ODP: Do you think this current crisis is an opportunity to think more critically as a society about food waste?
CS: There are definitely opportunities to think about food waste in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Two things come to mind. First, many people feel the urge to stock up their personal pantries and refrigerators, often with more food than they can possibly consume in the next few weeks. We fear that much of this food will end up being thrown out and will then end up in landfills. Second, as businesses close there is the risk that a lot of food will be wasted. This doesn’t have to happen. We encourage any restaurants or corporate dining facilities that are closing to give us a call and we will gladly help move this food to a social service agency that feeds the food insecure. The Food Rescue US model is grounded in the belief that there is plenty of surplus food that can be used to feed food-insecure individuals and families. A win-win for our environment and for food insecurity.
ODP: Food waste health standards vary so widely from city to city. Should the federal government step in to set a uniform standard and provide communities the support they need to educate citizens and reduce food waste?
CS: We agree that food waste health standards vary greatly around the U.S. Knowledge about the impact of food waste on our environment will go a long way in encouraging companies and individuals to think twice before throwing food away. If more companies and individuals understood that excess food that ends up in landfills creates methane gas, a key contributor to global warming, presumably they would become more sensitive to throwing food away. If the government has the resources to help educate our population about food waste, then it will certainly help. But we think it should also be part of the core curriculum in schools, ensuring children learn from a young age the impact food waste has on our planet.
ODP: How has your organization had to change its operations during the coronavirus outbreak? Are you having trouble getting large enough quantities of food given that many restaurants and large institutions that donated to you in the past have shut down?
CS: We are almost 100% focused on responding to the increased needs of the food insecure during the COVID-19 crisis. And yes, at a time when there is an increased need for donated food, there is also a decrease in food donations. But to offset that, we are thinking out of the box for creative ways to add more food/meals to the donation mix such as launching Community Kitchens to prepare meals for donation and also purchasing meals from restaurants that we then donate.
ODP: Are you seeing a surge in demand for rescued food? Are you expecting it to grow?
CS: As more people become unemployed, we are definitely seeing more demand for rescued food. And yes, we do expect it to grow. It is hard to predict how long this crisis will be with us but we think it makes sense to plan for at least six months of increased need. Even without the COVID-19 crisis, the number of people in America who are food insecure is unacceptable (37 million people). Now that number is being increased by the growing need, especially among seniors and kids. It is also worth noting that many of the newly unemployed won’t automatically have jobs to go back to when this crisis begins to abate.
ODP: Are local farmers having a hard time now that restaurants are shut down? Could the government pay them to provide food to distributors like you so it does not go to waste?
CS: We are definitely hearing from some farmers who have surplus food that they want to donate. Presumably, this is because many of their buyers have had to close their businesses.
ODP: What can our readers do to support your organization right now?
CS: If you have food to donate, please send a message to email@example.com.Just today we matched a VERY large donation of pasta with our Site Director in Miami and quickly found a home for it at a local social service agency. Those interested in volunteering can download our app from the App Store or Google Play. Also, we have set up a COVID-19 Recovery Fund to help us meet the increasing needs during this time of uncertainty. All financial donations during this time will help support those impacted by COVID-19.