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Episode 131: A Community Approach to Food Waste & Recovery

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In our latest episode of NothingWasted!, we chat with Rick Nahmias, Founder & CEO, Food Forward. We spoke with Nahmias about the power of rescued produce, embracing a business model that values sharing, what works to successfully drive change around food waste and more.

Since 2009, Food Forward has been on a mission to reduce food waste and increase access to healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables. It is the first nonprofit in the U.S. to win four consecutive Food Recovery Challenge Awards from the EPA.

See what was discussed:

Waste360: Can you tell us a little about how Food Forward got started?

Nahmias: I was ready to [do something] to bring some good. Living in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, I was surrounded by these walnut and citrus trees that would drop their nuts and fruits every year—and for the most part, with nobody to collect them; it actually became kind of an eye sore. And I realized these were worthy of sale, worthy of consumption. I put an ad on Craigslist, got some volunteers, and tried out the idea of collecting backyard fruit and dropping it at a food pantry. Over three weeks, we ended up collecting about 800 pounds of fresh tangerines and oranges, which [otherwise] would not have made its way anywhere but the trash. So there was a mitigation of waste, as well as feeding local folks who are food insecure—providing really quality produce—and from there the idea just really kind of spiraled. With our group of volunteers, we kind of formed a second family and realized this idea was bigger than we were. 

Waste360: I would love to hear what inspired your passion for environmental justice.

Nahmias: I was really lucky in college to get exposed to the work of Edward R. Murrow. One of the things he did, in 1965, was a seminal documentary called Harvest of Shame, which was about migrant farm workers at the time. It was very controversial and really showed this huge division between ‘us’ and ‘them’—and looked at the work violations and all these issues that the workers faced. I was interested in knowing ‘where are those people today?’ and ‘who is harvesting our food, and what challenges are they facing?’ I took a camera and visited about 50 farms and…I created The Migrant Project, a book and exhibition that try to show the human cost of feeding America through the eyes and stories of migrant farm workers in California. Through this work, I found food to be an amazing unifier and came to really understand what it takes to grow, harvest, pack, and ship it. So when I started seeing food waste a few years later as an issue, I realized that as a nation we have a pretty shameful problem of 40% of our food going to waste. [Food Forward] was really about having the right idea at the right time. 

Waste360: Have the latest laws in California related to food waste benefited Food Forward?

Nahmias: Yes, those started to move the needle for us in a big way, and we’ve been fortunate enough to receive a few grants from Cal Recycle. And, as those laws come into place, we notice more donors coming to the table; more funders making the connection between greenhouse gases and food waste, and wanting to get behind that. These laws are really the carrot and the stick. When there are fines that hit corporations in the pocket book, those are the things that make them listen.

Waste360: Do you have any solutions or ways we can all consider offsetting climate change in some way around food waste?

Nahmias: I like to take it back to the individual. We’re the ones who buy the food and waste the food. So if we could mitigate [waste] at the consumer level that would be huge. What I like to say is: eat with intention. Make that choice consciously that ‘I’m going to buy less of this even though it’s on sale, because it’s all I can use. Or, I’m gonna buy it, and I’m going to freeze half of it, so I can access it later.’ The idea of going into a big box store and buying a massive flat of peaches because it’s there, and then letting half of them rot on the counter, where does it get you? It doesn’t get anyone anywhere.

Read the transcript here.

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TAGS: Food Waste
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