Recovered Food: An Untapped Resource in the Fight Against Hunger

January 20, 2014 08:02 AM

IMG 3454By Cara Mayo, Food Recovery Network

At the recent Farm Journal Forum, professionals from many agriculture-related businesses came together to discuss innovations in agriculture that will help us answer one of many critical questions: How are we going to feed the world in 2050 when our population has risen to more than 9.5 billion? As a professional with a finite knowledge of the technologies utilized in agriculture these days, I was utterly amazed at the tech-savvy solutions on the table. Then, midway through, a comment was made about the 40% of edible food that is wasted every year. My ears perked up at this for reasons you will understand shortly, but the rest of the room seemed unfazed and the comment was more or less lost in a sea of technological progress.

That moment made me realize just how far those of us in the field of food recovery have to go to prove that it is the most simple and cost-effective way to start answering the question I posed to you moments ago. How will we feed an exponentially growing population when we can’t even feed every person alive today? The answer might actually be right in front of your nose. You see, there is more food out there than you can probably imagine. Where? Landfills.

Developed countries waste a vast majority of their food at the post-consumer level for a variety of reasons as opposed to developing countries whose food waste occurs at the post-harvest and processing stages. In the U.S., this majority takes the form of 40% of edible food, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Whether it’s because the potato is funny shaped, the carrot is too stubby and small, the apple is slightly bruised or it spoiled in the back of your fridge, billions of pounds of fresh, healthy, edible food are thrown away every year. This food then serves no purpose but to take up space and release a significant amount of methane gas into our atmosphere, contributing to climate change and harming our environment. When we consider that 1 in 6 American families don’t know where their next meal is coming from and 1 in 5 American children are food-insecure, it’s hard to imagine why we haven’t tapped into this resource yet.

Our organization, Food Recovery Network, raises awareness about the link between food waste and hunger in the U.S. Our primary activities involve supporting college students around the country who want to recover food from their dining halls or community and donate it to a local nonprofit. So far, our efforts have made a difference in 49 communities across the nation by donating more than 245,000 lbs. of recovered food to local nonprofits since September 2011. That’s over 196,000 meals that would have been thrown out. It has been an eye-opening experience working for the Food Recovery Network. I have participated in food recovery events and heard from recipient organizations firsthand about how much of a difference recovered food donations have made in their operations.

It’s always a pleasure talking to people about food recovery because it’s a common issue that everyone seems to support—and why shouldn’t they? It’s simple, fast and cheap. But I think the most exciting part about food recovery is that everyone and anyone can participate. This isn’t something like saving the rainforest where all you can do is donate your money and hope it’s going into good hands or waiting around for a technology to become affordable and reliable. Food recovery is an act of service that can be completed by anyone who wants to take a stand in his or her community. We have all the resources we need to do it right here!

The best part is, we’re at the tip of the iceberg. The EPA estimates that 72 billion pounds of food is wasted every year in the U.S. and only 3 % of that is recovered. This could equal out to more than 57 million meals every year that could be fed to hungry people in the U.S. alone. So how are we going to feed the world in 2050? Maybe, we already have part of the solution on our plates.

Cara Mayo is a New Chapter Coordinator at Food Recovery Network, a 3-year-old startup NGO that supports college students around the country who want to recover food from their dining halls or community and donate it to a local nonprofit. She believes firmly that everyone has the right to healthy and affordable food.

To learn more about FRN’s fight against food waste and hunger and how you can help, visit

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