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Cooking Up Good: Food Shift

Too much fresh food heads to the compost too prematurely in the Bay Area while too many people go hungry. This is a problem that Oakland-based Food Shift is working to solve with their food recovery program, a process they incorporated into the 2014 BALLE Conference.

We asked Food Shift Founder and Director Dana Frasz about her work and the recovery and distribution of some 600 pounds of food from the recent Localist conference in Oakland. Photos by TR Proz

BALLE: Your work reaches (and aims) well beyond Oakland – why did you make your start there?

Dana: The Bay Area is a mecca of the perpetual celebration of food, agricultural abundance & culinary delights yet one in four residents are food insecure. Despite such a food oriented culture there is still a lot of food and people falling through the cracks.

Since arriving in the Bay Area in 2011, I found myself inspired by the food and sustainability movement but something was missing. No one was talking about the fact that we’re wasting almost half our food. I saw that as a gap in the conversation, a gap in the ecosystem, and an opportunity to inspire a more conscious and efficient use of food.

By tackling this issue of food waste we can simultaneously address the issues of hunger, energy, water, climate change, and even employment. The time is really ripe for collaboration, innovation, and investment in this issue – and the Bay Area is perfectly poised with the technology, financial resources, social and environmental consciousness, and innovative minds to set an example for the rest of the nation.

BALLE: How did you connect to work with the BALLE Conference?

Dana: The idea was brewing for a while. Erin Kilmer-Neel and I had a meeting in early 2014 and sparks began to fly about how we could work together. Food Shift’s work and values are very much aligned with the BALLE principles.

As Erin secured sponsorship for the other elements of zero waste for the conference, Food Shift secured sponsorship to cover the food recovery costs. We’re grateful to Clif Bar and Bi-Rite Market for supporting us in making it happen and we hope this is just the beginning of a relationship between the BALLE community and Food Shift.

BALLE: Could you talk about the recovery process?

Dana: Food is collected at the end of each meal and packaged in food safe containers. Each container is weighed and the weight, contents and source are recorded. The food is then picked up by a food assistance organization and transported to their facility to be served to those in need.

Surplus food from the BALLE Conference was received by two organizations; St. Vincent de Paul and Crossroads Emergency Housing. Together they received 658 pounds of fresh cooked, wholesome organic meals.

Tina Tamale and crew were exceptionally generous and easy to work with providing reuseable containers and facilitating the food packaging at the meals end.

BALLE: How did the logistics play out for the food transfer?

Dana: Coordinating food recovery for the BALLE conference perfectly illuminated some of the major challenges within the food recovery space. Most food recovery groups and food assistance organizations provide a free service, depend on volunteer commitments to operate, and receive limited financial support. Hours of operation are limited and organizations often lack the vehicles, drivers, or refrigeration to adequately collect, store and redistribute food.

As we prepared to recover food from the big BALLE welcome dinner on the first night we needed to find a place to donate or store the food after the event – around 11pm. We didn’t have access to the refrigerators at the Scottish Rite Center and at that time no food assistance organizations would be open.

A lightbulb went off as I brainstormed where we might find access to a refrigerator at 11pm. I looked at Google Maps and directly across the street from the conference was The Lake Chalet. I called, explained our situation and asked if they would allow us to store food there overnight. With only half a day’s notice, their kitchen managed to create some space in their walk-in cooler. At 11pm the Food Shift team drove about 350 lbs of food across the street and with the help of their staff we unloaded two carloads of food. The Lake Chalet refrigerator stored all the surplus food until the next morning.

The Lake Chalet really saved the day and this story so beautifully illustrates the extent to which an ecosystem problem requires an ecosystem solution. We know there are refrigerators, vehicles and storage space throughout the city that are under-utilized. Food Shift would like to engage with businesses to identify those under-utilized resources and make use of them for the purpose of recovering and redistributing surplus food. Additionally, we need to more adequately support and invest in infrastructure for the food recovery service sector as it provides huge value to our communities.

BALLE: You must get some regular questions and concerns about health and safety.

Dana: One of the number-one concerns we hear from food business owners and others is “I’d love to donate surplus or leftover food from my operation but I’m concerned about the risk of legal liability. I don’t want my business to get sued.” Or, “Legally, we can’t donate.”

This a BIG invalidated misconception based on inflated myth and one that needs to be explicitly corrected.

For example, the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996 is a federal law that offers broad protections to good faith donors of gleaned and recovered food. Furthermore, as reported by the University of Arkansas School of Law’s Food Recovery Project, a thorough search of filings and reported decisions did not turn up a single case that involved food donation-related liability or any attempts to get around the protections offered by the Bill Emerson Act. Additionally, several leading food recovery experts and anti-hunger advocates report that they are unaware of any such actual or threatened lawsuits.

Food safety is a top priority and you can see our food donation guidelines here.

BALLE: I imagine things getting much smoother with increased awareness and connectivity. Where do you hope to be in a year’s time?

Dana: We’d love to provide our food recovery management services for other events and conferences throughout the Bay Area. Our vision is to expand the operation to the point where we can train and employ individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds in the recovery and redistribution of surplus food.

Andronico’s Community Markets is very interested in adjusting operations within their five stores to reduce food waste and provide surplus food to the community. Food Shift will work with the stores to design and manage a food recovery and surplus food tracking system.

With this and other programs, Food Shift is working to expand the metrics by which food recovery is measured to include the often hidden but critical social, financial, and environmental benefits. We can inspire public health and policy officials to invest in food recovery, rather than incur the costs of food disposal, hunger, and environmental consequences. As we carefully look at waste disposal costs with Andronico’s, we hope to demonstrate that investing in food recovery can help cut waste disposal costs for businesses.

Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year in food and it is costing $750 million per year for disposal. Just as we have paid trash, compost, and recycling workers in our cities with the proper equipment for them to do their jobs safely and professionally, we should apply this same rationale to food recovery. Bay Area communities are already leading the nation by providing thousands of jobs in recycling and composting. We need to take the critical next step and implement more conscious and sustainable food management practices that provide green jobs and ensure food is eaten instead of sent to the landfill.

Although this seems pretty simple and rational, it is a big shift in thinking and requires a complete reframing of the food recovery paradigm – from one that is based on charity and volunteerism to one that compensates food recovery as a valued service within our economy, and one that goes beyond composting. Composting is great but composting edible food is unaccepatable when so many people are hungry.


Food Shift Recovery from the 2014 BALLE Conference

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

  • Dinner – 342 lbs. – Buffet – Scottish Rite – Tina Tamale Catering

Thursday, June 12, 2014

  • Breakfast & Lunch – 42 lbs. – Buffet – Scottish Rite – Tina Tamale Catering, et al.
  • Dinner22 lbs. – Food Trucks – American Steel – Fist of Flour Pizza, Nora’s Spanish Cuisine, Studios Boffo Cart, James and the Giant Cupcake

Friday, June 13, 2014

  • Breakfast – 97 lbs.Buffet – Scottish RiteTina Tamale Catering
  • Lunch – 155 lbs. – Buffet – Scottish Rite – TIna Tamale Catering, et al.
  • Dinnerzero lbs. – Food Trucks – Impact HUB – Various Food Trucks

Grand Total = 658 lbs.