Making food recovery, not food waste, the norm should be a common goal that all of us are constantly working toward. In the United States right now, one in eight Americans are food insecure, yet we simultaneously throw away $218 billion worth of food each year — food that emits toxic carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as it needlessly rots in landfills.
Nearly every person, business and organization plays a part in contributing to this tragic cycle, whether they realize it or not. The good news is that it doesn’t have to remain this way, and organizations like the Food Recovery Network (FRN) are making it both easy and financially beneficial for individuals, schools, restaurants, companies and events to get on board.
Since its founding in 2011, Food Recovery Network has grown to encompass more than 150 businesses and 200 institutions of higher learning across the country, and they have 230 volunteer-driven chapters in 44 States and DC. In the eight years since its founding, FRN has recovered nearly 4 million pounds of surplus food, which, according to the USDA, is equivalent to 3.2 million meals donated to those in need. FRN has also diverted 7.2 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) from entering the atmosphere, because rotting food emits carbon dioxide as it decomposes in landfills.
The food recovery process as a whole ensures that good food isn’t wasted, and instead it’s reallocated to those who have the least access and most need for healthy, nutritious food. Organizations like FRN take perfectly good, surplus food that would otherwise have ended up in a landfill, and safely packages, transports, and donates it locally to a hunger-fighting nonprofit, like a homeless shelter, soup kitchen or church, that can also safely handle and distribute the food.
There are food insecure people everywhere you look; a mom who constantly skips dinner so that her daughter can eat, a college student whose meal plan was too expensive to buy or even a coworker who simply “isn’t hungry” at lunch time. Food recovery is an effective solution to this paradoxical problem of food waste and hunger.
According to ReFED, aside from source reduction, food recovery is the cheapest and most effective way to address the issue of food waste, and the most innovative and cutting-edge companies, restaurants, and events understand this vital concept––how to simultaneously meet their bottom line and do the right thing for their community and the climate.
Joining the Food Recovery Network and becoming Food Recovery Verified (FRV) is an easy, impactful way take a stand against food waste. The FRN has specifically created its program to support the implementation of a food recovery program to increase sustainability efforts.
One of the first questions people ask when they get on board with a recovery plan is about liability. They want to know if it’s legal to donate food, and if they can get sued if someone were to get sick from this donated food. Businesses and individuals are protected by the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996 from any liability when donating surplus food, as long as it’s donated in good faith to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
Getting verified may sound like an intensive process, but the FRN works with each individual business or event to design a food recovery program that works specifically for them. They help find a hunger-fighting nonprofit that can receive the surplus food safely and craft a recovery plan and schedule. They’ve verified large-scale events, corporate dining facilities, even entire school districts.
Recently, the Specialty Food Association verified two of their largest exposition events. In January 2019, Specialty Food Association asked the FRV team to lead their recovery efforts for their Winter Fancy Food Show exposition in San Francisco. The Show saw more than 1,400 unique vendors display tens of thousands of products. These vendors come from around the world, prepared to give out tens of thousands of samples.
By the end of the show, many of these vendors end up with tons of surplus food that hasn’t been opened. Until FRN oversaw the recovery plan for the expo, vendors traditionally had two options: ship the food back to their headquarters, usually at a hefty price tag, or throw that food away.
This year, with the help of the FRN, as soon as the event ended, a group of over 100 volunteers recovered more than 33,000 pounds of food in just a couple of hours. The food from the show was then donated to Delancey Street Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides critical support to individuals recovering from substance and/or alcohol abuse and those formerly incarcerated as they reintegrate into the community.
The staff at Delancey Street used the food to make delicious and nutritious meals for their residents and staff for months. Susan, a Delancey Street resident said, “Every day I looked forward to a new recipe and scrumptious meal with these amazing flavors. Not only did I have the chance to experience new tastes, but it made me feel like everyone who donated the meals really cared about us.”
The FRN team encourages everyone to think about the role we all play in food waste when so many people need this food to survive. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the task of converting to a more sustainable way of life, they offer easily implementable solutions, and the promise to help us all do our part to end hunger and reduce carbon emissions by fighting food waste.
You can volunteer for Food Recovery Network, start a chapter, or verify your restaurant, school, event or business! Learn more by visiting the FRN website!