FRWG members participate in food waste panel on Capitol Hill



By María Cecilia Pfund

On Tuesday, April 6, three members of the DC Food Recovery Working Group ( Kate Urbank, María Cecilia Pfund and William Reid) participated in a panel on food waste and food insecurity. Other panelists included Jeanne Blakenship ( Vice President of Policy Initiatives and Advocacy for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) and Dr. Elise Golan (Director for Sustainable Development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture). Congressman Jim McGovern, chair of the Hunger Caucus and the Food is Medicine Working Group, came to give a brief introduction and highlighted the problem of food insecurity in the US, calling for more findings be available for nutrition programs.

Jeanne Blakenship provided insights on how nutrition professions are looking for ways to educate consumers to reduce food waste with tools including fun handouts and quizes. She also talked about initiatives in collaboration with other organizations such as Feeding America and Further with Food to increase outreach and awareness about these issues.

Dr. Elise Golan focused on the commitment of USDA in reducing food waste. She mentioned the formal agreement signed last year to decrease food waste by half under the Winning on Reducing Food Waste initiative. Additionally, she explained that the Farm Bill created for the first time a Food Loss and Waste Reduction Liaison, which hasn’t yet been funded. Moreover, she showed how USDA is working on research and development products such as edible straws out of food out of fruits and vegetables that otherwise would be wasted.

Kate Urbank talked about opportunities to participate in food rescue through Food Rescue US. Also, she talked about the important role of policies to provide liability protection for food donations and suggested the need to strengthen the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act so that food could also be donated to individuals directly.

Finally, William Reid shared his experienced living off discarded food and gave insight into the large amount of perfectly edible food that is thrown daily into the garbage. He also talked about the high cost of healthful food, which makes it challenging for people with tight budgets to afford a healthy diet.

Overall, it was a well attended and insightful discussion that shed light to the causes, challenges and possible solutions for food waste and food insecurity. Everyone was invited to commit to participate in food rescue activities and diverse ways to decrease food waste.


Carless? You can still be a food rescuer via ride-share apps!

David Kwartler, an intern for Food Rescue US shares the story of his first rescue last winter. He doesn’t have a car, but used Lyft to deliver surplus food from a Georgetown business to Campus Kitchen Project. Sign up yourself at

It was a cold, dry Tuesday afternoon as I left my apartment and began to head towards Georgetown. After walking a few blocks, I arrived at the food rescue pickup spot, an easily accessible loading dock tucked under an office building. I only had a few hours between my university classes, but this 2:15pm rescue fit perfectly into my schedule, so I was able to use the Food Rescue US mobile app to claim the run. I sent a quick text message to the donors, who brought down boxes full of bread, sweet potatoes, kale, chicken, and more. My first reward was the smile on the food donor’s face when I handed them a sticker for Food Rescue US.

Once I had possession of the food, I opened my phone to the Lyft app. Within a few minutes, Steven arrived in his sedan to help me transport the food about two miles to a local hunger relief agency. I was worried if my Lyft driver would be okay putting eight huge boxes of food in his vehicle, but Steven was eager to help, and I was glad to have some support. We packed the boxes into his trunk and hit the road. After a nine-minute ride down Wisconsin Avenue, we arrived at the receiving agency. Steven helped me unload the food and bring the boxes into the kitchen, as the chef was awaiting their regularly scheduled donation from Food Rescue US runners. I was really amazed to see just how easy it was to make such a positive impact in under 30 minutes, and I only paid $9.26 for the ride, less than the cost of lunch in downtown DC. Even if you don’t have your own vehicle, ride sharing or using a bicycle or scooter can be promising options for city dwellers who want to make a difference.

It felt amazing to see the Food Rescue US model play out in person, and I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was for me to become the missing link between surplus food and hungry mouths, and all it took was quick drive through Georgetown. With the Food Rescue US app, you can be part of the simple solution to end local hunger and reduce food waste.

Fine-dining meets food-waste reduction at the first annual #NotWasted Dinner

Screen Shot 2019-03-23 at 3.13.33 PMWith a sold-out crowd and a line-up of elegant dishes and drinks, the first annual Not Wasted Dinner demonstrated that fine dining and food waste reduction can come together with delicious results.

Equinox, an upscale restaurant in downtown DC, hosted the Feb. 18 evening, inviting a diverse team of chefs into their kitchen to prepare an elaborate dinner from underutilized ingredients.

Diners were treated to the following four-course meal program:

Canape Reception
Chef Alison Swope – Teaism
Boston lettuce stem with strawberry hull pesto and wilted radicchio
Burmese tofu fried with purée of shiitake mushroom stems

First Course
Chef Robert Wood — SuperFd Catering
Carrot Peel Soup with pickled Swiss chard & cilantro stems

Main Course
Chef Todd Gray — Equinox Restaurant
Cauliflower & Broccoli Stem & Leaf Stirfry ginger, cilantro, carrot dashi broth

Chef Gregory Payne — Sodexo
Turkish Carrot Truffles with candied beetroot
Sweet Potato-Apple Trim Cobbler ith ginger root and citrus anglaise

The event, organized in partnership with the DC Food Recovery Working Group and its RescueDish initiative, also featured a panel discussion on the various ways we can all reduce our food waste. Panelists included Amanda Stone of the World Wildlife Fund, Elizabeth Bennet-Parker with Together We Bake, Hilary Landa, with the Ad Council and Laura Monto of Sodexo. The panel was moderated by Lesly Baesens of the DC Food Recovery Working Group.

The Not Wasted Dinner represents how the Working Group’s efforts to unite various stakeholders can help build momentum to reduce food waste in the community.

In 2017, Equinox, long interested in sustainability and famous for its vegan brunch, participated in the inaugural RescueDishDC, a week during which select restaurants across the city featured dishes and drinks made from underutilized ingredients. Equinox created “The Hanson Sour,” a cocktail made from spent lemon husks.


Fast forward to the summer of 2018, and the RescueDish initiative organized a networking happy hour at the restaurant. Chef Todd Gray played to the crowd, whipping up what he called Zuppa Di Basura, a “garbage soup” from ingredients including onion peels, fennel branches, and mushroom stems, while bar manager Peter Grimm served limoncello made in his sous vide machine from lemon peels left over after juicing. At the happy hour, Equinox connected with Food Rescue US, which now picks up surplus food from their catering operations at the Museum of the Bible, and (r)evolve, a zero-waste consulting firm that is now helping the restaurant further reduce its environmental impact

The Not Wasted Dinner was born just a few months later, when Ellen, Equinox’s manager, and Robert Wood of SuperFd Catering, sat on a panel about food waste and sustainability in restaurants during Food Recovery Week 2018. Teaism hosted the panel and the restaurant folks got to talking. What if we hosted a dinner, they wondered, where everything on the menu had a food-waste-reducing story?

Hungry for more? The team behind the first #NotWasted dinner is hard at work on another event, scheduled for April 22 – Earth Day. Stay tuned for details!

Hardy Middle School Share Table

Keeping Kids Full with Weekend Bags and Share Tables

By DC Food Project

We want to tell you a story.  Towards the end of the last school year, we were talking with one of the teachers where our children attend.   It had been another great year at the school, the community was stronger and more engaged than ever and we were all getting ready for the summer. The conversation turned, however, when we learned that the teacher was using their own money to put food into one of the children’s backpacks.  This child did not have enough to eat over the weekend when school-provided breakfast and lunch were unavailable. The idea that kids in our school did not have enough food to eat when they went home for the weekend struck a nerve. And it turns out there are more kids facing this challenge than we realized. That conversation led to more conversations with parents, who were equally as shocked as we were.


We decided to do something about it: we started DC Food Project.


Over the past few months, DC Food Project has been working with school administrators, local organizations, DCPS, amongst others, to develop a Weekend Bag Program that discreetly sends food home over the weekends for children who qualify.  With over 300 bags of food sent home since we launched last fall, we have already begun seeing the positive impact this kind of program has for families who need that extra help.  With two more schools slated to adopt this program for next school year, our team is looking forward to learning how to most effectively scale and how this can work across DC schools.


What has been incredibly exciting and in a way, one of the more unanticipated learnings from the Weekend Bag Program, has been for our team to understand how school meals work — and with that, witnessing first hand the amount of food waste that takes place.  If children are going home hungry or don’t have enough food at school, you have to ask yourself – how can we bridge the gap between food waste and food insecurity?


So, in conjunction with the Weekend Bag Program, our team has launched a Share Table Program, where students can place unopened and/or sealed foods that they choose not to eat during school breakfast and lunch in a basket, providing an opportunity for other students to take additional helpings of food that would otherwise be thrown away.  Working with DCPS’ Food and Nutrition Services Team and seeking guidance from DGS, the Share Table Program is up and running in 5 DC Public Schools with 15-20 more slated for this school year.


It’s a lot — but exciting — with hopes to have a positive impact in our city.  If children come to school not feeling hungry, excited to learn and not worried about their next meal — then, we’ve done something right.


Thanks for reading this far — and please don’t hesitate to reach out with questions, ideas, thoughts and anything else…


To donate and/or to learn more, please visit


The DC Food Project Team
Alysa, Katie, Krista & LucieHow the Table Works 1

Turkey Thicket Rescued Food

Preventing Food Waste from Summer Meal Programs

Lessons from the DC Department of Parks and Recreation and Food Rescue US Partnership

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DPR staffers at Turkey Thicket Recreation Center in Ward 5 hold up pre-packaged summer meals. Extra meals from Turkey Thicket were directed to Damien Ministries. (Photo by Kate Urbank)


Wasted food has been a chronic problem for sponsors of USDA’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), which ensures that children in low-income communities have access to food even when school is not in session. Each year the site sponsors, who serve food, grapple with the question of how to order the correct number of meals when they don’t know how many children will need to eat on any given day.

Meals are wasted when there is a mismatch between the number of meals ordered and the number of meals served, a gap that arises from uncertainty around how many meals the sites could expect to serve. In 2017, over 19,000 SFSP meals went to waste in DC. To prevent more meals from going to waste, Karyn Kennedy, the Program Specialist for the Summer Food Service Program at the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) reached out to Food Rescue US to arrange for delivery leftover summer meals to organizations in need, provided technical assistance to sponsors, and recruited Meggan Davis (DC Department of General Services) and Kate Urbank (Food Rescue US) to train sponsors on food rescue.

DC Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) was selected to pilot a food program due to the potential for impact—DPR is the largest SFSP sponsor with between 140-177 summer meal sites–and an expressed interest in reducing waste. In past years, DPR has seen about ten percent of their Summer Meals Program meals go to waste. Supervisory Food Program Specialist Angela Tucker led the effort for DPR by monitoring waste, adjusting ordering habits and working directly with Food Rescue and its volunteers.

As a result of this coordinated effort, DPR had 3,053 fewer leftover meals in 2018 than in 2017, saved thousands of dollars, and kept hundreds of meals from going to waste by delivering them to fifteen local DC community hunger partners.


Here’s how they did it—and how other Summer Meals Program sites can too:


  • Create community connections and train staff. Before the Summer Meals Program began, Angela Tucker and Kate Urbank of Food Rescue US strategically selected sites for the food recovery pilot program to provide meals to neighboring area organizations in wards 5, 7 and 8. Urbank sought out community hunger partners who needed and greatly appreciated the leftover prepared meals from the DPR sites, while Angela Tucker, her DPR Nutrition Services team and dedicated seasonal food monitors ensured that on-site staffers were trained on how to set aside and store leftovers for pickup.


  • Recruit volunteers. In addition to the many “Food Rescuers” already registered in the Food Rescue US app, Urbank worked with Angela Tucker and DPR’s communication team to recruit new volunteers through their social media platforms. Once registered, Food Rescuers were matched through the app to routes connecting the various DPR sites to neighboring receiving agencies and made the food deliveries using their own cars. Anyone with a car can be a food runner)


  • Continually evaluate orders. Over-ordering is the root cause of wasted summer meals. Angela Tucker, along with her DPR Nutrition Services team and seasonal food monitors, closely tracked the number of meals ordered and served at each site and adjusted orders daily to ensure that margins reflected actual levels of service. Eliminating fixed margins (a specific number of extra meals at each site) in favor of responsive ordering ensures that sponsors purchase an appropriate number of meals for each site. Thanks to close communication between Food Rescue US and DPR, waste decreased significantly. By the end of the summer, most food rescues had grown smaller and, at some locations, were canceled altogether.

Partner organizations reported being grateful for the meals they received and looking forward to the anticipated expansion of the summer meal food recovery program.

Since 2012, more than  6.6 million summer meals have been served through the DC Free Summer Meals program in Washington, DC. DPR sites account for about a quarter of all Summer Food Service Program sites in DC and a small fraction of the number of sites nationwide. There are several types of organizations that help to distribute these meals each summer, including schools, faith-based programs, non-profit camps, non-profit organizations, and recreation centers. This summer, sponsors of all types have an opportunity to keep many of these meals from going to waste.

Are you sponsoring a summer meal site in DC? To learn more about how your organization can cut costs and reduce waste, contact Karyn Kennedy (

Not a summer meal sponsor, but want to help? Download the Food Rescue US app to volunteer as a food rescuer and connect summer meal sites to community hunger organizations.

Perspective: Sustainable DC Plan and food waste

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An expanded version of this post originally appeared on DC EcoWomen. Check it out here.

By Lesly Baesens

In the first iteration of its Sustainable DC Plan, the nation’s capital committed to reducing food waste through establishing curbside organic waste pick-up for composting. Though composting is preferable to sending food waste to methane-producing landfills, it should be a second-to-last resort as the resources necessary to produce the food have already been expended. In my paper, Leading by Example: 20 Ways the Nation’s Capital Can Reduce Food Waste, I closely examined the issue of food waste in the District and provided the city government with recommendations on how to tackle food waste more efficiently and holistically.

The paper’s recommendations range from simple ones, such as establishing a food waste reduction target in the Sustainable DC Plan, to more politically challenging ones, including requiring grocers to measure and publicly disclose wasted food amounts. By establishing a food waste target, the city would be encouraged to move beyond composting to addressing food waste more comprehensively. By requiring grocers to disclose food waste amounts, the city would bring transparency to the amount of food discarded in this sector, which in turn would incentivize retailers to waste less.

Since sharing my paper with the Office of DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and other city agencies, I was pleased to find that the city’s latest draft plan, Sustainable DC 2.0, includes several of my suggested measures. For instance, it steps-up the city’s food waste reduction efforts by committing to a target – reduce DC’s food waste by 60 percent by 2032. In order to develop recommendations on reducing food waste, the city will conduct an assessment of food waste in household and businesses – another one of my proposals. Sustainable DC 2.0 also proposes to educate residents and businesses on food “buying, storage, and disposal […] to minimize waste.” As discussed in my paper, consumer education campaigns can help households become drivers of reducing food waste.

These improved commitments are a major step forward for the District in its efforts to tackle food waste. However, I challenge D.C. to consider adopting bolder, more hard-hitting recommendations. We’ll need them if we want to become a model of food waste reduction in the U.S. and internationally, especially if we want to achieve the city’s goal of becoming “the most sustainable city in the nation.” In the meantime, I challenge you to educate yourself about the city’s efforts by reading Sustainable DC 2.0.

Lesly earned her Master’s degree in Global Environmental Policy from American University focusing on sustainable agriculture. A professional with more than 10 years of experience in project management, policy, and research, she is a die-hard food waste reduction advocate and is always looking for opportunities to advance the cause. 

DC FRWG features at DC State Fair


What should you do with stale bread? Should you worry about little white dots on parmesan cheese? And what’s the best way to stock your fridge?

At the ninth annual DC State Fair earlier this year, representatives of the DC Food Recovery Working Group engaged fair-goers on these questions and the myriad ways they can reduce their food waste–and their environmental impact.

During a one-hour session more than 60 people stopped by the DC FRWG table to learn about three themes:

_JP_9580Cooking! Claudia Fabiano, a working group board member, brought samples of dishes
that use ingredients that people might assume are waste. She made banana bread from overripe bananas, pickles from extra cucumbers and panzanella salad from stale bread.

Fridge stocking! Aisha Salazar, the cooking and nutrition coordinator for the Arlington Food Assistance Center, challenged fair-goers to stock a sample fridge to best extend their food’s life. Milk, for example, shouldn’t be stored in the fridge door; it will stay colder on a shelf inside the fridge.

Eating….or tossing?! Rachael Jackson, founder of EatOrToss, quized people on whether a selection of imperfect-looking foods were safe to eat. Items included parmesan speckled with white crystals, a tomato with cracking scars and a very brown banana.


We had a great time at the fair! If you’re planning a community event and would like to include a display like the one we offered at the State Fair, please reach out to We’d love to work with you!

Special thanks to working group board member Josh Etim who helped make sure everything went well and to Amanda Joy Photographics for providing the photos in this post. 

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A 2018 Win! DC’s Food Recovery Working Group Food Waste Successfully Lobbies to Save Good Food!


DC’s Food Recovery Working Group (FRWG) is celebrating the passage of DC’s Save Good Food Act!

On Tuesday, October 16th, the DC Council unanimously passed the bill and in November, with no objection from DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, the bill became law. This bill provides new incentives that promote and facilitate food recovery efforts in DC by providing tax incentives to DC residents and businesses who donate food to those in need.  

The act will also help clarify some of DC’s confusing and strict food labeling laws and keep good food out of the landfill. The bill has broad support from DC businesses, non-profits, and residents.

Ona Balkus, DC’s Acting Food Policy Director, believes this law will benefit District residents: “This bill will encourage more DC businesses and residents to donate healthy food to those in need, keep good food out of the landfill, and clarify confusing laws around food donation. It’s a significant step in helping DC become a national leader in sustainability.”

Members of the District’s Food Recovery Working Group (FRWG) lobbied the DC Council to move the Save Good Food Amendment Act forward.  In addition to a petition and a Twitter campaign, in June, a coalition of food recovery advocates visited Councilmembers to garner support for the bill.  Seylou, a DC bakery that regularly donates food through Food Rescue US, provided leftover baked goods for the effort.  

FRWG’s lobbying efforts paid off and in late September, the bill passed out of the Council’s Finance and Revenue Committee. Once out of that Committee, the bill moved forward quickly. Amy Kelley, Policy lead for FRWG notes, “Our work on this bill shows how local action can lead to positive change.  We had a strong and diverse coalition that supported this legislation. We advocated strongly in favor of this bill, and we’re thrilled that it passed.”

Interested in becoming involved in the DC FRWG? Contact Josh Singer at  Want to become a Food Waste Warrior by helping to transport good food around DC? Contact Kate Urbank of Food Rescue US in DC at

10 ways to reduce food waste in Washington, DC

Please note, the following post originally appeared on the website of the School of International Service at American University. It’s available here.

By Lesly Baesens

Approximately 40 percent of food produced each year in the US is wasted, from farmers discarding part of their crops due to supermarket demand for aesthetically pleasing produce to consumer over-reliance on expiration dates. The resources and human labor necessary to grow, transport, and process food that will never be consumed have negative environmental, social, and economic repercussions. Notably, food rotting in landfills emits methane, a major contributor to climate change.

Federally, there are no laws, incentives, or enforceable requirements to reduce food waste. However, cities and states have stepped up and made pledges to reduce food waste. Washington, DC, aims to reduce food waste with the long-term goal of establishing curbside organic waste pick-up for composting. While preferable to sending food waste to landfill, composting should be a second-to-last resort as the resources necessary to produce the food have already been expanded.


Salmon belly with pickled collard stems by Teaism. This dish was created to use ingredients that might otherwise go to waste. Urging more restaurants to showcase how they reduce waste, is one of Lesly Baesen’s top 10 recommendations for reducing food waste in DC. This dish was created as part of the RescueDish initiative.  (Photos by Amanda Joy Photographics)

I recently submitted my paper Leading by Example: 20 Ways the Nation’s Capital Can Reduce Food Waste to the DC government. This paper explores the ways DC can comprehensively tackle food waste. To develop these suggestions, I spoke with and included the input of city government staff, civil society, and private sector food waste stakeholders. Here are ten of the most critical recommendations for reducing food waste in the District:


Having a specific target could help the city move beyond its compost-focused waste reduction strategy and address food waste more holistically by considering source reduction and reuse measures, such as donating food to food banks.


There currently are no requirements for retailers to publicly report the amount of food they trash. Bringing transparency to the amount of food discarded would incentivize retailers to waste less.


DC could require grocery stores to donate unsold food, just as France did on a national scale in 2016.


There are several models DC could use to run a consumer education campaign. For example, engaging residents on social media, collaborating with retailers to provide shoppers with recipes on how to use leftovers, or through direct engagement at city events.


The lack of a reliable food pick-up system can prevent businesses from donating their excess food. DC could increase food rescue organizations’ capacity by connecting them with food donors and with volunteers who can help transport donated food.


DC should encourage innovative business models that improve food access while reducing food waste. For example, grants could be awarded to businesses that are proposing new and innovative ways of reducing food waste, such as working with local area food banks to start an at-home food distribution system for low income residents.


DC should create an interactive, consumer-friendly website dedicated to combating food waste. This website would serve a variety of purposes for both businesses and individual consumers, such as featuring local businesses participating in food-waste reduction efforts and providing consumers with ideas they can implement in their own lives.


Restaurants have a lot to gain from wasting less food. Restaurants could save an estimated $1.6 billion annually by adopting food waste reduction measures. DC could provide them with a brochure highlighting the economic benefits of and methods for food waste reduction specific to the industry.


The DC Food Recovery Working Group (FRWG) organizes an annual “RescueDish DC” event, which invites chefs to make creative dishes with “castoff” ingredients. To increase the number of chefs that showcase their talent and creativity, DC could consider partnering with FRWG to give RescueDish DC more visibility. Such an event would not just give these restaurants recognition, but also allow them to think of new and inventive ways to cook with unused food.


DC could provide a retail-specific checklist of items to reduce waste. Retailers who fill the greatest number of checklist items could be featured on social media, as well as be provided with a special logo that they could display in stores, in circulars, and online.

Mayor Muriel Bowser should consider implementing some of these recommendations, as they would align DC with other US municipalities in addressing food waste. Implementing them all could turn DC into a model of food waste reduction both in the US and internationally. At the same time, these recommendations could save the city money, create jobs, improve food security, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This in turn would contribute to reaching DC’s goal of being the nation’s most sustainable city.

DC compost visionary named Echoing Green Fellow

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Photo by Max Van Praag


In Jeffrey Neal’s vision, organic waste doesn’t need to be trucked far away, but instead can be composted in alleys and other spaces just behind the restaurants, homes and businesses that generate it.

In 2014, he started Loop Closing, a DC company that sets up special on-site compost systems that promise to be compact, sealed against pests and easy to use. To truly “close the loop,” the units generate nutrient-rich compost for urban gardens and the farms that feed the city.

The concept is catching on; this summer, Neal was awarded a prestigious Echoing Green fellowship, which provides two years of seed-stage funding and strategic support for social change leaders. Echoing Green selected 35 new fellows in 2018 and is providing more than $4.6 million in funds.

Neal is in good company. Fellows come from regions across the world and projects range from an app facilitating remote translations for refugees to technology to help Indian waste pickers get fair-trade rates to recycle plastic.

“The fellowship is very empowering,” he said, noting that the leadership and development support has been a tremendous help. With the fellowship helping to cover some living expenses, he said he’s able to focus on the technical side of his business, fund raising and building the team.

Neal, an early member of the DC Food Recovery Working Group, spent 24 years as an engineer with the U.S. Navy Civil Engineer Corps. As he worked on projects around the world, he noticed that there were limited options for sustainably disposing of food scraps. In 2014 he got involved in composting and soon after that, Loop Closing was born.

If you’d like to talk to Neal about setting up a system at your workplace or housing complex, you can reach him at