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Politics

Feeding the 5,000 in Union Square

With so many people starving in the world, wasting food is a growing problem in developed countries around the world.

In the United States, charities like City Harvest attempt to remedy the problem through food drives and programs in partnership with various groups, collecting food and distributing it to those in need. News reports of food waste by local supermarkets and chain restaurants only reveal a small portion of the problem.

Recent research has revealed that the United States spends $218 billion a year growing, processing, and transporting food that is never eaten. Up to 63 million tons of perfectly edible food ends up in American landfills each year – a troubling number from a resource and greenhouse emissions perspective, but all the more galling in light of the roughly 49 million Americans who live in food insecure households, not knowing where their next meal is coming from.

In efforts to shed light on this critical issue and its solutions, Feedback, an environmental non-profit organization, based in London, dedicated to ending food waste at every level of the food system, held the opening Feeding the 5,000 event of its US campaign, with support from The Rockefeller Foundation and in partnership with a coalition of more than 40 like-minded organizations and chefs, to “Take food waste off the menu.”

Greek-born Niki Charalampopoulou, Managing Director of Feedback, brought the organization and the event to our attention at The National Herald. In an interview with TNH, she noted the successful events held in Athens and Thessaloniki and the need to bring attention to this global problem. Charalampopoulou earned her Masters at the London School of Economics in the Department of Geography and Environment, and joined Feedback in 2011 managing the design, organization, and delivery of Feedback’s campaigns, including Feeding the 5000. She noted that many restaurant owners would like to reduce waste and donate food rather than throw it away, but often don’t know where to begin. Creating partnerships is an important aspect of Feedback’s mission to end food waste.

In a festive atmosphere with music and a few people dressed as green beans, the Feeding the 5000 event in Union Square provided 5,000 members of the public with a free feast, made entirely from fresh, top-quality ingredients that would have otherwise been wasted. The tasty result was a ratatouille or vegetable stew with salad and a specially made bread, the recipe developed by Drexel University’s Food Lab, on the side. The celebratory banquet, supported by top food tastemakers such as chef Dan Barber, chef Jason Weiner, chef Evan Hanczor, was prepared in the kitchens of Great Performances Catering and Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen and furnished an additional 5,000 meals to City Harvest’s network of local food banks and soup kitchens, plus another 1,000 meals for the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen.

Tristram Stuart, founder of Feedback, said that Barber, chef and co-owner of Blue Hill, was one of the first chefs Feedback reached out to about the New York event, and he supplied 300 nut press cookies, made from the leftover pulp after making almond milk, for the event. Stuart went on to thank all those in attendance. Also present, Jilly Stephens, Executive Director of City Harvest, who spoke about the organization’s efforts to feed the hungry throughout the five boroughs of New York since its founding in 1982. Previous Feeding the 5,000 events held in Athens, Thessaloniki, Paris, Dublin, Milan, and Brussels, and other European cities have served over 170,000 meals since Feedback began the project in 2009.

“Worldwide, there is growing recognition of the colossal problem of avoidable and unnecessary food waste. Thankfully, there is also a growing awareness of the menu of delicious solutions that exist to tackle it,” said Stuart. “Feeding the 5000 events are designed to celebrate these efforts while simultaneously empowering the general public to make informed decisions about buying and using food, and to demand change from the food industry. Supermarkets in particular must recognize that it’s no longer acceptable to discard food in dumpsters and cause farmers to waste crops while people go hungry. It’s up to us, the public, to recognize that every forkful, trip to the fridge, or visit to a grocery store is an opportunity to take a stand against food waste.”

To tackle the food waste problem, Feedback has suggested that “US supermarkets and manufacturers should agree between themselves, without delay, to a single uniform date labeling system for the whole nation to replace the confusing “best if used by,” “sell by,” “expires on,” and other labels that lead to consumers to unknowingly throw out good food. Supermarkets should sell “ugly” fruit and vegetables and stop causing farmers and suppliers to waste perfectly good food on account of overly strict cosmetic buying policies. Supermarkets and major manufacturers should measure and report precisely how much food they currently waste, as hiding the problem hinders the solutions. Supermarkets and food retailers should make all unsold, surplus, fit-for-consumption food available to organizations that can put it to good use by feeding people, rather than just discarding it.”

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