March 24, 2010

Andrew Zimmern Asks Ashley
March 24, 2010

Did you know the US trashes 250 million pounds of edible food each year? It’s shocking, considering how many people go hungry in this country. Our hats are off to those dedicated and bright people who’ve decided to tackle this problem by getting wasted food to those who need it. We spoke with Ashley Stanley, creator of the Boston-based organization Lovin’ Spoonfuls, about hunger, food rescue, and easy ways for you to get involved. What inspired you to start Lovin’ Spoonfuls?

Ashley Stanley: I remember being a kid, going to the Carnegie Deli with my Dad all the time. We were pretty good at polishing off the corned beef hash, but always had a good portion left over. My earliest memory of all this is watching him leave the doggy bag next to the trash can. As we walked down 7th Avenue, I looked backed and saw a homeless person take the bag and start eating…i remember thinking if everyone took a doggy bag and gave it to someone else, everyone who was hungry would have a meal. Lovin’ Spoonfuls is a natural extension of that idea, slightly refined and re-appropriated.

The thing is, I get hungry everyday at 4 o’clock…watch out, haha. I can’t focus on anything else, I have to have something…being hungry is such an awful feeling. Can you imagine having to find a job, or go to work, or find a place for your family to live, or support your children…all while hungry?  i love doing this, and the possibilities of our forward progress and eventual reach is really exciting. i think i just hit a point in my life where my priorities changed, you know? i have a considerably cool life and have gotten to do some pretty cool things. What exactly is food rescue?

AS: Food rescue is essentially the pick-up and distribution of perfectly edible, wholesome food that would otherwise be discarded, for example, produce that has some bumps and bruises, or perishable foods that are near their sell-by date but are taken off the selling floor to make room for the newest and freshest product. Twenty-seven percent of all available, edible food in the US is thrown away every year… over 250 million lbs. of food.

My friend Jon Bloom writes an amazing blog called Wasted Food, and what I learned was just shocking. Shocking!!! Organizations like FoodrunnersCityHarvest and Philabundance are pioneers in this effort, bridging the gap between excess and waste. There is no good reason for hunger. There just isn’t! I really think Hunger Alleviation is a team sport, and from a layperson’s perspective – there is so much that’s available…why are people still going hungry? If we put all our resources together, can’t we find a way to feed hungry folks? What are the biggest misconceptions about food rescue?

AS: It’s a very touchy subject for a lot of people, especially supermarkets. For me, I was just never educated about it. It was never on my radar so I had no idea how much food is being wasted, in the face of the incredible need. The biggest misconception is that prepared food, and fresh food cannot be repurposed. It can- when done responsibly, and in compliance with temperature and time regulations.

President Clinton passed the Emerson Good Samaritan Act in 1996, and it provides federal protection for food donors. It requires a bit of work on both sides though, the vendor (supermarket / vendor) and the gleaner (Lovin’ Spoonfuls)…foods must be properly packaged, stay at the right temperatures, and the turn-around needs to be fast so that the food stays ‘clean’ and free of any cross-contamination when picked up and distributed.

For my money, it’s worth the man-hours and effort. I often hear employees remarking how frustrating it is to have to throw away perfectly edible, good food because they need to make room for new product. Most companies are quick to say no, citing corporate policy and risk-factor…for me, this is all about new ideas, about change- a systemic change in the way we deal with abundance in this country would serve all of us – no pun intended. Jaime Oliver and his new effort is all about changing eating habits for the future…why can’t we include the less fortunate in this effort? A five pound bag of Doritos might feed someone for a few days, but why not start getting more fresh produce, leaner proteins and whole grains into soup kitchens? It’s all about new ideas.  Lovin’ Spoonfuls is fairly new, yet has really taken off in the Boston Area. What’s been your most rewarding moment thus far?

AS: I got a letter from a 13-year-old, who wrote to me after a local newspaper ran an article about Lovin’ Spoonfuls. He said that even though he was only 13 and couldn’t drive, he really wanted to make a difference and help feed people who were hungry. He told me that his mom would drive him to supermarkets, and he would do the lifting…my heart practically jumped out of me, ha – this kid wants to help people not be hungry. How awesome is he?? Great example of a very basic, very fundamental human to human effort. Another was seeing a kid eat a piece of fresh fruit for the first time in his life.  Strangest food someone has donated?

AS: We got some fresh starfruit which was pretty awesome…i’m pretty sure that’s not a soup-kitchen staple. So many charities and organizations are looking for handouts, and many people who can give are experiencing donor fatigue. Why should we give to Lovin’ Spoonfuls and other food rescue efforts?

AS: Lovin’ Spoonfuls makes a direct and immediate impact by rescuing and distributing food that would otherwise be wasted. Right now, taxpayers are spending over $1 billion each year to dispose of food waste. $1 billion…to incinerate food! it is a jarring number -and completely unnecessary. Eliminating food waste and repurposing excess food is part of our mission to bring about systemic change in the way EVERYONE eats…ESPECIALLY the less fortunate. From what we buy, to what we waste, to what we give and how as a community we help feed hungry folks – a tax-deductible contribution to Lovin’ Spoonfuls keeps us on the road, rescuing and distributing wholesome, fresh food.  How can people get involved with Lovin’ Spoonfuls?

AS: The first thing is to go to your local market – ask them what they’re doing with their excess food…produce is a good place to start. Find the manager in each department and talk to them! If they say no, tell them you just want to stand in between their back door and the dumpster and catch what they throw, haha. Just kidding. The idea is not to shame or ‘expose’ anyone for throwing away food – just start today! Hey, if I never knew anything about food waste, I can’t expect anyone else to be ahead of the curve. So let’s all just start now – the best advice I’ve ever gotten is from my mom, she says it all the time: “You can always start over today– whatever it is, no matter what. Right now can be better than yesterday.”

People can volunteer their time to Lovin’ Spoonfuls, and take on a delivery route.

Finally, Lovin’ Spoonfuls survives solely on donations – we are a MA Registered 501c3, so all contributions and donations are tax-deductible. Individuals and companies can choose to sponsor or under-write different areas of our efforts – we rely on these donations to keep us on the road, hauling food. No amount is too small!  Name three things people can do to get involved in food rescue in their own communities.

AS: I think it’s all about systemic-change. So in addition to talking to your local market, think about what YOU’RE buying and bringing home. How much food are YOU throwing away? Are you buying more bananas than your family’s eating? Do you over-buy every week and find yourself with spoiled or rotten stuff? We don’t work a whole lot with restaurants because most of the time a good chef won’t over-order, and when there is excess they repurpose their food in creative ways– a great soup, a special dish focusing on ingredients that are on hand. Sometimes with banquet or catering events it works, if timing and temperature have been regulated. The Aquitaine Group in Boston has a fabulous approach to this effort, and is a great example of how to handle excess, in-house.

I like to say it will be a great day when I show up at a soup kitchen or shelter and they say, “‘We’re set, we have enough.” I’ll be happy to go looking for another job.

Ashley has experience across the professional spectrum, acquiring a varied and developed skill set. Her background includes high-end public relations and corporate luxury retail. She has worked for notables across the board, including Morris Visitor Publications, Ralph Lauren & Michael Kors.

After asking a waitress to pack up her leftovers after a particularly large meal with a substantial amount of uneaten food, she wondered what might happen if everyone took a doggy bag and gave it to someone who was hungry. She founded Lovin’ Spoonfuls as a way to help make a small contribution to the local hunger relief effort.

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