Food Waste and Food Insecurity: An Unfastened Gap
In our first article (in this three-part series), I discussed the realities behind the food insecurity problem that nearly one in six individuals face globally. The questions left unanswered were: why is there a disconnect between the causes of food waste and those who suffer from food insecurity, and how can we fill this gap?
First, Why the Disconnect?
Between the time that food leaves the farm that it is produced on, to when we consume it at the dinner table, roughly 30–40% of that food is wasted. Generally, one of the biggest sources of food waste is at the tail-end of that journey: the consumption phase.
In addition to households, companies are now rapidly becoming a major source of consumer food waste. Many companies now provide food for their employees on a regular and on-demand basis, which is generally wasted at a higher rate than other consumer sources.
For instance, law firms, tech companies, and financial institutions, are well known to provide free breakfast, lunch, and dinner to their employees in an effort to retain top talent. This is also intended to keep them concentrated on their work instead of worrying about food. As a result, the employees’ relationships with food change in a way that prevents them from perceiving its true value.
Re-Plate: Technology to the Rescue
Driven by the social mission of reducing food waste while feeding hungry communities in need, we started Re-Plate in January 2016. Every morning, we match all recurring and on-demand food donations via optimized routes to our professional drivers. After the route is complete, the driver delivers all donations to local community organizations.
The allure of Re-Plate is that it combines modern tech logistics solutions with the positive aspects of the on-demand/gig economy. Our drivers, who often do pickups in between their regular jobs as Lyft drivers, also report a high level of satisfaction with their jobs because they are not only earning money but actually creating social good.
Additionally, the Re-Plate service draws attention to the amount of food that companies waste by tracking their donations, and sharing this information with each office in an impactful way. Every month, we tally the donations from each of our clients and share that information with their office. Our drivers then post a card on each office fridge thanking the office for their donation, and letting them know how many pounds of food were recovered and how many meals were created from the food in their fridge. We also post pictures and messages from recipients on social media so that our partners and clients can see the social impact of their donations.
It has also been deeply gratifying to witness the dramatically humanizing effect food donations have on recipients, who truly appreciate each and every bite. When we deliver food to shelters and hand out meals to homeless women and men, we watch how their eyes light up every time as they realize the quality of the food they are about to receive.
Back to the Drawing Board
One Saturday afternoon we received a phone call from a grocery store manager in Los Gatos. He had found out about us through our website, and wanted us to send a driver to do a pickup.
“When would you like to schedule a pickup?”
“It has to be today before 6 [pm].” It was 5:40pm when he called.
“Unfortunately none of our drivers works on weekends [It would have been impossible to make it with such short notice] — Anyway we could re-schedule for Monday?”
“No, it needs to be today or else it’s going in the trash… We have no space in our freezer” He told us that he had five pallets of produce and some other perishables, and it needed to go immediately.”
“Okay, we’ll see what we can do and call you back.”
Five pallets on a Saturday in Los Gatos? Even if we had two drivers working, it wasn’t clear that they would be willing to drive to Los Gatos to make such a big pickup.
There was nothing we could do. We were too ashamed to even call the manager back, probably because we didn’t want to hear again that the food was going into the trash.
Why did we need to be a bottleneck for the recovery of this food?
If only there was a way to get this food directly to the people who need it, increase accessibility, and reduce costs for donors and recipients. What if the recipients could show up instead of us, and make the pickup themselves? How can we enable the recipients to have the choice and ability to recover the food they need based on their location?
Since the incident with the grocery store manager, we began developing an online marketplace where meals can be re-plated. The Re-Plate Marketplace is a revolutionary web and smartphone app that connects individual food donors to individual recipients in real time. A donor can simply post any food on the marketplace and a recipient can claim food based on their need and location, then arrange a time and place to pick it up. The Re-Plate Marketplace will provide individuals, households, restaurants, and grocery stores with the means to donate their food to whomever they choose, and it will bring awareness to the issues of food waste and food insecurity.
Interactions between those who donate food and those who receive it will also change each party’s relationship with food, and draw attention to the problem of food waste and food insecurity on a massive scale in a kinship model. Food donors will understand the true value of the food that they would otherwise discard. On the other hand, recipients will no longer have to struggle with food insecurity and can nourish their families and revitalize their communities.
But that’s not all! In our next article, I will describe the impact we already achieved and how we hope to exponentially magnify it as a national and global level.