Inside the global effort to keep perfectly good food out of the dump

Read the full story in the New York Times.

Around the world, lawmakers and entrepreneurs are taking steps to tackle two of humanity’s most pressing problems: hunger and climate change.

How Feeding America is using inventory visibility tools to improve the flow of donations

Read the full story at Supply Chain Dive.

Smarter Sorting is working with Feeding America through its MealConnect digital platform to help retailers more seamlessly move their excess food to the nonprofit, the tech company announced last month.

The consumer goods data company will integrate its data-intelligence software with Feeding America’s platform to speed retailers’ sorting process, while providing real-time updates about donation packages to improve visibility, according to the release.

Costco, a Feeding America partner, helped to pilot the new service and is expected to scale the technology across its warehouses early next year, Smarter Sorting CEO Jacqueline Claudia told Supply Chain Dive.

How to fix food supply chains? Make them more local

Read the full story at Bloomberg.

Food banks in Illinois got a special treat last year: more than 600,000 pounds of peaches, nectarines and apples. Marred by a dimple here or there, the fruit was bounty that previously might have been left to rot, deemed unsuitable for grocery stores.

Instead, a three-year pilot program distributed tons of such fresh fruit to food pantries, shelters, senior centers and other groups serving people in need. The Farm to Food Bank project shores up local supply chains by creating another market for local growers, while also eliminating food waste and relieving hunger…

Each year, the US generates about 229 million tons of surplus food — unsold or uneaten food — worth $408 billion, according to nonprofit ReFED. Farms generate 21%, or 17 million tons, of that food. Some 45% of Illinois farmers leave unmarketable produce in the field and 61% are looking for other outlets for their goods, according to a 2021 survey by the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) at the University of Illinois.

Food pantries that give away stuff people can’t or won’t cook have an ‘acorn squash problem’

Not everyone’s up for converting this vegetable into a side or main dish. duckycards/E+ via Getty Images

by Diana Cuy Castellanos, University of Dayton and John C. Jones, Virginia Commonwealth University

A major problem with how food donation currently works in the United States is that a lot of the calories in those boxes and bags come from items that aren’t particularly healthy, such as packaged snacks.

This arrangement is troubling in part because of the high rates of nutrition-related illnesses, such as heart disease and diabetes, among low-income people who rely on donated food.

As a result, food banks and pantries around the country have been trying to boost the nutritional value of the food they give away. Their clients are going home with more leafy greens and less processed cheese.

That shift affects millions of people. About 1 in 5 Americans obtained food at no cost from a food bank, food pantry or a similar program in 2020.

Providing healthier food may sound like a worthy goal. But what happens if the people receiving it lack the ability to prepare, say, acorn squash? What if they would prefer more boxes of mac-and-cheese rather than a hard-to-slice winter vegetable that has mild, buttery taste when roasted in a hot oven? What if someone sees an acorn squash not as something to eat but as a fall-themed decorative item?

Food pantry volunteers wearing masks organize boxes of produce.
Food pantries, like this one in rural Virginia, are increasingly making produce a priority. AP Photo/Steve Helber

Boiling it down to eight questions

As a dietitian who studies food insecurity and an environmental studies scholar who examines food-based inequalities, we have researched what we’re calling an “acorn squash problem.” It happens when certain foods are given to people who don’t like them or can’t cook them.

We’ve identified eight main reasons donated food can be undesirable. If someone visiting a food pantry wouldn’t say yes to all eight of these questions, the food may go to waste.

  1. Is this edible?
  2. Is it something I want to eat?
  3. Would I know how to cook this?
  4. Do I have the tools required?
  5. Can I store it safely until I’m ready?
  6. Do I have the time to prepare something with this ingredient?
  7. Do I have time to consume it?
  8. Will I be able to get all this food home?

Researchers have found that people are about half as likely to eat the turnips, beets and other root vegetables they get from food banks as more familiar and more easily prepared veggies. If donated food goes to waste, it isn’t helping people get enough to eat – undercutting its entire purpose.

Distributing recipes and holding cooking classes

Roasted acorn squash slices strewn with nuts and pomegranate seeds
An acorn squash serving suggestion. Scott Suchman/For the Washington Post

The government provides much of this food, but individuals, nonprofits, restaurants and grocery stores also contribute. All told, these donations add up to about 6.6 billion meals a year. But how high is the quality of all this donated food and how much is actually eaten?

Some food banks and food pantries are making changes to ensure that the people who visit them leave with items that they will eat. They are distributing cookbooks, making recipe apps available and offering cooking classes. And some let people make choices when they obtain free food instead of receiving an already packaged selection.

But it remains to be seen whether these efforts can resolve the acorn squash problem.

Diana Cuy Castellanos, Assistant Professor of Dietetics and Nutrition, University of Dayton and John C. Jones, Assistant Professor of Urban Food Systems, Virginia Commonwealth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.