What inspired you to do something about food waste before it really became a hot topic?
Well, when I was 17 I went to Southeast Asia and saw the extent of need in our world, and coming back to the States I saw the abundance, waste, and excess. So in college I started a student-led food recovery organization. I launched Food Shift to turn up the volume on this issue and amplify the conversation around solutions.
You’ve been starting initiatives and companies yourself for a long time now. Which project has been the toughest to build but has led to the greatest satisfaction?
Food Shift has been my main professional endeavor for the past 7 years. We recently launched The Food Shift Kitchen, a social enterprise solution that addresses food access, food waste, and employment. Building the kitchen program has been the most challenging and rewarding. The business is heavily reliant on partnerships, trust, and collaboration. It’s a solution that makes sense, impacts people’s lives, and brings a beautiful plant-based meal to the homeless population in Oakland.
You started being conscious about sustainability from an early age, and you skipped the step of simply reducing waste, moving straight to repurposing waste, whether that’s giving to those in need, or empowering others to give. Why do you feel that food recovery is more important?
40% of food that is produced in the US is wasted, so we need models that recover and redistribute that food. But food alone won’t solve hunger and so we need models that create economic opportunity for people who need it most. Within food recovery there is an opportunity to not just shift food but also to shift resources into a more equitable direction.
So going off that, which other environmental or social issue is most correlated with the food waste issue that people can connect with?
A big part of our approach is acknowledging interconnectedness. There is an opportunity within the food waste issue itself that is so unique, and can add value in communities in many different ways. Obviously feeding people is beneficial, but it’s important that we don’t get duped into thinking that hunger will be eliminated. When approaching this issue, the opportunity lies in how we can redesign the food chain more equitably, sustainably. So it’s critical that we think of these challenges as part of an interconnected system.
You’ve worked with a lot of elementary schools, colleges, served on boards, worked with a variety players in entire cities, etc. Which group of people is it most important to educate or include in the fight against food waste?
Everybody. The problem is so massive that we need all hands on deck. Scientists, public health officials, organizations, entrepreneurs, and policy makers. Education and change needs to happen at every level.
How do you perceive the level of knowledge or understanding of the food waste topic?
If you want to get someone to eat something, I think the tactile experience of food is really important. They’re more likely to try it if they planted the seeds, weeded the garden, felt the connection. One way we’ve cultivated people is through hands-on experiences, hosting dinners, and hosting volunteers to show people the quality, possibilities, and delight with all the food that would have gone to waste. I highly recommend watching Just Eat It and Wasted and following Food Shift on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram so you can continue learning about what is happening on this issue around the world.
Dana Frasz is a visionary and determined systems thinker with 13+ years of food recovery and entrepreneurship experience including her own award-winning food recovery group at Sarah Lawrence College and spending three years at Ashoka. Seeing as the current food system is leaving both food and people falling through the cracks, Dana launched Food Shift in 2012.