From Trash to Treasure

One day, a month into the 2015 school year, my six-year old son came up to me in the kitchen, and this is how the conversation went:

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Max: “Mom, I have to throw away the milk at lunchtime every day.”

Me: “What milk? You don’t even drink milk” (He has never liked plain milk).

Max: “The milk that they give me at lunchtime”

Me: “Ok. Just say ‘no thank you’ next time”

Max: “I did, but I still have to put it on my tray when I get my food”.

Me: “Really? So you have to take the milk every day at lunchtime? Then what?”

Max: “Then I eat my food and throw everything else out, including the milk carton, which I didn’t open”

 

I admit I was skeptical. This was not something we would ever do at home, and it would go against the what we would want to teach our children about valuing food and taking care of the earth. Could it really be happening on a daily basis at school? And if my kid is doing this, how many other kids might be doing it too?

So I checked with our assistant principal. It was true. She was equally disturbed by all the waste this was causing, but these decisions are not made by the individual schools, but rather by the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) Office of Nutrition. So we checked with them to better understand the reasons. Essentially, what we were told made sense: that all PK-5th grade students are served an entire meal for breakfast and lunch, which must include all components: grain, protein, fruit, vegetables, and milk. The intention is to ensure that students are exposed to healthy foods, and by having it in front of them they are more likely to take a bite of something nutritious. It also made it easier for schools serving many students over a busy lunch period to make sure the line moves more quickly, rather than having elementary school children take their time to pick and choose what they want. Unfortunately, the unintended consequence of this model is the amount of food that gets wasted. The people we spoke to at DCPS recognized this problem and provided helpful suggestions such as implementing a “share table” where kids can leave unwanted items on a table which another child might like to have.

It was Christmas 2015, and I had just seen a presentation at my work by a charity called Healthy Babies, which helps at-risk D.C. families have healthy babies. I was so moved by the work they do, including providing meals and teaching healthy ways of cooking to expecting mothers. I asked where they get their food from and was told that they rely a lot on donations. There had to be a way to get the unused milk to those who needed it, whether it was Healthy Babies or another charity. But how?

I discussed the possibilities with our wonderful staff at the school, including the administration, the dedicated staff who work in the cafeteria, and teachers who were volunteering their time to work on sustainability issues. Naturally there were a few concerns. The main, and most common concern, was that the school could get sued if someone gets sick from the donated food. Fortunately, that has never happened, and thanks to the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, no food donor can be sued when donating food in good faith. A simple Google search led me to discover this.

The school staff were incredibly quick to take action. The school was participating in a recycling and compost program, which meant that one of the teachers had taken on the task of conducting a baseline survey at the end of the lunch period. I joined her on one of the days for the survey and we helped the kids sort through trash, recycling, compost, and we put aside the unopened milk cartons, untouched oranges, apples, unopened crackers and other odds and ends. At the end of the lunch period we had collected 67 cartons of milk and over 30 pieces of fruit and packages of crackers. In one day. Let’s multiply this by five days a week. Now let’s multiply this by all the schools in DC.

After a dinner with friends one evening where I couldn’t stop talking about this issue, one of my friends came across an article about MEANS database. So on the same day I was helping to do the baseline survey at the school, I later went to meet with the founders of MEANS. Knowing that those 67 cartons of milk were going to be wasted, I put the box in my car and decided to test out how the MEANS database worked. We stored the milk in the fridge, entered the information about the available milk in the database and waited to see if a charity would claim it. After I left that meeting, I learned that the milk had been claimed by a DC shelter. After that I could not imagine ever throwing away more milk. In addition to feeding people who need it, it could save charities a lot of money.

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Wheeling the new cooler to school

We signed up the school to the MEANS database, and our family donated a cooler which my children wheeled over to the school one morning. Now, twice a week after lunch, a local charity picks up the milk from just outside the school where the cooler is placed. Currently, the local charity is Miriam’s Kitchen. And we are so thrilled to have partnered with them as our “Sister Charity”. What if every school could have a “Sister Charity” that could pick up the un-used food every day? We would really like to explore this possibility with any school that is interested.

In 2016 I joined the newly formed DC Food Recovery Working Group, and found out that they were helping the DC Department of General Services (DGS) develop guidance for schools to donate unused food. As part of the Working Group, I learned about how much is being done on legislation to allow food donations, tax credits for restaurants that donate food, new apps, including one called Food Rescue US that allows you to donate your leftover food by helping to transport it, among many other creative initiatives such as community fridges.

I know I am not alone when I say that I do not want to teach my children that throwing perfectly good food in the trash is okay. Many people are hungry and really need the food. In 2015 there were 13.1 million children living in food-insecure households, and yet up to 40% of our food ends up in landfills every year in the United States. Food waste breaks down and generates methane gas, a potent greenhouse gas that has a warming potential of 21 times that of carbon dioxide (Source: EPA). Then there is the water and land used to grow and produce the food in the first place. Eighty percent of all U.S. freshwater consumption is dedicated to the production and distribution of food. The implications are big.

The good news is that awareness is increasing, with universities and organizations all over the country coming up with innovative ways to tackle this massive challenge. In the District of Columbia, other schools are either starting to divert good food from the trash bin, or asking how it can be done. We know that there is a problem with over-ordering food, which leads to waste in the first place, but we are tackling one problem at a time. Wouldn’t it be nice if official guidance could be provided to any school that is asking if and how this can be done? That’s why I am so happy that the “Save the Good Food Amendment Act of 2017” is being put forward to the DC City Council.   It will open up many more possibilities to make sure good food does not get wasted. If this bill is passed, then the Department of Health will provide a food donation guide for everyone, including schools. We hope you can help support this bill!

 

Written by

Chirine Alameddine

Parent at School Without Walls at Francis Stevens

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RescueDishDC is on! Go to these restaurants & fight food waste with your fork

 

This weekend #RescueDishDC kicks off, with more than a dozen DC restaurants highlighting how delicious minimizing food waste can be.

From ricotta made from extra latte milk to cabbage cores pickled for taco fillings, these restaurants are showcasing their ingenuity as a part of DC Food Recovery Week. Whether you care deeply about sustainability, or just want to try something you’ve never tried before, #RescueDishDC will make you rethink “waste.” For a full list of participating restaurants go here.

Restaurants, which often operate on slim profit margins, have long been skilled at making sure very little goes to waste. #RescueDishDC is designed to celebrate and spotlight that creativity, while also inspiring home cooks to reexamine the potential tasty ingredients that they may be throwing away. Carrot greens, pickling brine, extra dough, herb stems, lemon rinds–all of them can live on in delicious ways.

Hungry yet? Here’s a quick sample of what’s on offer for #RescueDishDC (Click here for a full list and more details on the dishes):

  • ANXO – Cider made from foraged apples
  • Little Red Fox – roasted carrots with latte-milk ricotta and carrot-green pesto
  • Mellow Mushroom (Adams Morgan) – Caesar salad with bread-end croutons & bruschetta with tomato ends
  • National Geographic Cafeteria – veggie chips made from pulp leftover after juicing
  • Santa Rosa Taqueria – Taco stuffed with pickled cabbage core and portobello stems
  • Teaism – salmon belly served with pickled collard stems

#RescueDishDC, in its inaugural year, is organized by the DC Food Recovery Working Group and goes from Saturday, Oct. 21 to Saturday, Oct. 28.

“We have a great lineup of restaurants,” said Rachael Jackson, a Working Group board member who writes about funky-looking food dilemmas at EatOrToss.com. “I’ve learned so much from their creative dishes and can’t wait to visit them all during DC Food Recovery Week.”

As if supporting efforts to reduce food waste and enjoying fantastic food weren’t enough, you can also win a restaurant gift card via the #RescueDishDC initiative. Just tweet or post public Facebook images of your food and/or drinks with the hashtag #RescueDishDC and you could win a meal at one of the participating restaurants.

Announcing DC Food Recovery Week!

We just announced DC Food Recovery Week! Please see our press release below and share widely!

Oct. 11, 2017 – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT:  Josh Singer, dcfoodrecovery@gmail.com

DC Food Recovery Week set for October 21 – 28

Wide variety of events focus on cutting waste, feeding more people

Get ready to save some food! DC Food Recovery Week is just around the corner. From Saturday, October 21 to Saturday, October 28, events across the region will spotlight, celebrate and advocate for all the ways we can reduce food waste and feed more people in metro DC.

Coordinated by the DC Food Recovery Working Group (DCFRWG), this week of events will include something for everyone who likes to eat and hates to waste. Young kids can pick out ghoulish gourds at the Ugly Pumpkin Block Party. Families and service groups can go on a gleaning outing with the University of the District of Columbia. DIYers can attend a class on food preservation and foodies will want to hit up all the restaurants participating in #RescueDishDC – an effort to highlight the creative ways DC chefs make use of ingredients you might assume are waste.  Please see a full list of events, some of which require advance registration, at dcfoodrecovery.org.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, as much as 40 percent of food in the United States gets thrown away. Yet, 13 percent of homes nationwide are food insecure. The DC Food Recovery Working Group is made up of representatives from a variety of organizations tackling different angles of the food waste problem, from legislation to excess food distribution to composting. Some of the DC Food Recovery Week events are organized directly by the Working Group, while others are sponsored by affiliated organizations. All events will help people in the region understand and act on this important issue.

This is the second time the DC Food Recovery Working Group has organized a week of events. In May of 2016, the newly formed group hosted its inaugural week of action.

“Since we first created this group, we’ve discovered and created so many exciting food recovery initiatives and resources across the city,”  said Josh Singer, Community Garden Specialist for the DC government and co-founder of  the DCFRWG. “During DC Food Recovery Week we hope to highlight all those amazing efforts while also demonstrating how every Washingtonian can have an impact.”

Stay up to date by following @DCFoodRecovery and hashtags #FoodRecoveryWeek and #RescueDishDC on Twitter and Facebook. We can also provide visuals upon request.

DC’s First Food Runner Program!

Want to Recover Donated Food for People who Need it at Your Convenience?

Try DC’s First Food Runner Program!

40% of all food produced in the US ends up in the dump and close to 20% of all families in DC feel some form of food insecurity. This is why organizations in DC and all over the country are working to recover the food before it gets to the dump and direct it to people who need it the most.

But one major barrier to food recovery is transportation. How do you get the extra food from a restaurant to a food pantry when neither organization has the capacity to transport the food? One solution to this dilemma is a food runner program.

Exactly 1 year ago a small group of people working at different food recovery organizations in DC decided to form the DC Food Recovery Working Group in order to promote food recovery programs and organizations happening in DC and develop new city-wide food recovery programs.  To decide what to focus on we brainstormed all the barriers to donating food and there was one barrier that kept coming up in every scenario…transportation.

The working group decided to reach out to food runner organizations to see if anyone was interested in starting DC’s first food runner program.  A food runner program is usually an app or website that coordinates volunteers to help transport extra food to food pantries, removing the transportation barrier.  We eventually found the non-profit Community Plates that was already interested in DC for their next food runner site.

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The working group partnered with Community Plates to build a network of places in DC that have extra food (restaurants, farmers markets, schools, caterers, etc.), food pantries that need food, and volunteers to help transport the food.  In September, Community Plates did a soft launch in DC and immediately started to recover food.

I signed up for the program by downloading an app (or you sign up on the website http://communityplates.org/go-rescue/ if you don’t like apps) that showed me a variety of places in DC that have extra food, what time the pickups are, and where to take the food for donation.  As someone who is not app savvy I found it incredibly easy.  I was able to search for the right pickup that was most convenient for me by location and time and I signed up for a pickup.

My pickup was at the 6th and I Synagogue on a Saturday at 1pm.  Super convenient for me.  I was also sent detailed instructions to a food pantry 10 minutes away to drop it off.  I rescued enough food to easily feed 50 people and it took me less that 30 minutes.

If you’re looking for a way to make a huge difference at your convenience without much effort or inconvenience, check out DC’s First Food Runner Program Community Plates.

If you would like to be a Community Plates food rescuer in DC you can sign up here: http://communityplates.org/go-rescue/ or contact the DC Site Director, Kate Urbank at katharine@communityplates.org for more information.

Check Out all the food I recovered!!!!

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