Reflections on the 2nd Annual Food Tank Summit in nYC

One of the many perks of living in Washington, DC is being a stone's throw away from New York City, which is home to a myriad of conferences and events centered around the new food movement. On October 3rd, I was able to make the hop to the Big Apple for Food Tank’s second annual Summit in NYC - focused on food loss and food waste. It was a day filled with food movement heavyweights including Haile Thomas of HAPPY; Dan Barber of Blue Hill; and representatives from the NRDC, Feeding America, and ReFED.

A prominent national non-profit, Food Tank has filled a necessary role in the new food movement serving as a think tank and incubator around food. They elevate ideas and innovations that will move our food system into a new era: a reorganization of our food system to provide nutrition for those in need and the millions more who will join the planet as our population continues to grow. A vital component of this is ensuring that the new proposed systems are just; prioritizing and honoring the cultural heritage of food and its growers, eradicating food deserts in urban areas, and further managing our excess food and waste in a way that is social and environmentally sound.  

The summit was brimming with diverse ideas and thoughtful insights. However, as the new food movement begins to solidify and take shape, some contradictory ideas are starting to compete for space to be heard and valued. Sentiments ranged from chef Marco Canora wanting to increase the value of food to prevent waste: “I really think everyone needs to spend more money on food,” to Sheryll Durrant, a non-profit organizer, who thinks that “[disadvantaged communities] shouldn’t pay for their food- it’s a resource that keeps us alive.” There was also conflict around where to spend energy innovating. Brad Nelson, from Marriott International, sees the need to “[raise] awareness that this is a food recovery problem, not a food cost problem [in the restaurant industry].” In contrast to Marion Nestle’s views, a NYU Professor, that food recovery operates as a secondary parallel food system to our primary one, and believes this should be changed through politics.

Representing FRN, I was most excited for the panel on “Improving Food Recovery.” The panel was incredibly well represented with a diverse range of key players; the NRDC, a local NYC Food Pantry, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, a local food recovery non-profit: New York Common Pantry, Feeding America, and ReFED. Here are four main takeaways I took from their food recovery discussion:

1. Increasing Awareness of Food Recovery

Karen Hanner, from Feeding America, said that the greatest challenge she faces with food recovery is simply awareness. She called for accountability from every player in the food supply chain to be aware of their waste and recognize that safe food recovery can happen at any step in the supply chain.

2. Healthy Food Donations and Distribution with Dignity


Andre Thompson, the Director of Food Programs at New York Common Pantry, spoke about the vital importance of healthy food being donated. His pantry primarily serves the Bronx and East Harlem, which have the lowest health indexes out of all of NYC’s counties. Many chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease are linked to poor diet, and New York Common Pantry is trying to combat these health issues. “We are feeding stomachs, but we don’t want to feed the disease,” Thompson said. Most of the food that is served in their soup kitchen and pantry is rescued. Thompson stressed the importance of having strong enough relationships with donors to begin the conversation around healthy food donations: “It’s a very difficult conversation to have...we want to ensure the [food] we are handing off is nutritious.”

Thompson also spoke about upholding the dignity of the people who come to his pantry. One way to maintain that dignity is through choice. “We offer a choice pantry model, where you are able to place your order on a touch screen tablet, so you have a choice in selecting the food items [that are] going into your pantry package.”

3. Raising Food Waste on the Political and Corporate Agenda

Chris Cochran, the Executive Director of ReFED, spoke about how we can use metrics to help the food recovery movement. He emphasized how economic gains from tax incentives are a strong motivator for businesses to recover their food. Cohran contrasted that with economic burden of food waste, “When we look at this problem, it’s not just the percentage [of food wasted], it’s actually 218 billion dollars [wasted] in the US.” He also stressed the importance of tracking food waste data saying, “Measurement creates management.” Cochran gave a shout out to Spoiler Alert, a non-profit that helps companies develop food waste tracking software and form reduction and donation plans.

Bonnie McClafferty, from the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, talked about her experience convincing African governments to prioritize food waste reduction. She emphasized that discussing the health and economic benefits of food waste reduction helps to build a stronger coalition invested in this cause; “Food waste is coming to the agenda because of the economic issue in an agricultural economy, but also because of the global health issue.”


4. Improving the System through Innovation.  

The most important takeaway from the panel was how beneficial idea sharing and innovation can be. The key classes of innovation are technology, focusing on the consumer, and earned revenue models.

Technology. ReFED currently tracks 500 companies in the business world for the innovations it is producing, 100 of which Cochran says are squarely in the food sector world. He highlighted the launch of Uber Freight -a hauling service - and how that new technology could be a potential partnership with Feeding America.

Consciously Redesigning the Food System. McClafferty gave an example from her work in Nairobi where food distribution is designed with the consumer in mind. On the outskirts of the Kibera slums there are milk ATM machines, which will depense milk for a fixed monetary rate. That way, if an individual does not have the ability to refrigerate their milk they could buy only what they would use that day, or purchase whatever amount they are able to afford. This example highlights how the food system can begin to shift to be designed for the food insecure and poor.

Earned Revenue Models. Robert Lee who co-founded Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, a food recovery non-profit in NYC, spoke about his non-profit business model. They charge clients a fee to pick up their excess food, but in return produce detailed monthly data reports on the amount of food donated so that these businesses can easily file the IRS Form 8283 to claim enhanced tax deductions. “[Food Recovery] needs to be mutually beneficial for everyone,” stressed Lee. Cochran highlighted Rescuing Leftover Cuisine as an example of how non-profits and other organizations in this industry are starting to innovate: by incorporating earned revenue models to compliment their grant funding. He predicts that the future of food recovery is bright; “We truly believe it is feasible to double food donations, especially of healthy foods...through these business model innovations.”

This panel greatly re-shaped my thinking on food recovery as a whole, specifically the concept of non-profits incorporating earned revenue models. As FRN matures and grows, this is something for us to consider especially as we expand our Food Recovery Verification (FRV) program. I’m extremely grateful to Food Tank for putting on such an invigorating summit, and am eager to see how the food movement continues to progress.

Mid-Atlantic Food Recovery Summit


On October 24th, the Food Recovery Network National Office attended the Mid-Atlantic Food Recovery Summit at Bowie State University. The Summit included speakers and panelists from different sectors all committed to reducing food waste. Those in attendance ranged from regulators and national nonprofits to small companies. Despite their differences, everyone was gathered together to share how they work to combat food waste. The FRN National Team greatly enjoyed the conversations of the day. We were all able to learn a tremendous amount about food waste reduction challenges and goal setting tactics. Please see below for a personalized account from each team member about the presentation or topic that they enjoyed most from the day.

Cassie Olovsson: Manager of External Partnerships

Within the first few minutes of the summit, keynote speaker, Tom O’Donnell of EPA Region 3 introduced a tiered approach of how to view food waste reduction goals. This approach would serve as a foundation for the day’s topics. He spoke to the fact that in order for food waste reduction goals to be met, both large, long term and daily, small-scale processes must be at work. With these wonderfully contrasting statements, Tom introduced an overarching theme that shaped how I went about the day. Within the various topics presented at the Summit, there were both large-scale opportunities for food waste reduction and food recovery improvement such as the National Restaurant Association’s efforts to reduce waste. Yet there were also more specific, detailed examples of how one business can make a difference, such as MOMs Organic Market’s effort to reduce and properly recycle waste. Food waste is a monumental issue crossing many sectors, industries, and countries. In order to combat this issue we must collaborate and look to one another to create numerous solutions, both big and small.

Dominique McMillan: Program & Outreach Fellow

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Laura Cassidy from City of Philadelphia Department of Prisons gave a presentation that exemplifies how even a prison program can teach sustainable values, such as composting and urban gardening. In exchange for their commitment to the program, the inmates are considered for early release. The program also offers the inmates the opportunity to earn a vocational certificate from Temple University. Laura finds her work meaningful because she is able to instill positive, sustainable values in the inmates, who she lovingly dubs her “coworkers.” Those that get out of prison after completing the program frequently reach out to thank her for making an impact in their lives and teach them how to positively impact their communities.

Sarah Bellaire: Program & Evaluation Fellow

I found the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) presentation, given by Jeff Clark, to be the most thought provoking from the “Addressing Gap in Surplus Food Donation” panel. The NRA partners with over 500,000 restaurants in the United States. The NRA recently released their 2018 State of Restaurant Sustainability Report, which acts as litmus test for the current state of food recovery in the restaurant sector. The stats were astonishing; of the restaurants polled, 47% track their food waste and only 22% of restaurants actually donate their surplus food. However, the most surprising statistic was that only 31% of restaurants are aware of the liability protection laws for food donation; yet, liability was cited as the highest concern for why restaurants don’t donate their surplus food. This highlights the need for an extensive educational campaign in the restaurant sector if we want to improve food recovery.

Rob Hopp: Evaluation Associate


During the Summit’s “Food Recovery in the Agriculture Sector” breakout session, Lynette Johnson, from Society of St. Andrew, and Amy Cawley, from the Maryland Food Bank focused their presentations on gleaning. They discussed a variety of topics including what gleaning looks like for their organizations, the numerous struggles of both gleaners and farmers, and the impact that gleaning can have on reducing food waste. Lynette, Amy, and their respective organizations would be great resources for all of our chapters that are interested in gleaning. I know they would be happy to have volunteers!

Hannah Cather: Program Manager

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Michelle Bennet, the staff advisor for the University of Delaware’s FRN chapter, believes in student leadership so much so that her presentation during the “Developing College and University Food Recovery Programs” was solely about how she supports the students leading the chapter. She supports her students by asking challenging questions, like “how will you handle consistently recovering food during stressful times of the year, like midterms?” She also holds them accountable to their project goals with questions like, “how’s that chapter handbook coming along?” Not every chapter is lucky enough to have such a supportive cheerleader, but now I have specific examples to share with other staff advisors.

Katie Aguila: Operations Associate

The Summit’s “Waste Reduction in the Hospitality Sector” breakout session brought together a diverse trio of speakers working to change the culture of food waste in hotels and other hospitality venues. The World Wildlife Fund, Hilton Hotels, and Astrapto LLC, a sustainability consulting firm based in Maryland, each gave insights into how they incentivize and implement food recovery initiatives in hospitality companies. I was struck by the differences in scope and scale of their food recovery initiatives, spanning multinational programs like Hilton Hotels’ Americas-wide Food Waste Pilot Program down to venue-specific initiatives like Astrapto’s work with the Baltimore Convention Center. Each organization is shifting our food culture towards waste reduction and food recovery, it reminds me that an equitable and just food system requires players of all sizes.

We want to thank Bowie State University and the Maryland Department of the Environment for hosting such an engaging and fun Summit! We were able to gain more knowledge about the ways other organizations are tackling food waste. We also made many meaningful connections and look forward to strengthening those relationships!

The Case of the Missing Containers: An FRN Horror Story

This story is loosely based on real-life events!

It’s Hallows Eve and there is a sharp cold wind and the trees are whipping back and forth. As you make your way over to the dining hall, you feel as if something is off. The usual excitement is instead replaced with apprehension.  You feel a tingly sensation in your gut. Could it be the mac and cheese from lunch, or is your body telling you something?

The Leadership team is trickling into the kitchen for the highlight of the day: food recovery! Your volunteers gather ‘round for the run of the mill food safety training. As the recovery schedule progresses, there is still this feeling of uncertainty. Something is off. You feel the vibration of your phone in your pocket and it’s a message from the Recovery Coordinator. The notification on your home screen says, “The reusable containers are MISSING!”

Time slows down and the sound of the person reading kitchen safety guidelines muffles in the background. You look up to see your Recovery Coordinator across the room. The sheer panic in their eyes makes your heart to start pound. You’ve only heard the stories of this horror from previous leadership, but you thought it was only a myth. Now, you’re experiencing it first hand. The containers are missing. How? Why now? Who has them? Are they safe?

You don’t want to alert every one of the news, because that will cause pandemonium, but you also can’t stay silent for much longer because the food safety training is almost complete. You are now Sherlock Holmes. The case is for you to solve, and what you do next will determine your legacy. You will either be the one who found and saved the containers or the infamous leadership team who let the unspeakable happen.

You move to the side to speak with the chef in the kitchen, trying not to show the anxiety boiling up inside you, you say, “Houston, we have a problem. Our reusable containers are missing. Would the kitchen have some pans to spare for today?”

The chef, who already makes it a little hard to recover because he would rather not have students in his kitchen, barks, “How did you lose those containers?”

The chef’s look of disdain leaves you with a frog in your throat and a knot in your stomach. You take a shallow breath and say, “I don’t know.”


Your answer does not satisfy the chef he scoffs under his breath and rolls his eyes at you. However, you muster up the courage to say, “We will find them. It is possible we left them at the Partner Agency. The process can be a little difficult at times. But, if you want compensation for the pans today, I will check with the national office about reimbursement.”

The directness of your answer left an impression. He did not expect you to come with a candid response, but it prompted him to grab those aluminum pans. With a bit of reverence, the chef says, “We actually have a few to spare. And don’t worry about the reimbursement. I apologize if I caused any offense. You all do great work and I am sure you will get your containers back from the Partner Agency.”

It is a win, but the reusable containers are still missing.

The recovery is complete and no one is too suspicious about using aluminum pans. Due to your excellent recruitment of volunteer drivers, you do not have to drop the food off at the Partner Agency today.

While the team goes on the delivery, you call the Partner Agency to ask about the pans.

“What do you mean? We already gave you the pans. After your last drop off we sent the pans back with someone.”

“Do you remember who?”

“Is that my job?”

“Thank you for your time. I will continue the search.”

What a phone call! If anyone tells you it is easy to lead, they lied. You just want to get ready for the FRN costume contest with your chapter, but the pan incident is hindering the fun. If dining doesn’t have the pans and your PA doesn’t have the pans, then where are they?

You continue your search for the containers. Hours, days, weeks go by and you keep searching. Where are the containers? Were they stolen? Who would do such a thing?!

You take time to think about your call with the PA, and you remember they gave the pans to someone, but who? Finally, you text the leadership team group chat.


“I think I might know where they are…”  The text you never saw coming.

“Where are they???”

You and your team meet at the South parking lot on campus. There is an odd smell in the air, but you think nothing of it. Who is the culprit? Who has the containers? A volunteer steps forward. “I think the containers are in there.”

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She points to the trunk of her car. Flies are swarming. Could it be? The volunteer grabs her car keys. Pressing the trunk button, the latch pops the trunk. An awful stench hits all of you in the face. The anticipation of the trunk opening makes you all lean in, and to your horror… The containers are crawling with maggots. The sound of them squirming leaves you to gag profusely.

You ask, “How did you not notice the container in your trunk all this time?”

She says, “This car is old. Any sound it makes, I think it is the sound of an aging car. On top of that, I rarely drive, unless it’s for the Friday trip to Chipotle.”

You don’t know if you should be surprised or let out a laugh. All this time, your containers were in the trunk of a volunteer’s car. You let out a deep sigh of relief because the horror is over. Well, for you at least. Your volunteer, not so much.

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Thank you to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro for the inspiration!

Food Recovery with Aloha Harvest

On O’ahu, Hawai’i, the small but mighty team at Aloha Harvest makes a monumental impact by recovering food and redistributing it across the island. Their work is vital because about 88% of the food consumed in Hawai’i is imported, not produced on the islands themselves. Food insecurity in Honolulu county currently sits at 11.4% and food waste is of special concern from both a logistic and environmental standpoint. This makes it all the more pressing to reduce food waste through recoveries, which Aloha Harvest does in a remarkably efficient fashion.

Ku’ulei Williams, the Executive Director of Aloha Harvest for over 10 years, speaks to the commitment of Aloha Harvest to make food recovery accessible. Aloha Harvest was modeled after City Harvest in New York City, which was designed to meet the needs of an urban community in a condensed space. City Harvest’s founder Helen verDuin Palit was brought to O’ahu for a year, by the Hau‘oli Mau Loa Foundation, to start a food recovery program. Though one might not initially think of NYC and O’ahu as similar places, located thousands of miles apart, with different climates, geography and populations,their needs for a mobile and dynamic food recovery program were much the same.

Aloha Harvest began operating with the same structure as City Harvest, utilizing trucks to pick up food from donors and delivering it that same day to recipients all over the island. Currently, Aloha Harvest uses two 16 foot refrigerated trucks.They also just added a high top van to their operation which helps them move freely on the one way streets of Waikiki, where larger vehicles are prohibited. With only these vehicles, three drivers, two recovery helpers, four office staff, and a few volunteers, their team accomplishes the incredible feat of recovering two million pounds of food a year.

Aloha Harvest strives to make food recovery easy and rewarding for their donors and recipients, so that they can all work towards increasing food security and environmental sustainability. In recent years, there has been an increased environmental focus on food recovery efforts because O’ahu's landfill, Waimanalo Gulch, is only projected to be viable for another 15 years. “I don’t know if you’re aware,” Williams informed us, “but one head of lettuce takes 25 years to decompose in our landfill, and it releases methane gas, which is worse than carbon dioxide.” Aloha Harvest has always been environmentally conscious, educating their partners about the environmental impact of food recovery so that donors see food recovery as a form of stewardship of their 'Āina, or land.  

The drivers’ routes start with two or three pickups each morning. Throughout the day, between two and twelve additional  food donors call into the office and are added electronically to the drivers’ pick up schedules. Drivers use tablets to record everything electronically, including the number of pounds recovered from each food donor. This allows them to provide metrics on the total amount of food recovered, and on the pounds recovered from individual donors. For instance, Williams was able to share that Sodexo at the Straub Medical Center, a Food Recovery Verified Account, has recovered 15,295 pounds since June of 2016. These metrics matter to Williams, who also thinks about the monetary value to donors, and feels a responsibility for the food.

Williams has goals to increase the amount of food Aloha Harvest recovers, and to make it more accessible to their recipient agencies. They work with a diverse group of over 170 hunger-fighting agencies, including soup kitchens, shelters, food pantries, and meal programs. Each has unique needs, which the drivers have become familiar with. Drivers try to distribute food according to each agency’s needs, but this isn’t always possible. Currently, the trucks deliver food to the Windward (North and East) side of the island on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and to the Leeward (South and West) side on Tuesday and Thursday.

Williams has plans to improve Aloha Harvest’s logistic capability to increase efficiency and further reduce food waste. For instance, a warehouse where the trucks could drop off food between pickups would enable agencies to pick up food themselves on the days that trucks don’t deliver to their side of the island. A staging area, where the food from multiple pickups is taken and sorted, would also allow Aloha Harvest to take more food and store it. For example, Williams described how one food donor gives ices cream, but the trucks have to deliver it right away, meaning that only agencies on the Leeward side get ice cream. A staging area would allow them to hold a frozen item like ice cream, either for pick-up by agencies on the Windward side or to be delivered by a truck going to that side at another time.   

It’s no wonder that when Williams speaks to the businesses and agencies Aloha Harvest works with, their overwhelming response is, “We should have started this a lot sooner; you make it so easy.” Aloha Harvest sets an inspiring example for food recovery, as they work to integrate the reduction of food waste into their community, fostering relationships of environmental stewardship while providing food to those in need.  


A Labor of Love: Food Recovery With The Community Kitchen

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When prepared food is dumped in the trash, or even composted, it’s not only the food, but the time and energy put into preparing it, that gets wasted. Instead of wasting this surplus, businesses across the country are donating hot prepared foods to nonprofit organizations, who can ensure that carefully crafted, nutritious meals feed the hungry instead. In Thurston County, Washington, nonprofits have been able to expand their impact by integrating donated food into their meal services, thereby decreasing waste, and feeding their community.  

According to their Public Works Department, “In Thurston County, wasted food is the single-largest item currently going to the landfill.” With food insecurity at about 13%, and 1 in 6 households lacking adequate access to nutritional food, reducing food waste is a priority at both the state and local levels. The Community Kitchen, a program run by Catholic Community Services of Western Washington (CCS) in Olympia, is fighting hunger and reducing food waste through food recovery.

The Community Kitchen partners with multiple local food businesses to distribute recovered food to the residents of Thurston County and the surrounding areas. Bon Appétit Management Company (BAMCO) at Saint Martin’s University has been donating their surplus food to The Community Kitchen for many years, and became Food Recovery Verified in April 2014. According to Peter Epperson, the Community Kitchen’s Community Involvement Coordinator, these donations help to make their meal service possible, allowing them to serve three hot meals a day and provide bagged lunches seven days a week. Additionally, they deliver 325 meals to veterans in need at The Drexel House, and 100 meals to homeless youth at Rosie’s Place, every week.

It is possible to provide these meals thanks to the support of both state and local government agencies looking to divert food waste from landfills. According to Thurston County’s Solid Waste Program, in 2014, 17% of the county’s trash was food, and of that 43% was edible. To reduce the waste, they first granted funding to the Thurston County Food Bank so they could receive recovered food. A few years later, the Washington Department of Ecology backed this initiative by providing grant funding to eight agencies in Thurston County to grow their capacity to reduce food waste as well, one of which was The Community Kitchen. They used this funding to expand their walk-in cooler, to pay for food trays to package food, and to purchase reusable cambros in which to deliver it. These resources increased their kitchen’s capacity to support partnerships with food donors and accept larger volumes of donated food.

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The Community Kitchen’s work would not be possible without their astounding volunteer base of nearly 650, some of whom have been volunteering in the area for 30 years.There are 30 crew leaders with food handling certifications, who organize recoveries, deliveries, and meal services. Remarkably, the rescued meals provided by the Community Kitchen are coordinated by just one chef, playfully nicknamed Turtle, who Epperson describes as, “ a whirlwind of joy and energy.” Turtle creatively repurposes recovered foods, and uses the fresh produce they rescue to provide healthy and nutritious meals.

Epperson recalls a meal made of rescued yakisoba noodles, fried vegetables and chicken recovered from Bon Appétit at Saint Martin’s University, paired with a green salad made of donated produce from Safeway.This is one example showcasing the quality and nutritional value of the food being donated. He notes that receiving prepared foods from Saint Martin’s recovery program has allowed them to donate more meals outside of the kitchen, since volunteers sometimes only need to pick up and deliver food that is ready to eat, as opposed to cooking and serving meals.

At one volunteer-run dinner that served 170 community members, one seven-year-old, who’s head barely reached the glass of the counter stood out. “She had this beaming smile on her face that radiated appreciation,” recalled Epperson, “all the while not knowing the food was rescued. From her perspective it was just good food.” Her smile serves as a testament to the hard work and love that Epperson sees in the staff at Bon Appétit. “Their mission in providing us with food, reflects their passion in feeding people,” Epperson elucidated, continuing with, “Just as the child beamed with gratitude for their meal, these people are also radiating, because they know that the hard work and the love that they put into their food is going to feed people that would otherwise go hungry.”  

From state and local government support, down to the volunteers and chefs preparing and delivering recovered food, according to Epperson, what matters is that, “you can taste the love.”