How Exploring Food Waste in America Inspired Me to Start My Own Business
Last August, I explored food waste in America on the Millennial Trains Project, a crowdfunded, transcontinental train journey for future leaders. We went to seven U.S. cities all innovating to improve various facets of the food system: San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Denver, Omaha, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Washington, DC.
With two years out of a three-year public health fellowship program at UNC Chapel-Hill, I needed inspiration and a direction in which to shape my own professional path. Because Americans throw out an astounding 40 percent of food each year, a value of $165 billion, my goal onboard the Millennial Train was to find ways to improve healthy food access for the 23.5 million people who live in food deserts, or areas that lack fresh fruit and vegetable options. I set out to answer two questions. The first was, “In what ways do people recover food destined for the landfill and reintroduce it to the market in a meaningful way?” And the second was perhaps the more daunting, “Where should I go with my career?”
Visiting pay-what-you-can Table Grace Café in Nebraska
On the trip I met with food policy experts and entrepreneurs striving to improve the food system. In San Francisco I talked with food waste experts at The Natural Resource Defense Council. In Salt Lake City I spoke with an anti-hunger advocate about offering purchase power to low-income families by selling healthy food at an affordable price. In Denver I met with MM Local, a company that partners with local farmers to save farm produce that is blemished and misshapen (and therefore not fit for farmer’s markets), by creating canned items such as peaches and tomato sauce. In Omaha I experienced my first pay-what-you-can restaurant, and in Chicago I met a CEO of a major health food company. I also visited The Plant, a renovated warehouse where small food-based businesses use the certified kitchen to smoke meat, bake bread and brew beer in Chicago's South Side. All the food waste produced by these various businesses are processed in an on-site anaerobic digester, which converts the food into biogas, and then energy used to power the warehouse.