by Roger Gordon
That’s how long it will take food companies to waste as much food as they donate this year.
In all, they will throw away 34 million tons of good food – including enough fresh produce to feed 50 million elementary school students every day of the year. But don’t blame them, blame us.
Unlike consumer food waste, which is a behavioral issue, commercial food waste comes down to logistics: Food is expensive to move. If it can’t be sold, it can’t be transported far.
Supermarkets reject thousands of deliveries of wholesome but cosmetically imperfect food every day because they know it won’t sell. Truckers who get stuck with them don’t have time to search for food banks – and food banks, with their forklifts and 18-wheelers, are not well equipped to go out and get them. That task is better left to small food pantries and “food rescue” groups that can take the food right to where it is needed. But they can be hard to work with, especially for national retailers.
Technology often offers solutions to logistics problems like these. It allows Zipcar to satisfy the short-term private transport needs of many people using relatively few cars and it lets Uber take the guesswork out of taking a taxi. So what would a technological solution to food waste look like? Actually, we know the answer because it is already here – in pieces.
Yelp matches diners with restaurants. OpenTable helps restaurants manage reservations. Foursquare alerts shoppers to nearby last-minute deals. Google Maps helps get them there.
If we can use technology to get people to food, we can use it to get food to people.
For the past year, a small team of food, transportation and technology experts has been developing a system called Food Cowboy that integrates technologies similar to those mentioned above to help truckers find food banks, make it easier for supermarkets to coordinate with charities, alert rescuers about available donations, and help them plan efficient pick-up and delivery routes.
Food Cowboy can also be used to rescue food from dining halls, schedule pick-ups from catered events, and route spoiled food to composters instead of to landfills. The system will have built-in quality control features and can even keep track of the miles truckers and volunteers drive (or bike) and offer them rewards points. Participants at this spring’s Food Waste Solutions Summit at Stanford will get to try out the system and offer their own ideas.
There is no denying that we are wasteful. But we are also caring and resourceful. So let’s get“Stop Wasting Food” crossed off our lists this year. After all, we have all the tools we need right in our pockets.
Roger Gordon founded Food Cowboy in 2012 with his brother, Richard, who owns a small trucking company that specializes in transporting fresh produce. The system is being designed by Northern California-based Claresco Corporation. Roger can be reached at (202) 677-5601 or roger[at]foodcowboy.com.
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