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Americans Hungry for Change, Feedback Fills Their Plates

Monica Munn — Former Senior Program Associate, Program Strategy, The Rockefeller Foundation
Niki Charalampopoulou — Managing Director, Feedback


In the spirit of collaboration of the growing global movement against food waste, Feedback, an environmental organization dedicated to ending food waste at every level of the food system, has partnered with The Rockefeller Foundation to shed light on this worldwide issue for U.S. consumers, government, and businesses, and to positively promote the delicious solutions that are within our reach.

Through The Rockefeller Foundation’s YieldWise initiative, together we are working on two very distinct campaigns: first, we are bringing a series of Feeding the 5000 events to a number of American cities throughout 2016 to catalyze movements tackling food waste; and second, we are conducting in-depth, groundbreaking research into retail supply chains to uncover some of the hidden “root” causes of food waste. Each campaign serves to underline the larger truth that food waste is a problem that we can, and must, address.

Feeding the 5000

Feeding the 5000 is Feedback’s flagship campaign, a celebratory event that provides 5,000 members of the public with a free feast made entirely from fresh, top-quality ingredients that would have otherwise been wasted. In cities around the world, we join forces with both national and local organizations, inviting everyone (from fellow nonprofits to governments, from big businesses to citizens) to the table. The message is simple: no matter what sector, we each have a role to play in taking food waste off the menu.

To accelerate the food waste revolution in the US, we hosted two Feeding the 5000 events in two of America’s largest, busiest, and food-minded cities: first, in New York City on May 10, and then in Washington, D.C. on May 18.

Over 40 like-minded national and local partners joined forces, working with civic leaders, chefs, and an amazingly dedicated team of more than 250 volunteers to source and glean produce that would have otherwise gone to waste (owing to lack of market on account of shape, size, or surplus supply); prepare educational activities and engaging demonstrations for each event’s program; prep veggies for the main meal; cook, unload, and transport meals; and engage with attendees to explain the true cost of their “free lunch.”

Thanks to these combined efforts, over 10,000 people were provided meals in NYC (5,000 on the ground in Union Square and an additional 5,000 meals distributed to partner City Harvest’s network of soup kitchens throughout the city), while more than 5,000 meals were provided in Washington, D.C. From NYC’s ratatouille, quick-pickle salad and vegetable tart, to a vegetable curry and pita bread in Washington, D.C., each event’s meals were tasty, plentiful, and filling and challenged public perception on what constitutes food “waste.” Notable food personalities, important community leaders, and numerous chefs including José Andrés and Dan Barber were also on hand to lend support or lead cooking demonstrations, yielding delicious results.

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Supply Chain Investigations

Further up the chain, Feedback has been busy on the ground investigating and analyzing retailer supply models—the systems and processes that provide some of the $128 billion of imported food each year to American markets.

In May, Feedback’s research team visited Peru to investigate the causes and impacts of food waste in the country’s fresh produce industry. Just like in the U.S., we unearthed perfectly good food like asparagus, onions, and citrus fruit being thrown away for being the wrong shape or size for the US market.

In one case, a Peruvian grower was forced to bury roughly 2,100 tons of onions and 150 tons of butternut squash in the desert each year because the vegetables “don’t look right.” As this grower explained, “Onions have to be certain sizes for the different markets… The smallest onions and misshapen onions are discarded.”

“Onions have to be certain sizes for the different markets… The smallest onions and misshapen onions are discarded.”

In addition to these arbitrary cosmetic standards, food is also being wasted because fluctuating global prices for food often lead to farmers being offered prices below what it costs to harvest the food itself. We met onion producers who had wasted entire crops because, “[it’s] cheaper to make compost out of the onions than to harvest [them],” they said.

Believing that you can only “manage what you measure,” we are keen to uncover how common experiences such as these are to the farming community on a global scale. While farmers and exporters are leading the way in developing solutions to prevent food being wasted on the ground, the next stage is making supermarkets and major food retailers aware of their role and the outsized impact that each organisation’s buying practices (be it regarding cosmetic specifications, pricing volatility, contracts, etc.) have on farm level food waste. We look forward to continuing to conduct this important research over the months ahead, and to sharing what we discover along the way.

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