We hosted our third food tech meetup this past week, focused on food waste solutions. We were lucky enough to have it at Artefact, a beautiful design firm focused on sustainability and innovation. Attendees snacked on food from Evergreens Salads and Imperfect Produce before sitting down to a discussion with our panel. Here are a few points that stood out from our speakers:
-Mark Freeman, Senior Manager of Global Dining Services at Microsoft, talked about how he and his team are using data analytics to optimize food ordering for their cafeterias and catering. He also said that they’re in the early days of implementing blockchain to help source and trace food from the suppliers, since there’s a large demand for transparency from employees — especially millennials. Also: black fly larva. They feed them with food scraps and then repurpose the insects to sell to farmers for use as livestock or fish feed.
-Zachariah Fritsche, who works on food waste outreach for the Seattle Public Utilities, talked about the municipal perspective of food waste reduction. The majority of food is wasted in the home, and that’s where he and his team focus a lot of their work; specifically, through education. He mentioned services that teach people how to meal plan and optimize their grocery shopping to be more efficient, as well as classes that teach people how to make use of Kitchen scraps that would normally be thrown away, like carrot tops (make pesto!) or onion ends (vegetable broth).
-Tim Jenkins of Seattle Food Rescue (part of the Food Rescue Alliance) is tackling food waste hands-on — he and his team of volunteers pick up leftover food from small-to-medium size grocery stores and bicycle them to nearby food banks or shelters. It’s a big operational lift and requires a lot of coordination. Apps like Karma and GoMkt (among others) help retailers sell their surplus food at a discount to consumers, but those people still have to come and pick up their food. Copia helps connect large food producers with organizations that want their surplus food, and even provide drivers — but Seattle Food Rescue focuses on smaller grocery retailers that don’t produce enough waste, or don’t have the capital, to deliver their surplus food to second locations.
All of which goes to show that even with the benefits of technology (specifically with regards to analytics, discovery, and meal planning), when it comes to food waste, there’s still a lot of old-school logistic underpinnings that need sorting out. We need to readjust consumer behavior so that we don’t always expect a fully-stocked barrel of perfectly uniform apples at the grocery store, or an overflowering catering platter at an office meeting. We need to figure out new ways to transfer food from retailers and restaurants to people who need it. And we need to improve post-harvest food losses which, despite a recent boom in agtech investments, still have a long way to go.
Much as we would like it to be so, tech is no magic bullet for food waste. But there are a lot of opportunities for creative solutions. So if you have an idea for how to make blockchain work to reduce surplus food, or an app that will help repurpose leftovers from catering events, make it happen! We’ll be here to write about it.
As always, thanks to our sponsor ChefSteps for making this possible. Next month, we’re taking our food tech meetups on the road — to Providence, RI! We’ll be hosting a meetup and town hall focused on sustainable seafood and BlueTech. If you’re in the area, register (for free!) here.