June 18, 2013

Foodies of New England, Spring/Summer 2013

Food Rescue with the Superheroes at Lovin’ Spoonfuls
By Julie Grady Thomas
June 2013
Foodies of New England

Food. It’s what drives us here at Foodies, if you haven’t guessed. It’s one our passions, and if you’re reading this right now, it’s one of yours too. But food is beyond passion. It’s beyond privilege. At its core, food is a right. And it took a conversation with Ashley Stanley, the founder of the food rescue Lovin’ Spoonfuls, and her team to remind me of that.

How Do You Like Them Apples?
Lovin’ Spoonfuls (LS) has one immediate goal: get wholesome, ready-to-eat food to people who need it most. A worthy cause, but what does “food rescue” actually mean? It’s all about taking food that’s going to be wasted and putting it to good use. Everything has a shelf life, but in our modern society perfectly good food gets binned because it’s not perfect—a bruise here, a dent there, and that apple goes in the trash. The catch is it’s not just one apple. According to the National Resources Defense Council, in America alone, it’s $165 billion worth of food each year. “Nothing’s wrong with the food, it’s just coming off of the shelves,” explained Lauren Palumbo, a Massachusetts native and the operations director a LS. “On a whole, the US wastes about 40 percent of its food, and a chunk of that is at the retail level.” This is where LS comes in.Getting in touch with local farmers, retail partners, produce vendors and the occasional restaurant, LS recovers fresh food that won’t be sold but is still useable, then delivers it to organizations that need it. “It comes down to bridging the gap between abundance and need,” Ashley said. Every bit certainly counts and their beneficiaries see the results immediately, like the Pine Street Inn, an organization that provides an array of services and meals to 1600 homeless individuals daily. “The donations we receive from Lovin’ Spoonfuls get incorporated into our meal plan,” explained Jack Nolan, Pine Street’s acquisition and distribution manager, “which saves us quite a bit from our bottom line purchasing.” A native of Wellesley, Massachusetts, Ashley wasn’t always knee-deep in fresh produce. She worked across the board in luxury retail until one night when she was dining out at a restaurant with friends. Astonished by the amount of leftover food at the table, she started to wonder just how much food was going uneaten. “I had no idea what was happening. All the research I was doing online, was it hyperbole? Was it accurate? There were such big numbers, such big statistics,” she said of her initial research.LS began its journey to help the food insecure in Greater Boston and since starting up in 2010, the team of five has distributed over 450,000 lbs of fresh, healthy food to those who need it most. And it’s just the beginning.

Kicking Food Insecurity
Hunger isn’t restricted to the non-Western countries. One in six Americans is food insecure, which means they’re lacking a secure food supply at the table. Last year in Massachusetts alone, over 800,000 people struggled in the same way.“We don’t want to stay in business,” Ashley admitted. “Hunger relief is not an industry, but unfortunately it’s become one. The number of food banks rise and so does the problem.” Speaking candidly and carefully, she was sure not to place blame on any one particular area, but rather the way in which we as a culture look at hunger relief. “Looking at the now isn’t going to change anything,” she said. “We need to catalyze real change in the way we do things and I want the problem to look different as a result of what we are doing.” One way to tackle such a massive undertaking: ask new questions. “Instead of focusing solely on solving hunger through the global issue of distribution, start asking at what point in the food system can we be more responsible? At what point can we preempt a response to this?” Reducing food waste in the U.S. by just 15 percent would free up enough food to feed more than 25 million people each year. Cultivating food that’s ultimately being wasted not only costs money, but uses copious amounts land, energy, oil, and fresh water.Food rescue isn’t the only answer to food insecurity, but it’s part of a bigger equation that can help our crisis culture. “We are using resources with abandon. There’s the oil crisis, the health crisis, the financial crisis; when we arbitrarily waste food, it makes those problems bigger,” clarified Ashley.And now we have Lovin’ Spoonfuls, a non-profit born of the simplest, most practical idea. “I’ve always been passionate about sharing food with people,” Ashley continued. “Food is the most powerful and overlooked tool in social justice. It brings us together, to come and have these conversations, to talk.”

Kohlrabi Anyone?
LS works as a direct distribution system. At 9AM, five days a week, two drivers drive out to any number of vendors and pick up food. Those drivers then drop off the food with the beneficiaries. At the end of the day, the truck is empty. It’s that easy.“Our drivers are really our best tools. They’re in constant communication on all sides,” confessed Lauren. The drivers even know which recipients are up for creative cuisine. “If there’s kohlrabi on the truck that day, they’ll know who’s open to cooking with unfamiliar stuff. The point is to make sure there’s no waste on anyone’s end.” Because LS only works with perishable goods, there’s no warehouse or storage facility—it’s not a food bank. It’s all about lean protein, dairy, baked goods, breads, grains and produce. “Our beneficiaries are most in need of fresh food. For them, it’s about supplementing packaged products with what’s fresh,” she explained. It may be a perfectly plated match, but it’s also a win-win for everyone involved. From a retailer’s perspective, shelves must be cycled constantly and food wasted is money wasted. LS helps them eradicate unnecessary turnover by creating a venue where retailers can turn their losses into a tax write-off, all while helping the greater good. People have certainly been listening. Jack from Pine Street has witnessed LS grow from a “small van with a few boxes” to having a fleet of “two truck loads of food” up for delivery. “Our goal within the next three to five years is to serve all four corners of Massachusetts,” professed Lauren. “We do get outside of Boston to get produce, but we serve mostly Boston area.” What’s great about LS is that as a donor you can track exactly where your food or money is going. “You can see the impact whether its $25 or $25,000. We don’t have a high overhead; it’s just Lauren, Emma, our two drivers and me. [Whatever you give] goes directly to food recovery and addressing different consequences of food waste,” revealed Ashley. Food is fuel, but it’s more than that. It’s transcendental. It possesses the ability to comfort, to heal, to warm, to bring people together, to put a smile on someone’s face. “Think about it,” posited Ashley, “how many office meetings do you go to without food there? Some of the most powerful people in the world are breaking bread. They’re doing it all over food.” So let’s start a conversation. There’s a rumble in the headlines about food rescue and food insecurity, but let’s get loud.

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