372 Million Meals Per Year with SB 1383
The pandemic has upended our daily lives and has shone a spotlight on the lack of resiliency in our communities to deal with natural disasters. The coronavirus is everywhere, and so is hunger. Food waste continues to be the number one waste stream in landfills, as up to 40% of the food we grow in America is never eaten. The pandemic and economic downturn have worsened the food chain, exposing the flaws, resulting in a harrowing amount of wasted food and unprecedented demand on food banks.
According to Feeding America, millions of children and families living in America face hunger and food insecurity every day. Due to the effects of the pandemic, more than 54.3 million people may experience food insecurity in 2020, up from 37 million people in 2018. In 2018, more than 11 million children lived in food-insecure households, which has increased to 18 million in 2020. Many households that experience food insecurity do not qualify for federal nutrition programs and rely on their local food banks and other hunger relief organizations for support.
In terms of edible food recovery, the initial shutdowns caused by the shelter-in-place orders created a surge in food donations but challenged distribution of edible food by shutting down volunteer-staffed pantries, churches, and other locations. Further, the need for food exploded while the impacts of coronavirus, in the short-term, caused widespread job losses. In the early days of the pandemic, the lack of coordination between groups resulted in food not being spread evenly among communities in need. For anyone who has worked within edible food recovery, these dilemmas could have been predicted as these programs have always been reactive, grass roots endeavors, driven by goodwill, philanthropy and volunteers with very little cohesive long-range regional planning in mind. Communities and local governments, who benefit from having edible food recovery for its citizens, have never been in the position of truly understanding the benefit of stabilizing food insecurity, as edible food groups have worked in the background of many social programs and have been largely kept off center stage. For anyone who has been tracking SB 1383, we had a feeling this would change. Shelter in Place has merely thrust the issues forward rapidly to where we are being forced to confront these types of challenges, rooted in a patchwork system, and ask ourselves: “How can we do better for the next, inevitable, natural disaster?”
We are already seeing innovation like food recovery kitchens that can take near end of life and bulk materials and transform them into ‘heat and eat’ meals, as well as create enhanced logistical platforms which direct prepared food to pantries or other locations, skipping the warehouse-style food banks in the current food recovery ladder. Paying attention to these more innovative ways of thinking, we can start pushing on the next steps of transforming this current patchwork network into something that is flexible, responsive and can deal with the unexpected challenges posed by the next natural disaster. These solutions can be brought to fruition by making intentional steps to increasing public/private/non-profit collaboration on edible food recovery.
SB 1383 has provided guidelines to increasing edible food recovery, in order to combat climate change, and has already changed the tone of food recovery. This will no longer be a goodwill donation program for businesses, where they must provide some level of recovery by January 2022. The CalRecycle 2018 Waste Characterization Study determined that there are 1.1 million tons of potentially donatable food being landfilled (representing 2.8% of the waste stream). With a 20% SB 1383 recovery rate by 2025, the 223,500 recovered tons could be prepped into 372 million meals served. This could feed one million people one meal per day, or all of Berkeley, Emeryville, Albany, Richmond, El Cerrito, and Piedmont three meals a day for the entire year. Today’s meals on wheels program is being stuck for hours in your car waiting at the Food Bank, where we hope to transform recoverable food waste into ‘heat and eat’ meals and more to feed millions and millions.