By Chris Brockel
Healthy Food for All
Do you see yourself in any of these scenarios? You peruse the farmers market at the height of harvest season and it all looks so good that you buy too much and some of it goes to waste. You have a party at your house and, not wanting to look like a bad host, you put out way more food than can possibly get eaten and the leftovers get thrown away. You eat at a restaurant but can’t finish the huge plateful of food and the rest is sent back to the kitchen and thrown away, or you take it home where it sits in your refrigerator for a week and then is thrown away. These are just small examples of the many ways food gets wasted in our country.
A 2016 study conducted by ReFed and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation found that 40 percent of the food produced in the United States goes to waste. This waste occurs along every link in the food chain, from the farm to your dinner table. It is astounding to think that the value of the lost food approaches $218 billion per year, but many other resources are lost in this disposal as well. The land, water and other agricultural inputs, the labor of the farmer, the fuel used to transport it and the packaging used to prepare it for sale are all lost resources when food is thrown away. At a time when we are worried about our fresh water supply and dependence on oil, it is estimated that 21 percent of our fresh water supply and 300 million barrels of oil are used to produce food that is ultimately wasted. Uneaten food is one of the single largest contributors to solid waste in landfills, putting pressure on valuable space and contributing significant amounts of methane gas to our atmosphere as it decomposes.
Perhaps the biggest travesty of this waste, however, is the fact that about 14 percent of our population is food insecure, meaning they don’t have reliable resources to consistently put food on their table. In Dane County alone there are about 150,000 household visits to food pantries each year. Why should we struggle so mightily to help these families when we have wonderful food options right under our noses that we are tragically throwing away?
Luckily, food waste is a challenge that has solutions. When people are aware of the problem, they can begin taking steps to reduce this waste. Healthy Food for All (HFFA), a project of the Northside Planning Council based at FEED Kitchens, is a relatively new social entrepreneurial project looking to do its part to recover potential food waste, feed hungry families, and alleviate the environmental impacts of landfilling organic materials. HFFA recovers bulk quantities of prepared food from large cafeterias and events to repackage for distribution, and works with area farmers to recover any excess produce left in the field to be plowed under.
2016 is the first full year of operation for HFFA and, through the first week of November, we have recovered and repackaged nearly 30 tons of prepared food and 10 tons of local produce. All of this food is cleaned, packaged and labeled and then distributed to local food pantries, community meal sites, low-income senior housing, and directly to families in need. Food from HFFA is a an integral part of Kennedy Heights Community Center’s after-school program, where it helps supply a healthy and hot meal for up to 40 children a day. HFFA packaged food regularly ends up on the shelves of the East Madison Community Center and The River Food Pantry and is distributed directly to residents of Dryden Terrace. While these are some of the Northside distribution points, HFFA offerings are distributed through sites across all of Dane County.
Along with produce from area farms, gardens and backyard fruit trees, prepared food primarily comes from Epic
Systems’ five kitchens on their campus in Verona. Epic has been a valuable partner in the startup of HFFA and supplies a point person at their facility for problem-solving and ingredient lists for every product they donate. HFFA is now reaching out to other large cafeterias to expand our food recovery operations using the processes developed with Epic.
With the Northside Planning Council, HFFA sponsored the Dane County Food Coalition’s Food Day event, Replated: A Community Meal, held at MATC Oct. 23. At the event Chef Dave Heide of Liliana’s and Chef Patrick DePula of Salvatore’s Tomato Pies created a buffet-style dinner using 500 pounds of produce rescued by HFFA volunteers from area farms, along with other perishable goods from Metcalf’s that otherwise would have been thrown away. The assortment of foods was revealed at the beginning of the day, and the chefs had about 90 minutes to assemble a gourmet meal using those ingredients. The final meal included salads, curry pumpkin soup, Korean pork soup, stir-fry and bread pudding with fruit. The event was held to create community awareness about food waste and to demonstrate that food headed for the dumpster can easily be transformed into tasty meals.
While all the food HFFA distributes is donated and volunteers supply much of the labor (nearly 900 hours thus far in 2016), there are still costs to the program. Local foundation support and grants have been vital to support the start up of the program, and Dane County recently supplied a retired fleet van to help with the logistics of moving food. Packaging, space at FEED, and minimal staffing are the largest recurring costs. To help support the program and reduce our dependency on grant funding, HFFA has started to take on processing and packing contracts through FEED Kitchens. This paid work gives valuable kitchen experience to our volunteers while providing much needed revenue to the program.
HFFA is kicking off a fall harvest/holiday donor appeal. If you believe in the valuable work HFFA is doing and would like to make a donation you can do so by visiting the Northside Planning Council web page on Square and scrolling down to Healthy Food for All to make an online donation (https://squareup.com/store/give-to-npc). You can also send a check to Healthy Food for All, 1219 N. Sherman Ave. Madison WI 53704.