Food Runners

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Should It Be Called Food Waste, Food Rescue or Food Recovery?

It doesn’t matter—what does matter is that for almost 30 years the Volunteers of Food Runners have been picking up excess food in San Francisco and getting it to people serving people in need.  If you are an active part of this organization, THANK YOU!  If you would like to help your fellow San Franciscans call 415.929.1866 to sign up or go to  Together we are making a difference in our community!

The amazing thing now, in the spring of 2016, is that rescuing excess food to help feed those in need is a hot topic—young people are holding conferences and developing apps; documentaries are being made; and its a popular media subject.  In fact, in the last three months, I have been asked to speak at a half dozen conferences here in San Francisco on the subject.  Here for you are some of the things I’ve learned.

There is no doubt that at least 40 percent of the food grown (and produced) in this country is discarded—and some estimates are as high as 50 percent.  Of course, the farmer can’t pick and sell all his produce.  Of course, the grocery store can’t put out bruised or blemished produce.  And, of course, all the food purchased for the home is not always eaten.  But, we as a country can do much better!

Let’s start with the FARM.  It is said that 25 percent of California’s water goes to grow food that is wasted.   Now, there is a movement to rescue what is called ugly fruit”” and secondary markets being created to market imperfect produce  There are also companies processing products from unsalable fruit to make products like fruit juices.

What about the HOME?  It is estimated that 20 percent of the food purchased for the home is discarded.   John Oliver’s segment on Food Waste (July, 2015) is brilliant  (YouTube). In it he shows a shopper in a parking lot dropping one-fifth of the food purchased and leaving it there.  Also, you can check out my YouTube Video on how to cook up the tired old vegetables in your fridge to make a delicious soup

We are in an amazing era where young parents are terrified of serving things like milk, eggs, and roast chicken after a sell -by date or a couple of days in the fridge.  We are very grateful to David Chiu for proposing legislation in California this last Feb. setting standards for date labelling-- specifically use-by dates.  Until now, this has been totally up to the manufacturer.   And, as I have said so many times before, don’t throw it out unless it smells.  As our friend Robert Reid of SF Recology says Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and then Rot (compost).

Now for the GROCERY STORE?    The best is for the grocery store to have a kitchen and a take-out counter.  That way, old potatoes can be cooked and turned into potato salad.  And, unsold rotisserie chicken can be made into chicken salad.  The best is to rotate the raw ingredients and as all good cooks know, make something else with what is leftover.  Great news is that in February of this year a law was passed in France barring supermarkets from discarding edible food—they must donate it. 

So many times, when I talk about Food Runners, it is assumed that we pick up at RESTAURANTS in San Francisco.  Actually, a well-run restaurant usually doesn’t have much waste.  In San Francisco most restaurants cook to order and then order from their purveyor only what they need.   Of course, they cannot retrieve and reuse what has been served to people at the table and there will always be lots of compostibles in the kitchen, such as coffee grounds; but a good chef knows how to turn the vegetable trimmings into stock or the bits fish and shellfish into a fisherman's stew. 

This brings us to HOTELS and CATERERS?  There are a lot of hotels and some restaurants in our city catering to people coming here for conventions and corporate meetings.   Estimates of number of people attending an event can be way off.  Food Runners can pick up all those uneaten box lunches.  Good chefs at good hotels know how to reuse food that has not been served to customers—often it is properly stored and turned into staff meals.   It is important to note, however, that ALL food served at a buffet whether it is in a hotel, corporate cafeteria, or an event venue can be donated.  The new trend of delivered meals to offices and homes has also resulted in hundreds of ready-to-eat meals delivered through Food Runners.

With all this attention on Food Waste, Food Rescue, and Food Recovery, you can help by spreading the word about our free service to any business in San Francisco to pick up their excess food.  All they have to do it package, chill it, if necessary, and contact Food Runners at   We will have someone there within a couple of hours to take it to where it can best be used.  Is there a good reason not to donate?  Not as long as there are hungry people in our city.  What about Liability ?  The donor is protected by both State and Federal laws.  What about company policy?  If the policy is to put good edible food into the garbage or compost, it is time to try to have that policy changed.  When 50 million Americans don’t know where their next meal is coming from, there is no excuse not to donate edible food.  Please tell everyone you know about our amazing organization and to become a Volunteer, call 415.929.1866