Posts Tagged ‘food waste’

Photo: Amr Nabil/AP.
A man buys food at a popular restaurant in Cairo, March 22, 2022. The app Tekeya is working to counter food waste.

In restaurants around the world, especially in the fanciest ones, a lot of perfectly good food goes to waste because of some perceived defect. Can we find a better solution than throwing it out?

Eman Mounir reports at the Christian Science Monitor about a new app in Egypt to deal with food waste.

“Early one morning, servers at the Al-Aseel Al-Dimishqi restaurant began their usual preparations for the day. They laid out rows of baklava, kunafa, and other syrup-drenched, nut-stuffed delectables. But the offerings weren’t for customers who flock to the upscale New Cairo suburb. 

“Instead, within an hour, staff from an organization called Tekeya had arrived to whisk away 135 portions of perfectly edible dishes.

“The reason? The desserts – made a day earlier – weren’t considered fresh enough to dish up. 

“Throughout Egypt, which boasts a rich culinary history, such views aren’t uncommon. … Now, though, amid a global reckoning over the food chain and its role in the climate crisis, attitudes in Egypt are slowly changing. 

“The Al-Aseel restaurant is one of around a dozen across the Egyptian capital that Tekeya staff visits each day in a quest to stop fit-for-consumption food from being dumped. Restaurants pay a small annual fee that allows them to alert Tekeya whenever they have unsold food. Personal users of the app can then buy that food at half-price, or either the restaurant or the user can request Tekeya  deliver the food to a food bank or charity of their choosing. In total, up to 40 plates are saved from going to the trash each day. …

“Tekeya, which was inspired in part by the rituals around Ramadan, is the first such app in Egypt, where poor nutrition and undernourishment account for up to 55% of annual child deaths.  

“ ‘I’ve seen several platforms helping fight food waste across Europe. It’s uplifting to find one that does the same here in Egypt,’ says Al-Aseel’s manager, Ramez Abo Abed, who has been using the app for three years.

“In 2019, Menna Shahin had an idea particularly inspired by Ramadan, the Muslim holiday when the devout give to poor people and fast throughout the day. That prompts both celebration and waste. Since fasts are eventually broken with lavish meals at dusk, demand for food commodities soars by up to a third, and waste, in turn, also multiplies. 

“ ‘I would put so much thought into how to dispose of [food] responsibly without harming the environment, and how to minimize my excess usage,’ Ms. Shahin says. ‘I thought to myself, why not assist everyone to dispose of their excess food wisely?’

“Ms. Shahin ended up co-founding Tekeya along with her husband, Max Hartzen. By Tekeya’s second Ramadan, some 10,000 discounted meals were ordered during the holy month, with users choosing to donate roughly a quarter of those to charities.

“Now a 15-member team, Tekeya continues to face the stigma associated with ‘leftover food,’ says Aya Magdy, the startup’s account manager. ‘People presume that it’s food that has gone bad, making it difficult to convince them to buy or donate it.’

“Traditional Egyptian fare includes delicately spiced falafel served piping hot, while koshary, a staple street food, provides a hearty kick through mixing rice and pasta with fresh onions, tomatoes, garlic, chili, lentils, chickpeas, and a dazzling array of spices – these and other classic dishes almost all require freshly chopped ingredients. 

“But there’s a growing awareness of the impact of food waste on the environment. When food is thrown out, it rots and creates methane, a greenhouse gas that is almost 30 times as potent as carbon dioxide. To date, Tekeya counts at least 45,000 meals it has saved from ending up in landfills – preventing the equivalent of 133,000 kilograms (about 293,000 pounds) of carbon dioxide from being released into the environment, Ms. Shahin says.

“The team also works hard to guarantee the quality of the food it passes on, carrying out regular checkups amid stringent requirements. And because trust is such a big factor, if clients complain that the food from a restaurant is too stale or otherwise unsatisfactory, collaboration is immediately terminated.   

“The number of users has climbed steadily. The app now has more than 50,000 subscribers and 120 food suppliers in Cairo. And users tend to be conscientious themselves. Sara Harfoush, a teaching assistant in Cairo University’s Faculty of Economics and Political Science, was initially skeptical, so she conducted her own trials to gauge quality. After ordering off the app several times – and finding it satisfactory each time – she began buying food cheaply to donate to those in need. …

“The idea is catching on with well-known brands. Alban Khalifa, a dairy shop with multiple branches across Cairo, has been reducing food waste and financial losses through Tekeya for nearly two years. Regulars know they can snap up half-price puddings through the app at the close of day.

“That food would otherwise join the tens of thousands of tons of ingredients overflowing from trash cans on many streets of Cairo. In rural areas, heaps of discarded vegetables and harvests rot in the sun, attracting stray animals.

“There are other draws beyond environmental and sanitation concerns. Soaring inflation and another round of currency devaluation in March have further squeezed citizens in a country where a third of the population is classified as low-income earners. 

“Mohamed Refaat, a pharmacist in Cairo, says he quickly became a regular user after learning about Tekeya. The combination of contributing to saving the environment and getting good food at a discount is, he says, ‘very attractive to any user given the soaring prices and rising inflation rates.’ ”

More at the Monitor, here.

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Photo: Brett Forsyth, Flickr, CC BY 2.0
Much of US food is wasted because of aesthetics, but more people are realizing that twisty carrots are as good as ordinary carrots — “perfect imperfections.”

I like how the radio show Living on Earth manages to find the environmental angle for whatever is in the news.

A recent episode addressed how “social distancing and staying at home is whetting consumers’ appetite for grocery delivery” and how some companies that deliver “aim not only for convenience but for reducing food waste.” Host Steve Curwood introduces Bobby Bascomb’s interview with Abhi Ramesh, CEO of Misfits Market.

“STEVE CURWOOD: Companies including Hungry Harvest, Imperfect Produce, and Misfits Market work with farmers to collect produce that isn’t quite good enough for supermarket shelves but is still perfectly edible. They’ll pack them up and deliver weekly straight to your door. …

“BOBBY BASCOMB: Please explain your business model to us. …

“ABHI RAMESH: We essentially rescue a lot of different types of products that would otherwise go to waste in our food system. And we ship it directly to households. And the idea is that you can save money and also help combat the global food waste problem. …

“We make it a priority of ours to work with non-commercial farms. … We figure out what is consumable for human consumption, and we repurpose it and ship it directly to people.

“BASCOMB: And why would it otherwise be going to waste?

“RAMESH: [We see] three big buckets. The first one is an aesthetic reason. … The second big bucket is size constraints. So we’ll have products that are either too small or too large to sort of fit into the size restrictions that regular buyers would want. So we see some of that. And the third bucket, which I think a lot of people don’t necessarily think about, is simply excess. So you know, nature operates in interesting ways and isn’t necessarily always predictable. And buying patterns from large supermarkets and grocery chains are also not super, super in line with what growers are producing. So the food system produces a lot of excesses accidentally, and we’re able to purchase that and sell it to our subscribers at a big discount.

“BASCOMB: And where would these imperfect and excess fruit and vegetables go if not for services like yours? …

“RAMESH: If a grower is not able to sell stuff, they’ll either toss it or they’ll end up leaving it in the ground. So we, a lot of times we’ll see farms that choose not to harvest something that they’ve grown just because they think there’s not a market for it. …

“BASCOMB: Surely it could end up in a food pantry or something like that, though? …

“RAMESH: There’s a very, very, very small number of them that actually have the infrastructure today to go and ship items consistently to food banks and food pantries. … At Misfits Market, we sort of see ourselves as building that kind of pipeline and that infrastructure where it didn’t exist already. So we’re aggregating food from a lot of different growers. We sell what we can to folks that want to save food, want to eat more affordably. And then we actually donate a pretty large chunk of it to food banks and food pantries. …

“BASCOMB: Now, how do you know that the produce in a Misfits Market box would actually have gone to waste? I mean, an ugly carrot, for example, can still be shredded, or a bruised tomato can be made into sauce or something, right? …

“RAMESH: Yeah. So you know, in theory, [but] for every one grower that has access to, you know, a carrot shredder, there are twenty other carrot growers that do not. …

BASCOMB: Looking down the road, what do you see for the future of Misfits Market and this idea of avoiding food waste more generally? …

“Our goal over the next couple of years is to really grow Misfits Market to be a national brand that sort of embodies a lot of things we want to embody around the affordability of food and sustainability and food waste. … And also in the process, educate households and consumers on what they can do on their end to sort of tackle that food waste problem.

More at Living on Earth, here.

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Photo: Fusion/Food Exposed
“On a recent night in New York City, a group of foragers pulled 50 perfectly edible bagels and a bag of untarnished, fresh produce out of the garbage,” wrote Eillie Anzilotti in a Fast Company article. And that’s just the beginning.

Full-time but low-paid workers use food pantries; farmworkers seek out secret donation sites so their kids can eat. And meanwhile, where there is so much hunger, perfectly good food goes to waste.

I was watching the documentary Money, by Manny Kirchheimer, recently and heard an interviewee talk about being a “freegan.” A clearly well-educated and accomplished woman, she just couldn’t bear seeing all the food that goes to waste in New York and joined a freegan group. Of course, I had to look it up.

This explanation comes from a 2018 Fast Company article by Eillie Anzilotti.

“On a cold March night in New York City, snow still on the ground from a late-season nor’easter, a small group gathered around a pile of trash outside a Morton Williams supermarket in Midtown East. There were around 40 to 50 plastic bags piled high. A lot of them held normal waste–discarded packaging, crusts from people’s lunches. But Janet Kalish, an organizer with New York’s freegan group, opened one bag to find around 50 intact, edible bagels.

“Kalish and a handful of dedicated freegans — people who pull edible food from piles of waste in an art commonly known as ‘dumpster diving’ — organize tours in New York every couple of weeks. During meetings, Kalish and her co-organizers will discuss the larger issues of the city’s food system, including why so much edible waste ends up on the street. They’ll give newcomers advice on how and when to forage (late at night but before garbage pickup is ideal), what to look for, and how to make use of their salvaged sustenance.” More here.

If dumpster diving seems too extreme, you may like the impressive array of startups and nonprofits trying to get unused — but good — food to those who need it.

As Scott Kirsner reported in December, “The stats on food waste are staggering: Up to 40 percent of all food produced in the United States is never consumed, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“The bulk of that gets tossed out — by restaurants, stores, and homes, according to ReFED, a California nonprofit that focuses on reducing food waste. And when it winds up in a landfill, it rots and produces methane — a greenhouse gas that is far more potent than carbon dioxide.

But one bit of good news is that there has been an increase in activity locally, on the part of both startups and nonprofits, to try to reduce food waste and ensure that more food gets to people who can’t afford it, while it’s still edible.

Cambridge Crops, a startup in Somerville, is developing a new kind of protective layer for foods. It’s made from an edible protein extracted from natural silk. The company has been testing its coating on foods such as ground beef, cherries, and spinach leaves, demonstrating that it can inhibit the growth of bacteria and extend the amount of time the food can be sold by as much as 50 percent. The company raised $4 million from investors in July.

“Boston-based Phood Solutions is working on a system that couples cameras, scales, and software in a kitchen — say, at a big hotel or restaurant — to automatically identify what kinds of food are going to waste, and how much of it. …

“The Boston startup Spoiler Alert runs an online trading platform that enables food producers and distributors to get rid of excess inventory by selling it or donating it. Spoiler Alert charges subscription fees to sellers, as well as fees based on transaction volume. …

“Some of the food sold through Spoiler Alert winds up at discount grocery outlets like Daily Table, which sells food that is nearing its expiration date. …

“The nonprofit Food for Free distributed about 100,000 pounds of surplus food in the week leading up to Thanksgiving, says executive director Sasha Purpura. It asks donors such as Harvard University to freeze excess prepared food that would otherwise go uneaten, and then divides it into meals for people in need — including financially strapped students at state and community colleges, Purpura says.

“Food for Free will soon start collecting surplus food from Boston’s two convention centers, and in May the Cambridge biotech Biogen set up a kitchen in Kendall Square for the nonprofit’s exclusive use. …

“Hunger, says Ashley Stanley, ‘is not a problem of supply, but of distribution.’ Her Boston nonprofit, Lovin’ Spoonfuls, tries to address that. It collects food that would otherwise go unsold at grocery stores like Whole Foods and Big Y and distributes it to soup kitchens, safe houses, and after-school programs around the state.”

In the Globe article, you can also read about Boston Area Gleaners, CommonWealth Kitchen, Brewer’s Crackers, and more.

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Photo: Allison Aubrey/NPR
In the digester on his farm, Peter Melnik combines food waste with manure from his cows. The mixture cooks at about 105 degrees Fahrenheit. As the methane is released, it rises to the top of a large red tank with a black bubble-shaped dome to create electricity.

People are complicated. Even companies are complicated. Just the other day, I noted that I avoid Whole Foods because there is already enough money going to Amazon owner Jeff Bezos. Today I give you a story about something Whole Foods is doing for the environment.

Alison Aubrey reported the story for the PBS NewsHour and National Public Radio (NPR).

“If you piled up all the food that’s not eaten over the course of a year in the U.S., it would be enough to fill a skyscraper in Chicago about 44 times, according to an estimate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“And, when all this food rots in a landfill, it emits methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. In fact, a recent report from the United Nations from a panel of climate experts estimates that up to 10 percent of all human-made greenhouse gas emissions are linked to food waste.

So, here’s one solution to the problem: Dairy farmers in Massachusetts are using food waste to create electricity. They feed waste into anaerobic digesters, built and operated by Vanguard Renewables, which capture the methane emissions and make renewable energy.

“The process begins by gathering wasted food from around the state, including from many Whole Foods locations. We visited the chain’s store in Shrewsbury, Mass., which has installed a Grind2Energy system. It’s an industrial-strength grinder that gobbles up all the scraps of food the store can’t sell, explains Karen Franczyk, who is the sustainability program manager for Whole Foods’ North Atlantic region. …

“While Whole Foods donates a lot of surplus food to food banks, there’s a lot waste left over. Much of it is generated from prepping prepared foods. Just as when you cook in your own kitchen, there are lots of bits that remain, such as onion or carrot peel, rinds, stalks or meat scraps. The grinder turns all these bits into a slurry. …

“From here, the waste is loaded into a truck and sent to an anaerobic digester. ‘There’s no question it’s better than putting it in the trash,’ Franczyk says. She says the chain is committed to diverting as much waste as possible and aims for zero waste. …

“We visited Bar-Way Farm, Inc. in Deerfield, Mass. Owner Peter Melnik, a fourth-generation dairy farmer, showed us how his anaerobic digester, which is installed next to his dairy barn, works.

” ‘We presently take in about a 100 tons [of waste], which is about three tractor-trailer loads, every day,’ Melnik says. In addition to all the food waste from Whole Foods, he gets whey from a Cabot Creamery in the area, as well as waste from a local brewery and a juice plant.

“In the digester, he combines all of this waste with manure from his cows. The mixture cooks at about 105 degrees Fahrenheit. As the methane is released, it rises to the top of a large red tank with a black bubble-shaped dome.

” ‘We capture the gas in that bubble. Then we suck it into a big motor,’ Melnik explains. Unlike other engines that run on diesel or gasoline, this engine runs on methane. ‘This turns a big generator, which is creating one megawatt of electricity’ continuously. …

‘We only use about 10 percent of what we make, and the rest is fed onto the [electricity] grid,’ [enough] to power about 1,500 homes.

“He says times are tough for dairy farmers, so this gives him a new stream of revenue. … In addition, he’s able to use the liquids left over from the process as fertilizer on his fields.”

More here.


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Photo: Jim Davis/Globe Staff
Marc Wallerce (left), owner of the Winthrop Marketplace, greets Jeffrey Carson of Mi-Amore as Carson picks up food for distribution to families that need it.

Wow, there are as many ways to get food to people who might otherwise go hungry as there are people who want to end hunger. It was only a couple weeks ago that I posted about a food initiative in Toronto. Here’s one in Massachusetts.

Alison Arnett writes at the Boston Globe, “In 2014, Jeffrey Carson heard an NPR piece about how much food was wasted in America despite ongoing hunger. It hit a nerve with Carson, who himself had grown up in a family dependent on food stamps and had just had his first child, and he determined that he wanted to do something about it. ‘I wanted my daughter to come up in volunteerism that was part of our life,’ he added, not just something ‘we volunteered for once a year.’

“So Carson and his wife, Suzanne, both veterans, began to work on creating a nonprofit in Winthrop where they live. The idea for Mi-Amore seemed ‘so simple,’ says Carson: Food was going to waste — in the United States it is estimated that as much as 30 percent to 40 percent of edible food is wasted each year — and yet there were people who went hungry. As military officers, both he and his wife were used to finding solutions to problems, Carson says.

“There were many snags along the way, but today Mi-Amore provides food for 40 elderly people, single-parent families, and recovering addicts in Winthrop. Unusual among food relief programs where recipients must go to a central soup kitchen or food aid office open only restricted hours, Mi-Amore’s eight volunteers, all Winthrop residents, pick up the donated food three times a week and deliver it to the homes of the recipients. Most families get at least one delivery of food a week. The program has a board of town residents, and donations of surplus food from the Winthrop Marketplace, several restaurants, assisted-living centers, and schools. …

“Half of the recipients are children. When asked about recovering addicts, Carson says that ‘recovering’ can be a loose term but is quick to recount what one board member, a school nurse, told him. ‘Having food in your refrigerator sometimes is the line between recovering or not,’ she said, adding that the stress of no food can push some over the edge.

“The beginnings of Mi-Amore, in its third year, weren’t smooth, Carson says. After he and his wife did the structural work to set up a nonprofit, he contacted restaurants and other businesses about donating food that might go to waste, surprised when he got refusals or no answers. But then, Carson said, he met two women, Amie Hanrahan of The Arbors Assisted Living Communities and Ann Vasquez of La Siena restaurant, who immediately ‘got it,’ Carson says. … From that beginning, the program started to gain momentum.”

I’m not really surprised that two former military officers have shown perseverance when faced with the challenges of launching something new. As Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton, a former Marine, has often said in the context of what sorts of people he’d like to see run for office, veterans are generally people who are motivated by public service more than personal gain.

Jeffrey and Suzanne Carson strike me as perfect examples of veterans motivated by public service.

More at the Boston Globe, here.

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Photo: The Guardian
North America’s first pay-what-you-can grocer is located in Toronto and aims to keep overstocked but perfectly good food from going to a landfill.

I love stories about efforts to get surplus fresh food into the hands of people who might be going hungry otherwise. And keeping food out of landfills at the same time means killing two birds with one stone. But true confession: I am wasteful. I use the yummy inner parts of celery and lettuce first, and when I get around to the outer parts, they don’t look worth saving. Do I put on my thinking cap and make these leftovers into soup or something? I do not. Sometimes I compost them. I’d be interested in your ideas.

In Canada, a grocery store may have the best solution yet for food that is still good to eat but overstocked.

As Ashifa Kassam writes at the Guardian, “In a bright, airy Toronto market, the shelves are laden with everything from organic produce to pre-made meals and pet food. What shoppers won’t find, however, is price tags. In what is believed to be a North American first, everything in this grocery store is pay-what-you-can.

“The new store aims to tackle food insecurity and wastage by pitting the two issues against each other, said Jagger Gordon, the Toronto chef who launched the venture earlier this month.

“Every provision is donated by a network of partners across the region, and many of them – from blemished or misshapen produce to staples that are nearing their expiry date – would have otherwise ended up in landfills. …

“The store, which also includes a pay-what-you-can bakery and cafe, is the latest initiative to emerge from his non-profit firm, Feed It Forward. The roots of the organisation trace back to 2014, borne out of Gordon’s frustration at the C$31bn (£17.6bn) worth of food that ends up in Canadian landfills and compost sites each year while one in eight Toronto households struggles to put food on the table. …

“Prices are entirely up to the customer. ‘If you can afford to pay more, go right ahead,’ said Gordon. ‘If you can’t pay for what you have, then don’t.

“ ‘What I have noticed is people look into the baskets, try to calculate what it is and then say, “is this acceptable?” And I just say, “are you kidding me? Whatever you can give is fine, but if you are unable to make a donation, we won’t let anyone go hungry.” ‘ …

“Any profits are poured back into the store, covering costs such as rent and the transport of provisions. More than 600 volunteers help to staff the store and Gordon supplements its income with fundraising events, donations and revenue from his catering business. …

“As the store nears its closing time, Gordon surveys its largely empty shelves. ‘I’m a little disappointed that I have food left. … We’re going to the streets and hand it all out. We won’t stop until our food is gone.’ …

“Many have welcomed the initiative, but others question the sustainability of its business model. Gordon is quick to brush aside such concerns, pointing to pay-what-you-can initiatives that have been successful in Europe and noting that his soup bar managed to pay for itself.”

More at the Guardian, here.


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Photo: Toast Ale 
Toast Ale brews its commercial ales with surplus bread at a brewery in Yorkshire. It also pairs up local breweries and bakeries to help them tackle food waste in their own communities.

I have never been a beer drinker, but I have to give a thumbs-up to Toast Ale in the UK because it’s trying to reduce food waste through an unusual brewing process.

Carolyn Beeler of PRI’s The World has the story. “It’s a Wednesday night in central London and the trendy Temple Brew House pub is packed with people out for after-work beers and burgers. A crowd in one corner is sipping intently from half-pint tasting glasses, savoring a beer they helped brew about a month earlier using an unusual ingredient: leftover bread. …

“The beer was brewed at the pub’s tiny in-house brewery in collaboration with Toast Ale, a British craft beer company that uses waste bread to make beer on a commercial scale.

“ ‘In the UK, 44 percent of all bread is wasted,’ says Toast Ale’s chief brand and finance officer Louisa Ziane. ‘So we take surplus bread from bakeries and sandwich makers, and we replace a third of the barley that would otherwise have been used to brew, upcycling bread that would have otherwise been wasted.’ …

“Once the company starts turning a profit, it plans to donate those profits to Feedback, a charity that fights against food waste and shares a founder, Tristram Stuart, with the beer brand. (The company says it’s been able to make donations to Feedback already through its local collaborations.) …

“Around the world, about one-third of the food that’s produced ends up going to waste. That’s a big problem for the world’s hungry, but it’s also a big contributor to climate change: Producing that food emits as much greenhouse gases as many individual countries. …

“ ‘There are bakeries up and down the country who are left with surplus bread at the end of the day, and there are also over 2,000 breweries in the UK,’ Ziane says, so Toast is playing matchmaker with these local bakeries and breweries. …

Toast says it works with bakeries to make sure they’ve exhausted the options to get bread to people who would eat it before agreeing to turn it into beer. …

“Michael Mulcahy, who helped stir up that mash with a red plastic shovel, says, ‘It takes it away from being a hippie environmentalist thing,’ Mulcahy says. ‘It’s the pub. It’s the guys at the bar drinking beer, it’s football and baseball.’

Toast’s beer recipe is online for home-brewers to try, and the company has franchised or licensed its brand in South Africa, Brazil and Iceland. Last year they expanded to the New York City area.” More here.

My husband once tried home brewing, but it was a lot of work, and the beer that resulted didn’t taste as good as the beers he could buy. Still, if someone is into home brewing, the Toast recipe could be fun to try.

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In Massachusetts, large facilities are complying with a food-waste ban, creating many green jobs and boosting economic activity.

EcoRi News reports, “The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently issued a report which found that the state’s commercial food waste ban has created more than 900 jobs and stimulated $175 million in economic activity during its first two years.

“Implemented in 2014, the nation’s first food scrap and organics ban requires any commercial organization that disposes of a ton or more of food scrap a week to pull it out of the waste stream and reuse it, send it for composting or animal feed operations, or use it in an anaerobic digestion facility that produces renewable energy.

“The report, conducted by ICF International Inc. of Cambridge, assessed the economic development benefits of food-waste-reduction initiatives. The 25-page report compared jobs and economic activity among food-waste haulers; composting, anaerobic digestion and animal feed operations; and food-rescue organizations before and after the Oct. 1, 2014 implementation of the ban. The ban creates jobs by driving a market for alternatives to disposing of food waste in Dumpsters, according to the report.

“The report also shows that food-waste haulers and processors, as well as food-rescue organizations, employ 500 people directly, while supporting more than 900 jobs when accounting for indirect and induced effects. These sectors generate more than $46 million of labor income and $175 million in economic activity. …

“About 1,700 facilities, including restaurants, hotels and conference centers, universities, supermarkets and food processors, are covered under the ban.” More here.

Meanwhile, the more of us who convert our own food scraps to compost for our yards, our friends’ yards, or community gardens, the better for the envionment. “One and one and 50 make a million,” after all.

Photo: Green Fingers
Converting food scraps to compost instead of putting them in the trash. In Massachusetts, large facilities are complying with a food-waste ban. Individual efforts add up, too.

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Photo: Daily Table
Fresh surplus food is sold for less, with help from a distribution platform called Spoiler Alert.

A logistics company that moves unwanted, unneeded but perfectly fresh food to people who do want and need it has chosen the perfect Internet slang for its name: Spoiler Alert. Ordinarily, “spoiler alert” is what you say if you are recommending or reviewing a film or book and don’t want to spoil the ending for someone else. In this case, it’s about delivering fresh food where it’s needed before it spoils.

Janelle Nanos writes at the Boston Globe, “Spoiled food is a costly problem, accounting for about $218 billion in financial losses to US farms, businesses, and consumers each year, according to ReFED, a group of companies, nonprofits, and foundations that was formed last year to minimize food waste. Since its launch in 2015, Spoiler Alert’s food-matching platform has been adopted by 200 businesses and nonprofits in New England to cut down on waste and encourage donations by making them easier to track.

“The company was created by two MIT Sloan School of Management graduates, Ricky Ashenfelter and Emily Malina, and their chief technology officer, Marty Sirkin, and has worked its way through the city’s accelerator programs, winning $50,000 from MassChallenge in 2015 and a spot in this year’s Techstars Boston cohort. …

” ‘At Daily Table I like to think of Spoiler Alert as an opportunity to further meet our mission of capturing healthy, tasty products before they make it to compost or trash,’ said Ismail Samad, executive chef of the Dorchester grocery store, which sells food and prepared meals gleaned from donations. He said he relies heavily on Spoiler Alert to source the food for his store shelves.

“But part of Spoiler Alert’s recent success can be credited to another, rather wonky aspect of its platform, which helps companies navigate the tax code. [In December 2015], Congress passed a bill that expanded the tax breaks companies can receive for donating food, making it easier for small businesses to donate and for farmers to assess the fair market value of their inventories.” Read how it all comes together, here.

A nonprofit organization that is also a MassChallenge winner and does similar work in the region is Lovin’ Spoonfuls, which I blogged about here. MassChallenge is a startup accelerator that helps new companies get launched. Its judges are partial to companies that can do well by doing good, bless their hearts.

Photo: Lovin’ Spoonfuls
Lovin’ Spoonfuls donates food to Safe Haven, a housing program run by the Bedford (MA) Veterans Administration.

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I’ve been encouraged to see an increased focus on keeping food from going to waste when so many people are hungry.

In the Boston area, for example, Spoiler Alert and 2012 Mass Challenge winner Lovin’ Spoonfuls are just two of several local organizations moving leftovers and surplus to places they can be used. And how about Daily Table, which makes delicious prepared meals from surplus ingredients and sells the meals at low prices?

Meanwhile, in France, action is taking place on a national scale.

Writes NewCo Shift, “Back in 2014, the third largest supermarket chain in France, Intermarché, launched their memorable ‘Inglorious’ fruits and vegetables campaign. To help reduce ‘cosmetic’ food waste, Intermarché sold scarred, disfigured and odd-shaped fruits and vegetables for 30 per cent less than ‘normal-looking’ produce. On the back of their playful marketing and waste-conscious campaign, many supermarkets all over the world followed suit and wonky veg has been the unlikely pin-up of food waste ever since.

“[France was] the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food, forcing them to donate to food banks and charities instead. The law was a result of a grassroots campaign launched by councillor, Arash Derambarsh. After his petition gained more than 200,000 signatures and celebrity support in just four months, he managed to persuade French MP’s to adopt the regulation, which is now being copied in different parts of the world. Since the ban has been in place, over 300,000 tonnes of food has been saved from landfill and redistributed to France’s three networks of food banks. …

“Let’s not forget France’s most shimmering, sequin-laden, food-saving exports: Disco Soupe! Disco Soupe (or disco soup) has captured the imagination of the world, proving to be one of the most fun events out there, while reducing food waste. Strangers collide, music spins, food is saved from the clutches of the bin, chopped to the beat and eaten with rhythm.”

More at NewCo. If you like this topic, you can also subscribe to Zero Waste Weekly here. Do you tweet? You might like to follow the entertaining @UglyFruitAndVeg. Send your whimsical pictures of produce to those folks and join the fun.

Photo: Shift.NewCo.co

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I was thinking about “evaporative cooling” as I got out of the shower this morning and shivered.

In summer’s heat it’s nice how the evaporation of water on your skin cools you down, but in winter, the process is not so welcome.

Still, the principle is something that innovators in hot climates think about a lot, applying it to keeping produce cool so it lasts longer.

Stephanie Buglione, at Nourishing the Planet, has a story on this concept. She focuses on a nonprofit group called Practical Action and how it is using something called zeer pots to reduce food waste.

She explains, “Practical Action, a nongovernmental organization that works with farmers in Southern Africa, Latin America, and South Asia, encourages the use of earthenware refrigerators called zeer pots to help prevent post-harvest food waste. The pot-in-pot refrigerator design keeps fruits and vegetables cool by harnessing the principle of evaporative cooling. These pots can extend the shelf life of harvested crops by up to 20 days by reducing storage temperature.

“The design consists of a large outer pot and a smaller inner pot, both made from locally available clay. Wet sand is added between the two pots and is kept moist. Evaporation of the liquid in the sand draws heat out of the inner pot, in which food can be stored. …

“Zeer pots can provide flexibility for farmers by enabling them to store crops and sell in response to market demand, which can translate into greater income. Extended shelf life also translates into longer-term food sources for farmers and their families. Ultimately, this inexpensive and low-tech system can help farmers and low-income households save food and prevent waste.” More.

Sometimes the best technology is the simplest.

Photo: Noor Khamis/Reuters
Nairobi, Kenya. Many Africans are challenged to keep their fruits and vegetables fresh if they lack electricity for refrigeration. Zeer pots are a low-tech solution that uses the principle of evaporative cooling.

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