When we think of sustainable practices and green efforts, recycling and reducing usage of materials and power sources are among the first things that spring to mind. However, there is one waste problem that is commonly overlooked.
Two billion dollars a year: the amount of money that American consumers, businesses and farms spend on growing, transporting and disposing of food that is never eaten. This equates to over 50 million tons of food that is sent to landfills annually—over 40% of all food produced goes to waste. This food is the single largest component of U.S. municipal solid waste and accounts for a large portion of the U.S. methane emissions.
The main culprits contributing to this astonishing figure are food service establishments. Vast amounts of perfectly servable, unspoiled food are thrown away at the end of each night.
Ironically, at the same time, nearly 50 million Americans (including more than 15 million children) live in food-insecure households. The USDA defines “food insecurity” as the occasional lack of access to enough food for all household members. In 2015, 13% of American households lived with food insecurity. Five percent of these households experienced very low food security, meaning the food intake of some household members was reduced and normal eating patterns were disrupted due to limited resources.
In the last eight years, it has become increasingly clear that this is a problem of the working poor—having to make hard decisions between buying enough food to feed a family or paying bills and keeping a roof over their head.
In 2012, Chefs to End Hunger (CTEH), a nonprofit foundation, set out to reduce food waste and fght hunger. The foundation was started by LA&SF Specialty, a distributor of wholesale produce, dairy and other specialty foods to dining establishments.
The Chefs to End Hunger mission focuses on facilitating the redistribution of prepared food from hotel, restaurant and other food service customers to local charitable organizations that serve meals to their communities in need.
LA&SF’s delivery by refrigerated trucks to over 2,000 locations daily puts CTEH at the forefront of executing the mission of food recovery. While going about daily deliveries, the trucks also supply boxes and foil sheet pans for the waste food. These boxes are then collected the next day within the companies’ scheduled product delivery hours, eliminating the need for any extra trucks to be put on the road.
Chefs can participate and do their part to feed the hungry simply by packing and labeling the requisite Chefs to End Hunger boxes, storing them in their coolers and handing over full boxes to their LA&SF driver during their regularly scheduled deliveries. These chefs can turn their food waste into a charitable donation and provide meals to the hungry.
Midnight Mission was the foundation’s first partner and this relationship allowed them to experiment and fine-tune the process. The Midnight Mission, located on Los Angeles’ Skid Row, serves up to 90,000 meals a month (1,000 people per meal, three meals a day, seven days a week), in addition to offering emergency services, a 12-step recovery program, job training, education and work programs. It was founded in 1914 and is the oldest continuously operating human service organization in LA. A nonprofit, Midnight Mission operates solely on donations.
After building this relationship and establishing a working business model, CTEH began to form many more exciting partnerships with charitable organizations such as The Las Vegas Rescue Mission, The Phoenix Rescue Mission, Hope 4 the Heart, World Harvest Food Bank and Bracken’s Kitchen.
Since 2016, CTEH has also partnered with various film and television studios such as Blizzard Entertainment, Disney Studios, Dreamworks, Fox Studios, Burbank Radio, Riot Games, Warner Bros., Paramount Studios and Bad Robot. In 2016, total studio returns were 1,792 kits, equating to 51,870 portions. So far in 2017, total studio returns are 1,129 kits, equating to 33,870 portions. The overall forecast for 2017 is set to hit 58,000 portions from these participating studios alone.
A highly notable pairing to date has been between CTEH and the Academy Awards’ Governor’s Ball, famously catered by Wolfgang Puck. For over 23 years, Chef Puck’s kitchen has prepared the menu for this ball. Historically, much of this food is wasted as production often exceeds demand. Instead of wasting these exquisite delicacies, Puck has paired with CTEH to deliver the vast quantities of leftovers to those in need and has done so for the last six years.
After each of the Oscar events, Puck’s kitchen packs up 15 to 30 large size foil pans, each of which feed 30+ people. In 2017, the menu boasted short ribs, an entire octopus, chilled soups, Parmesan funnel cakes and elaborate desserts, including edible “Oscar” statues. Puck intends to carry on this simple act of kindness for years to come and nurture the partnership with CTEH.
“These donations help us provide the almost 1 million meals that we serve each year to the neediest people in our community,” says The Midnight Mission’s Georgia Berkovich. “Our organization’s goal is to restore people to self-sufficiency and combat the issues surrounding homelessness. Good community partnerships can serve as a bridge to meaningful transformation, and we are so proud to be teaming up with some of Los Angeles’ best restaurants, chefs and all those who help serve people who are hungry, with or without homes.“