FOOD DONATION: It’s a good thing, and it’s a green thing, too
I recall working in Vancouver in the ’90s, where our caterer occasionally gave the leftovers to local homeless people in the area. But how often have we thought about this on a larger scale? Are we really aware of the scope of how many people in America go hungry each and every day? And what can producers do about it?
In 2013, 45.3 million people in America lived in poverty, including
14.7 million children under the age of 18 and 4.2 million seniors over the age of 65. At the same time, 49.1 million Americans lived in food-insecure households, essentially, homes that had no idea where their next meal was coming from. Sadly, the households with children reported a significantly higher rate of food insecurity than those without
And yet 40% of the food in the United States goes uneaten. That amounts to 20 pounds of food per person every month, and enough food to fill an entire college stadium every day. Almost all of that uneaten food winds up rotting in landfills, where it accounts for nearly 25% of America’s methane emissions.
To address this issue, the EPA has instituted the Food Recovery Challenge, raising awareness of the environmental health and nutrition issues created by wast ed food. FRC members receive help in planning, implementing and tracking wasted food prevention and diversion activities. In 2013, FRC participants diverted 375,307 tons of food scraps from landfills, including 98,293 tons of donated food.
Our own PGA Green includes a food donation section in its Green Production Guide, with two pages of pertinent information on food donation and an agreement template for your production’s use, should you have food to donate.
Some entertainment industry organizations have expressed concerns over putting themselves at legal risk with food donation programs. Fortunately, legislation signed in 1996, the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, provides uniform national protection to citizens, businesses and non-profit organizations that act in good faith to donate, recover and distribute excess food.
The Act is designed to encourage donations to non-profits such as homeless shelters, soup kitchens and churches, for distribution to needy individuals. It states that absent gross negligence or intentional misconduct, volunteers, non profits and businesses shall not be subject to civil or criminal liability from the nature, age, packaging or condition of apparently wholesome food and fit grocery products received as donations.
Several studios have food donation programs in place for both their commissary operations and production catering on their films and television shows. Sony, NBC Universal and Warner Bros. are all participants.
Mike Slavich, Director of Sustainability at Warner Bros., notes that the studio has had a recycling program in place since 1989 and is currently working on a composting program. Locally, their cafeteria operation donates to New Way Foundation, including 23,000 meals last year. The studio also donates all surplus materials through the WB Encore Program. The Mentalist, filming in New York, uses the company Rock and Wrap It Up! to pick up and distribute their donated food.
Rock and Wrap It Up! is a NY–based anti-poverty organization found ed in 1991. Through their efforts, more than one billion meals have been recovered from concert caterers, sports arena concessions, high school and college cafeterias, hotel kitchens and now, TV and film productions. Recently, Sony, NBC Universal and Warner Bros. have authorized Rock and Wrap It Up! to recover food from all their New York productions.
Abby Kaish at Rock and Wrap It Up! states: “We keep track of all our recoveries and present the totals to each production when they wrap. I was in Los Angeles in August and met with sustainability reps from Warner Bros., NBC Universal, Sony, Paramount, 20th Century Fox and Disney regarding our latest food recovery techniques. Although we are based in New York, we have helped productions in California, Connecticut, New Jersey, Boston, Oregon, New Orleans, Miami, Georgia and Maine recover their leftover food.”
Shannon Bart, Sustainable Production Manager at NBCUniversal, reports that their food donation program started in 2009. “Donating food is a priority for the company, and we have set up partnerships with local non-profits in the different cities where we film” she states. “The most comprehensive food donations happen in New York City, Los Angeles and Toronto. However, we also donate food in Portland, New Orleans, Atlanta and various other cities around the country.”
In 2013, twenty NBC Universal productions donated roughly 28,000 meals, (representing more than 36,000 pounds of food) to local charitable organizations. “While we are still compiling numbers for 2014, The Nest, Trainwreck, Straight Outta Compton and Jurassic World are film productions that donated food this summer,” observes Bart. “Our television productions donating food include Parenthood, About a Boy, Covert Affairs, Suits and Grimm — as well as our new productions of Peter Pan, The Slap, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Odyssey and Allegiance.”
Bart also adds that the studio’s newly-renovated commissary is operated by Wolfgang Puck Catering, which donates leftover food regularly through the Chefs to End Hunger program.
Bart introduced me to Yoav Getzler, the Founder and Executive Director of The Entertainment Industry Hunger Project (TEIHP), which serves the same function here in Los Angeles as Rock and Wrap It Up! does in New York. Yoav, like many of his green colleagues, is passionate about feeding hungry people while diverting food from the landfills, collecting 3,000 pounds of food from NBC Universal’s Straight Outta Compton. Other productions he has serviced include Charlie Wilson’s War, House of Lies, Hangover 3, the Entourage movie and State of Affairs.
These programs throughout the country and certainly in our industry are going a long way not only to feed people who need a helping hand, but also preventing methane-creating waste from reaching our landfills. Thankfully, more and more people are thinking green these days. Hopefully, you’re one of them. Let’s keep it up.
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