Welcome to Table Scraps, an intermittent series on the growing problem of food waste and what some eateries, officials, farms, institutes, and everyday people are doing right. This isn’t a guilt trip, just a way to unpack initiatives attempting to reduce kitchen waste and food loss, as more than 40 percent of all food is wasted in the U.S. We’ll explore backyard composting to city programs, restaurant tips to technology, and anything related to this global issue. Heat up those leftovers and settle in.
It feels like we’re fucked. Not just overall, but certainly when it comes to food-related waste. Sure, the air quality is great and maybe people are tending to their compost piles more than ever (two good things), but there are many worries in the kitchen waste arena alone.
We’re getting takeout to support local restaurants, but generating tons of to-go trash. Those who panic-shopped at grocery stores may be realizing they overbought. Plus, home cooks are at it more than ever, and as amateurs, we could be burning, dropping, or over-portioning food daily — we’re not the pros.
A recent National Geographic article, “Food Waste and Food Insecurity Rising Amid Coronavirus Panic,” confirms these suspicions. Tonnages of food scraps from curbside collections in San Francisco and New York are up. “Farmers also have fewer outlets for their highly perishable produce, exacerbating a supply bulge,” reads another troubling sentence. (That statement is further investigated in this New York Times piece, “Dumped Milk, Smashed Eggs, Plowed Vegetables: Food Waste of the Pandemic.”)
However, these articles give some solutions, like learning how to store your produce and better understanding date labels, which we’ve covered in this series. I want to give some good news, too. A few under-the-radar efforts are out there to reduce food waste while keeping safe — like restaurant donation programs and compost sharing.
I’ll share them now, starting with ShareWaste.
No room for a compost bin at your apartment? Have a compost heap going but it could be heapier? ShareWaste is a program connecting people who want to responsibly dispose of their kitchen scraps with others who are already composting, worm-farming, or keeping chickens. And it’s free to sign up. As a donor, find a neighbor or host using an interactive map, and send a message to the listing owner. As a host, create a listing and just wait for the DMs to roll in.
This is especially important since stay-at-home orders have been put in place. Many people had access to compost bins at their place of work (including Phoenix City Hall). Now that they are working from home, or worse, have been furloughed or laid off, no more compost access.
If this feels weird, arriving at a stranger's house, ShareWaste has created an informative landing page for COVID-19 concerns. It advises you to keep your distance when handing off or receiving scraps, and to disinfect the container before and after receiving it — with a link to a page of disinfecting tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
They also seem cool. If you’re a host concerned about accepting donations at the moment, it’s totally fine to temporarily disable your listing. If you’re a donor and can’t run scraps over to someone’s backyard at the moment, ShareWaste advises storing them in your freezer for a later donation.
It’s all cool with ShareWaste, which adds this final note: “Together let's kick COVID-19's figurative butt, hard.”
What if you’re a restaurant in all this? While the struggle in sustaining an eatery, bar, cafe, etc., during this time is unimaginable, donating excess food at least can be made easy.
Restaurants that might have superfluous product can turn to Musically Fed — the Scottsdale-based 501(c)(3) organization that normally connects community organizations feeding those in need and veterans with music venues and large events with uneaten catering. Think the Phoenix Suns, but also, like, The Rolling Stones, Weezer, and Cher donating excess food and drink from backstage.
Recently, Musically Fed was able to repurpose thousands of pounds of food to local agencies since all the concerts and big events were canceled because of COVID-19. However, according to Andrea Kramer Dias, director of marketing and PR for the Phoenix Cancer Support Network, those reserves now have been tapped. Now, the organization is looking to Phoenix restaurants to become partners.
Local eateries looking to participate may sign up or get more information via the Musically Fed website's contact page.
We're ordering delivery more than ever. In the time it takes me to correctly wash my hands in the kitchen, I see at least three neighbors receive their lunch.
Postmates, a service we’re all familiar with at this point, offers FoodFight! — a leftover donation program for restaurants to keep food waste down and donate to the hungry. It launched in 2018 with 10 cities and has since expanded to more than 500 in the U.S. That includes Phoenix as of late 2019 (and Mesa, Scottsdale, Glendale, Avondale, and Maricopa). According to a Postmates spokesperson, as of February 2020, FoodFight! has partnered with more than 18,000 restaurants and 185 agencies feeding those in need.
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Here’s how it works.
Restaurants partnering with Postmates will get a merchant tablet which can be tapped if the eatery has excess food (and local agencies are able to accept donations). A Postmate (I didn’t realize there was a singular form) will show up within 20 minutes to pick up the donation. Think Arizona Bread Company sending off excess food to UMOM New Day Centers, Mom's Pantry, or Recovery Empowerment Network.
Any interested nonprofits may sign up for the program via email at email@example.com.
Close to 100,000 pounds of food have made this trip via FoodFight! nationwide. I really hope a good chunk of that was in Phoenix.