Food Shift: Solving the Problem of Food Waste in the U.S.

Posted by on January 14th, 2013

 

–> Who:  Dana Frasz, Founder & Director of Food Shift
–> What:  Based in the Bay Area, Food Shift is working to reduce waste, create jobs, and alleviate hunger by developing sustainable community-based solutions that more effectively redistribute food.  
–> How: Read this interview, and learn more about Food Shift here.     

Interview by Adam Smiley Poswolsky

Nearly 40% of all food produced in the U.S. is wasted.  Meanwhile, 50 million Americans are food insecure.   At SOCAP, I interviewed Dana Frasz, the founder and director of Food Shift, a Bay Area organization that is dedicated to solving the problem of food waste.  Food Shift sees this waste as an opportunity to build something more positive for our communities. Ultimately, Food Shift envisions the creation of a food recovery service sector—creating jobs that reduce our waste, while feeding those in need.

Dana, what’s your personal story?  How did you get involved in food issues? 
I grew up in a rural town in Maine, in a very resourceful family.  My Dad would save everything.  I took a year off after high school, and traveled through Southeast Asia. It changed my life.  I saw that every single grain of rice was eaten.  I came home totally overwhelmed by the consumption, excess, and waste in the U.S—there was way too much of everything.

As a freshman at Rochester Institute of Technology, I witnessed the dining hall staff dumping huge amounts of food in the trash.  The manager told me they couldn’t donate the extra food.  One night, with limited permission, I packed extra food in cardboard boxes, and took it down to the subway tunnels in Rochester to give to a group of homeless men.  I transferred to Sarah Lawrence College and studied hunger in America and sustainable food systems.  I approached local food businesses and began delivering excess food to a soup kitchen in the Bronx called Part of the Solution, which feeds 500 people a day.  I finally convinced the school dining hall to donate their extra food each day, by my senior year we had 10 businesses donating and 45 students involved.

How did you take this awareness of food waste from college and start to build an organization to address these issues?
I was a Youth Action Net Fellow in 2006, and then worked for Ashoka for three years, where I learned a lot about social entrepreneurship.  I saw the problems of hunger and food waste getting worse and saw very little being done about it.    The paradox is that we’re wasting all this food—some 40% of all food is wasted, yet there are so many hungry people out there—50 million Americans are food insecure.

I moved to San Francisco in 2011.  I was inspired by other start-ups and food justice organizations in the region, but also bothered by the extent to which food waste was left out of the conversation.  I knew it was time to launch Food Shift and turn up the volume on this issue.  I reached out to Dana Gunders, a food waste expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland, a book about food waste in America.  I focused on building a coalition of individuals who believed food waste reduction should be a priority.

I started linking food establishments with excess food to Food Runners, a non-profit that recovers food in San Francisco and delivers it to those in need.  I started hosting and attending events to increase awareness about food waste and I started picking up excess food from grocery stores, catering companies, and restaurants in the East Bay.
How did you launch Food Shift, and what are you working on now?
In early 2012 Food Shift became an Earth Island Institute sponsored project.  Next, we received some small grants from StopWaste.org and the Cliff Bar Family Foundation.  For the past year Food Shift has been focused on educational awareness, partnership development and community building.  We host events each month such as film screenings, panels, workshops, and we are looking for partners to launch a national food waste awareness campaign, and launching a bicycle food recovery program in Oakland.

What is the main obstacle around reducing food waste?
Very few examples of financially sustainable food waste reduction programs have emerged.  Most food recovery groups in the U.S. provide a free service, receive limited financial support, and depend on volunteer commitments to operate.  These restraints limit their ability to expand and increase impact.  Additionally, most food recovery groups use fossil fuel burning vehicles to transport food.  Food Shift minimizes environmental impact by transporting food by bicycle from donors to recipients.   Food safety is very important and liability is always a concern.  Food Shift is working to increase awareness about the Good Samaritan Food Act—a federal law that protects food donors from liability as long as they are donating to a non-profit.

What are some examples of other organizations doing this type of work?
Boulder Food Rescue is a nonprofit in Boulder, Colorado, that rescues and redistributes perishable food to charities that serve homeless and at-risk individuals. They transport their food on bicycles, thus minimizing their environmental impact while helping to alleviate hunger at the same time.  DC Central Kitchen is also another strong example— every day they turn 3,000 pounds of leftover food into 5,000 meals through their meal distribution program in Washington, DC.  In the UK, Rubies in the Rubble employs Londoners who are struggling to get back into the workplace, to make delicious chutneys out of discarded fruits and vegetables, thus creating employment opportunities and reducing waste at the same time.

What are you working on now, what’s next for Food Shift?
Food Shift is launching a bicycle food recovery program in Oakland that will save businesses money, create jobs, and alleviate hunger.  This service will reduce businesses’ waste disposal costs and provide added publicity to the donors.  Food Shift will charge small membership fees and will generate additional revenue from advertising on the bike trailers.  Food Shift will hire and train local, low-income women to coordinate and execute pick-up and drop-offs, thereby creating community-based employment opportunities.  Additionally, we’re launching a food waste reduction pledge via change.org, as part of our efforts to build a national food waste reduction movement.  We’re looking for educational partners, brands, and sponsors that can help amplify our message.

To learn more about the work Food Shift is doing, and to get involved in reducing food waste in your community, go to foodshift.net

 

This article is a part of a series produced at SOCAP12 by New Empire Builders. New Empire Builders is a SOCAP12 media partner.

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