The Waste Not Program San Diego is a food recovery program launched by Specialty Produce in 2016 in an effort to put chefs at the forefront of the fight against hunger. For over 30 years Specialty Produce has been delivering produce to restaurants, catering companies, food trucks, hotels, and resorts all over San Diego county. At Specialty we have a genuine love for all things food, and given many of us previously worked in the restaurant industry, we had seen how much food gets thrown away on a routine basis.

How it works is we provide participating accounts with complimentary Waste Not kits, these kits are intended for them to store their surplus prepared foods. When we drop off their produce order, we pick up the food donation and bring it back to our warehouse where it’s picked up by one of our nonprofit partners. We partnered with the San Diego Food Bank, who in turn connected us with nonprofits which are located close to our warehouse. These relationships have allowed us and our partners to reduce the timeline between us receiving the donations, and those in need receiving the donations throughout the week. The nonprofits we’ve partnered with at this stage of the program include Shabach, Project 1:1, Ronald McDonald House, Wesley Community Service Center, and Kitchens for Good. Each of these groups work tirelessly helping individuals and families who are food insecure, meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

Once we got our program up and running, we started to reevaluate food waste in our own warehouse. For years we’ve been collecting our “ugly” or imperfect produce in blue barrels. These barrels then get picked up by Nathan Rakof of Tzaddik Farm, who uses the produce to feed his livestock. We took a hard look at the food going into these blue barrels, and in doing so decided we ought to prioritize feeding humans over animals. Now, we divert as much “ugly” or imperfect produce as we can for it’s highest and best use -human consumption- into our Waste Not program, while the remainder, unfit for people, still goes to feeding the animals at Tzaddik Farm. Between the food we’ve collected from our warehouse, as well as our participating restaurants, we have successfully diverted over 36,000 pounds of food to those in need, food which otherwise most certainly would have ended up in the landfill.

In order to further increase awareness around food waste and hunger in San Diego, this August Specialty Produce and Waste Not SD are hosting our first annual “Wasted: Sustainable Cooking + Mixology Competition” to benefit Kitchens for Good. Competitors will take aim at an item they’re currently wasting in their kitchen and repurpose it into a bite-sized dish or drink. Guests will vote on a winner in three categories, Savory, Pastry, and Mixology. This event will be as close to zero waste as possible, which means, no plates or silverware allowed. Some of the participating restaurants and companies include Addison, George’s at the Cove, The Land and Water Company, Nine-Ten, Snakeoil Cocktail Company, and Rancho Valencia.

At the end of the day, why does it matter we’re throwing out so much food? What many people don’t understand is “imperfect” produce has nothing to do with quality or flavor. We’ve been conditioned to think every piece of produce should look the exact same, i.e., smooth, perfectly spherical, shiny, etc. These unrealistic standards lead to farmers throwing away thousands of pounds of perfectly delicious produce, because misguided consumers simply won’t buy misshapen fruits and vegetables. Our fallacious aesthetic standards, coupled with our over purchasing habits, lead to us as a Nation throwing away 40% of the food we produce. This food then ends up in a landfill, it breaks down anaerobically, and creates methane, which is 20 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. Sadly, on top of the environmental effects which affect us all, we can’t ignore the fact 1 in 6 Americans are hungry. Much of the food we’re wasting is perfectly fine to eat, and we ought to expand the programs helping save this food from the landfill, and get it those who need it most. As consumers we look to chefs to see what cool new trends are happening in food, therefore chefs have the potential -some might say the responsibility- to not just help, but rather lead the charge by building awareness in our communities therein creating a more sustainable tomorrow. As Speciality Produce, through Waste Not SD, we hope to empower those chefs to take an active role in feeding both their customers, and their communities.

To learn more about The Waste Not Program check out their website & podcast! 

Episode 29 – Waste Not