chefs to be role models. He emphasized how small changes can make a big impact, both in terms of public perception (particularly the way that menu choices can influence public buying habits) and on the supply-chain side. He explained that chefs can:
- Purchase smarter
- Purchase smaller amounts, but more frequently (therefore generating less waste)
- Serve smaller portions
- Monitor portion sizes and make constant tweaks to reflect what customers are actually eating
“A cup here, a piece of bread there — it doesn’t seem like a lot but it adds up over a day, a week, a month.”