Startups Rely on Food Waste to Combat Food Insecurity

Innovative online food programs are keeping trashed food out of landfills and rerouting it to people who are hungry.
Truckers frequently are told to dump food that may be perfectly healthy and edible. (Photo: Patricia De Melo Moreira/Getty Images)
Nov 3, 2013· 1 MIN READ
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

U.S. cities are increasingly adopting management plans that address the issue of food waste by collecting trashed food scraps and turning them into renewable energy or soil. But some startups are also addressing the problem by catching the food before it ever gets tossed in the garbage, and offering it to people who are hungry.

NPR reports that Food Cowboy addresses food waste by assisting truckers, who often find themselves forced to throw out their shipments of perfectly good food when supermarkets decide it's not aesthetically pleasing enough to put on store shelves.

Food Cowboy helps those drivers locate food banks along their route, which are happy to take a pallet of fresh, but slightly-bruised produce deemed too ugly to make it inside a store.

In the three months since its soft launch, Food Cowboy estimates it's diverted about 300,000 pounds of food away from landfills and into food banks in states like Texas, Nebraska and Florida.

Its nationwide launch goes live this week and future iterations will include a composting component to divert spoiled foods into renewable waste management systems.

Others websites like CropMobster, which operates out of the Bay Area, connects food producers, charities and grocers who have excess inventory on hand, with individual users interested in trading for it, or buying it at deeply discounted prices.

And playing on those same themes is the proposed launch of a discounted market/restaurant in Boston. The brainchild of Doug Rauch, former president of Trader Joe's, the retail facility will sell off-loaded food collected from grocers that's technically gone past its expiration date—a date often found to be pretty meaningless and a practice that's responsible for a lot of healthy, edible food finding its way into the trash.

But while plans like these help alleviate food scarcity for the people that they reach, columnist Jason Best recently reported that they shouldn't be viewed as a cure-all for hunger in America. The assistance that private food programs offer, while vital, isn't a replacement, or even much of a band-aid, for the much wider-reaching federal SNAP program, which this month sustained massive budgetary cuts.

Still, in terms of the environmental benefits gained from preventing food from reaching a landfill, startups like these at least serve as a beginning point for more responsible and compassionate living.