STORY BY MARGOT STEVENS
Ben Simon spoke on Tuesday, Oct. 16 about the issue of food waste in America.
The presentation, “Waste Not, Want Not: How Food Recovery Can End Hunger in the 21st Century,” drew a crowd that sat scattered in Sussman Theater in Lower Olmsted.
The audience laughed along and participated as Simon described the amount of food that is wasted daily and what people can do to alleviate that and help feed starving Americans.
“It’s not a food shortage problem; it’s a food distribution problem,” says Simon.
Simon became interested in recovering food when he saw a large amount of untouched pizza being thrown away at the University of Maryland’s café. This prompted him to establish the Food Recovery Network at his university, which quickly took off.
The club donated over 15,000 lbs. of food to people in need just in their first semester.
After receiving applications for chapters at other colleges and showing strong potential for further growth, Sodexo Foundation decided to fund FRN and turn their college volunteer club into a full fledged national nonprofit.
Since then, FRN has been dedicated to collecting extra food from cafeterias, restaurants, grocery stores and sporting events and sending it to food shelters to be distributed to those in need. They make sure that the food is kept at the proper temperature throughout this process to avoid spoiling any of the food.
Simon soon found out that it is the norm for corporate food companies to have a policy against food recovery.
Many businesses are afraid they will be held liable if food spoils. However, Simon argues this should not be a concern. The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act protects companies from lawsuits due to spoiled donated food.
Despite these setbacks, FRN has been very successful. It now has chapters at 150 colleges, spans 37 states and has saved over 890,000 lbs. of food since 2011. It aims to have chapters in 180 campuses and recover 1.2 million lbs. of food by 2016.
Simon also created a company called Imperfect that markets “ugly” produce that would normally be thrown away.
Every year 60 billion lbs. of perfectly good produce is wasted because it is the wrong size to fit into grocery stores’ machinery and bags or consumers would find it unappealing. Some produce such as broccoli can even get as high as 50 percent of crops thrown away because of appearance.
Instead of sending it to a landfill, Imperfect purchases the ugly produce from farmers at a discount, packages it and ships it directly to customers’ homes. It is cheap and convenient for consumers and also helps the environment by repurposing the food.
According to Simon the company has been extremely successful and has even been featured on the cover of National Geographic.
“Carrot doesn’t know,” Simon says. “It doesn’t know the marketing standards the USDA has set up for grading produce. It’s just a carrot.”
A lot of audience members were surprised by how much of a problem food waste is in America. Amanda Martin, the AmeriCorps service learning coordinator at Drake, knew next to nothing before the presentation. But now she realizes that food distribution needs to be improved.
“I think it’s a huge issue. It hasn’t really been part of the conversation but I think it needs to be,” Martin says.
David Sherbondy, a senior at Drake, was also at the event. He is historian on Next Course, Drake’s chapter of FRN, and has volunteered for them often so he was already aware of food waste issues.
Sherbondy became interested in the topic just from watching food go to waste first hand.
“I’ve always seen food being wasted and I don’t like that, you know? It gets on my nerves,” says Sherbondy.
He knows that more people need to be educated about the impact food waste and recovery is having on families, the economy, and the environment and that volunteers are always needed.
If you are interested in becoming a part of Next Course and wish to volunteer or simply learn more about the organization, you can do so at www.nextcoursefrn.wordpress. com.