Harnessing Food Waste to Solve Hunger: Lessons From the Next Generation

Interview by Billy Shore

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Can we match excess food with need to better help people escape poverty? American University college student Maria Rose Belding, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Matching Excess And Needs for Stability (MEANS), discusses food waste and hunger with celebrity chef David Guas on a special episode of Add Passion and Stir made possible by generous support from the Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation. At age 12, Belding imagined a better system for getting excess food to emergency food providers and the people that need it. She founded her nonprofit a few years later. “Food is really the key that unlocks the door to all of these other social services that help people actually leave poverty, but until we deal with the food, we can’t deal with anything else,” she says. Long-time Share Our Strength supporter Guas has always understood the importance of donating leftover food from his restaurants to local organizations. “At Bayou Bakery, since the beginning we work closely with A-SPAN [a homeless services organization and shelter in Arlington, VA]…it’s been a great partnership,” he says. Belding wishes every chef and food organization thought about food waste the same way. “That’s money the shelter doesn’t have to spend on food… and that means they can funnel it into AA or mental health programs,” she notes. A volunteer in food pantries since age six, she recognized very young the instability of food resources at these establishments. Pantries are often in simultaneous feast or famine mode – with way too much of one item they cannot use and not enough of another item they really need. Today, MEANS addresses that problem by connecting thousands of food banks, shelters, soup kitchens and other providers with food donations in real time, and has recovered more than 1.65M pounds of food over the last five years.

Both guests understand that recovering food waste is only one piece of alleviating hunger and poverty. Host Billy Shore asks Belding how much of the hunger problem in the United States could be addressed by food waste? “Mathematically speaking, if you just look at this like a calculus problem, food waste can solve all of it. Hunger is not a calculus problem. Hunger is much more complicated than that,” says Belding. She explains the important role programs such as SNAP and WIC play in solving hunger. Guas recently took to Capitol Hill with two other celebrity chefs to champion these federal food programs. “We just banged down doors, chewed people’s ears and stressed the importance of protecting this [SNAP] program,” he relates.

Be inspired by this impactful conversation among these social activists with real-time solutions to hunger in America.

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