It’s difficult to swallow the contradictory statistic that 50 million Americans are food insecure while 40 percent of the food produced in the U.S. is wasted, according to the NRDC. Food recovery entrepreneur and advocate, Dana Frasz — founder of Oakland, Calif.-based food-recovery non-profit Food Shift— suggests that the sustainable food movement could use a new recipe. Those working on hunger should not just look at providing food, but how they can create jobs.
“Food isn’t enough. People need work and the support to sustain themselves individually,” she said in a recent interview.
Simultaneously addressing food waste and feeding the food insecure at the local level while creating much-needed jobs in low-income/food insecure communities is the concept behind Alameda Kitchen, a new project of Food Shift.
When the Santa Clara Country Recycling and Waste Reduction Committee hired Food Shift to conduct a study of food waste in the region, Frasz and her team discovered that while there are several food recovery groups, businesses and organizations working on food waste, they are grossly under-resourced and lacking in proper infrastructure (refrigeration, trucks, drivers, computers, etc.) needed to logistically reach full potential. And with that, the idea for Alameda Kitchen was born.
Combining these learnings with inspiration from organizations such as the DC Central Kitchen and New York City's Hot Bread Kitchen, Alameda Kitchen will focus on rescuing food from local farms, distributors and grocery stores that is deemed too damaged or blemished to sell, and creating jobs that then turn that recovered food into healthy products that feed food-insecure locals.
It wasn’t until late one night in the dining hall at Sarah Lawrence that it became clearer how her desire to give back would manifest itself. After being horrified when witnessing trays full of food being tossed in the trash at the end of dinner, she decided to start an on-campus food-recovery group. This volunteer-based and student-led group, Empty Bellies, drove hundreds of pounds of recovered food from campus to a soup kitchen in the Bronx every day for several years. But the organization eventually fizzled out after she and many of the dedicated volunteers graduated.
“It wasn’t integrated into the infrastructure of the community,” Frasz explained. “I realized we needed a different model. We need to look at food waste as something that is properly managed and supported like recycling and trash.”
In 2012, Frasz started Food Shift, which has since recovered over 100,000 pounds of food in California’s East Bay. In its first few years of operation, Food Shift focused advocacy efforts on education and outreach around food waste.
“No one was talking about it, not even in the sustainable food movement,” she lamented.
Now, with the Alameda Kitchen, Frasz aims to build on Food Shift’s work redistributing food to the needy through a more systemic approach to the issue. The Kitchen will be housed in the Alameda Point Collaborative (APC), which houses previously homeless individuals and families. APC residents will be offered job training to transform fruits and vegetables into premium products such as jams, dried fruits, smoothies and other healthy snacks that will be sold to local businesses. Doing so will help Alameda Kitchen subsidize offering these products at a low cost to local organizations such as homeless shelters, schools and senior centers to serve to the food insecure.
Frasz says APC was an obvious home for the project, as 99 percent of the residents live below the poverty line and 85-90 percent are unemployed; as a result, the majority relies on food banks and low-cost foods. And APC just happened to have a kitchen that wasn’t being utilized – no small potatoes considering that renting a commercial kitchen can be costly, particularly for a lean non-profit such as Food Shift.
Food Shift launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign with the goal of raising $30,000 to start the Alameda Kitchen — with two weeks left to go, it is just over $6,000 shy of its target. The funds raised will help to pay fair wages to APC resident workers and increase access to healthy affordable food in the surrounding community. Those who contribute to the campaign can take advantage of several perks, such as a week’s worth of produce from Imperfect, an Oakland-based CSA that provides “imperfect” produce, or a copy of The Waste Free Kitchen Handbook by Dana Gunders.
“The kitchen has been in my mind and heart for a long time,” Frasz said, and she hopes to someday see kitchens like this replicated in every community in the U.S.