At the end of the week, most of us clean out our refrigerators and toss spoiled food. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that about 40% of Americans’ food is simply thrown away, at a whopping yearly cost of nearly $165 billion. That’s enough to feed about 20 million people.
California produces over one-third of the entire country’s vegetables, two-thirds of its fruits and nuts and much of its milk and beef. So it’s astonishing to learn that one in five Californians doesn’t know where their next meal will come from. In Los Angeles County, over 12% of households are considered food-insecure, experiencing everything from too little food to poor-quality nutrition.
But food waste isn’t just a byproduct of our cluttered fridges. It also comes from restaurants with surplus or grocery stores that find produce unsellable.
Evolving Solutions to Combat Food Waste
One of our 1-for-1 program partners, World Harvest, is creating evolving solutions to combat Los Angeles food waste at every turn.
For starters, World Harvest assembles excess food that’s been collected from local restaurants, shops and farms into a familiar store experience for people in need, as well as those concerned about food waste and simply savvy shoppers.
Bulk produce is carefully sorted and cleaned—volunteers may be found trimming onions and polishing apples in the back—before going on display in the “social supermarket.”
For a minimal donation of just $40, anyone can load up a cart with groceries, including fresh and often organic produce, quality proteins and non-food essentials like cleaning supplies and bottled water. Pricey items like sashimi-grade yellowtail, panko bread crumbs and name-brand spray sunscreen were found during a recent visit. Those unable to donate can trade their time for a cart.
Friendly staff is on hand to welcome guests, answer questions and introduce them to partially a filled “starter cart” to kick off their shopping experience.
Food is Shared Through a Network of Community Organizations
Excess food that can’t be used by World Harvest is offered to local food banks and partner organizations like the Boys & Girls Club, Delancey Street and Walden House to reach as many people in need as possible.
Food Waste Feeds More than People
Even with these measures, waste from perishables like fresh vegetables and meat is inevitable. So World Harvest crafted a creative fix: Twice a week, excess produce that might otherwise spoil is passed to LA Zoo to feed its animals.
It’s easy to imagine a truck filled to the brim with bruised scraps heading off to the monkeys; on the contrary, World Harvest inspects, sorts and expertly packages two to four pallets of fresh food after reviewing the Zoo’s wish list. Pallets are loaded via forklift into a truck that World Harvest employees drive to the Zoo and unload by hand. To make sure the animals are always well-tended, a report of what’s been fulfilled from World Harvest’s surplus is dispatched mid-morning so the Zoo can source its remaining needs elsewhere when necessary.
This initiative saves the non-profit LA Zoo an estimated $16,000/month in food costs and helps prevents tons of waste from going to landfills.
A New Life for Food Waste
To address additional waste from food that has already turned or that exceeds the need of the LA Zoo, World Harvest has yet another solution: compost. By adding scraps and spoiled produce to its on-site 20-foot bin on a daily basis, World Harvest collects 40 tons per month. The material is passed to a composter in Ventura County for bulk cultivation before it’s used to nurture a new cycle of high-quality fresh food.
Unsurprisingly, recycling is also part of the everyday routine at World Harvest. Boxes are reused when possible, and packaging materials like cardboard and produce bags are compressed in a baler before being sent to a recycler.
How to Access Food When You’re Hungry
You don’t have to be homeless or chronically unemployed to access alternative supermarkets and food banks. If unexpected expenses or other circumstances leave you broke and wondering how you will put food on the table, head to World Harvest or your local food bank. You’ll solve your problem and combat food waste at the same time.
Each place may have its own procedures, but generally:
- You make a small donation to load up on around 10x the value of your donation.
- If you prefer not to make a donation, you may be able to volunteer instead. Those who barter usually are tasked with sorting donated goods and stocking shelves.
- You won’t need to show identification or prove residency to shop.
- You may choose anything on the shelves.
Often, these resources also can provide additional information about convenient ways to access food and community services in your neighborhood. The network of organizations fighting food insecurity and related issues is close-knit and helpful. As World Harvest’s site says, “In times of hardship, when your determination and forbearance are tested, it is good to know that a portion of America’s harvest is destined to relieve you in your time of need.”
To support World Harvest, make a donation.
To support LA Zoo, join here.
To find a food bank near you, visit LA Food Bank.