By Pamela Denholm
A significant contributor to food waste is sell-by dates. In many instances, perfectly good food is discarded because of a date on the box. Yes, those dates are an important guideline, but more often than not, those dates are a guideline for when product is at its freshest, and is not an indication that the food has actually gone bad. It also helps grocery stores rotate their stock (and it helps producers sell more). Think of long standing staples, such as flour, sugar or canned goods. More often than not, even if the item is truly stale it can be turned into something else—stale bread can become croutons or stale cornflakes can be crushed to crumb-coat eggplant, souring milk can be used to make soft cheese or it can be used in baking. Despite these options, grocery stores throw away a goodly amount of ‘expired’ goods every day, goods they won’t allow consumers to pick through. So what do you get when a former president of a grocery store chain (enter Doug Rauch of Trader Joe’s fame), looks at the disparity and wonders what can be done, and then speaks to fellow executives? The answer? The Daily Table.
Only 1 year ago, The Daily Table was a concept just coming to life, a store that would take excesses of nutritious food and use it to provide affordable nutrition in a food insecure neighborhood. Essentially, a non-profit grocery store in a food insecure neighborhood that will sell surplus food at half price in a way that provides dignity for the customer.
Dorchester was chosen for the location of the first store – it was chosen because residents appreciate good, nutritious food, but their choices are often determined by economics—junk food is less expensive than healthy food. The store offers ready to eat meals, bread, dairy, grocery items and fresh produce that are excess from nearby farms. The Daily Table has volunteers that will go into fields to do some gleaning (pick through was farm crews may have left behind), they pick up donations from grocery stores, and places like us at SSO, and then they sort through it. They have a certified kitchen so berries, for example, will be sorted, mushy ones end up as jam, while good ones end up on the shelf. The fresh produce may be offered as chopped vegetables for soups or stir-fry’s, or made into ready-made meals that are chilled or frozen for later use.
Rudy Rubeins, the store’s executive director, says they won’t offer food hot, because it is a huge area of food waste, hot food cannot be repurposed, and they wish to become part of the solution and not part of the problem. They will also sell out daily – whatever isn’t sold will be donated to local food banks or repurposed again – chopped stir-fry vegetables will be turned into a meal, and frozen for later use. There are so many catch points for food waste that this model will be addressing—a distributor might order 18’000lbs of fish, and a fisherman might come in with 20’000lbs. A box might arrive at the grocery store damaged, or the wrong item might have been delivered. The grocery store might ask for a certain size roaster chicken, 10% of the birds might not meet the weight requirement and will sit in a frozen warehouse (in itself unsustainable because of the energy required to store it). See the possibilities?
We are thrilled to be a part of this project, and have been donating food to The Daily Table since they began gearing up for their opening on January, 2015 while they geared up for their opening in June. We continue to be excited by the possibilities of what an initiative like this could mean. You can help too, don’t immediately discard expired food at home, give it the sniff test first, or think about how to reuse, repurpose or recycle your food.