Food Shift

Making Food Recovery a Valued Service

Imagine going to the grocery store and buying 10 bags full of food. Now imagine throwing four of those bags in the trash. Seems crazy, right? But on a much larger scale, this is what’s happening every day in homes, businesses, and institutions throughout the United States. Forty percent of the food produced in the US is wasted every year, according to a Natural Resources Defense Council report. It’s happening at all levels – on the farm, during processing, in restaurants, and in the home – due to cosmetic preferences, misleading date labels, over-purchasing, and excessive portion sizes.

This unnecessary waste is destructive to the environment and the health of our communities and has significant financial consequences. Studies have shown that Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year in food and it is costing $750 million annually for disposal. Each time food goes uneaten, all the resources that went into producing, processing, packaging, and transporting that food – including huge swaths of land, energy, and 25 percent of all freshwater in the US – are wasted, too. Most uneaten food rots in landfills, where it accounts for almost 25 percent of US methane emissions.

Given the resources demanded for food production, the reality of climate change, and the fact that 50 million Americans are food insecure, it is critical that we reduce waste and use global resources more responsibly. Food Shift is one of the few organizations taking on this challenge.

Founded in 2011 in Oakland, California, Food Shift is building the tools, programs, and cross-sector networks to catalyze a national movement to reduce food waste. Food Shift is developing resources that will help businesses, institutions, and municipalities easily replicate food-waste awareness campaigns. It is also building strategic alliances with key government, nonprofit, and business partners who can support, advise, and amplify this effort.

In its first year the project focused on educational outreach and building strong community alliances. It directly reached 5,000 people in the San Francisco Bay Area, hosted 20 community events, had a presence at 22 additional events, and attracted more than 1,500 followers on social media. The project received print, audio, and online press, secured $15,000 in funding, and was responsible for the collection and redistribution of more than 10,000 pounds of food from donors like Boudin Bakery, ACT Catering, and the offices of fundraising company Rally. Food Shift distributed food in partnership with Food Runners in San Francisco and in Oakland donated food to the Mary Ann Wright Foundation, which feeds more than 1,600 people each day. Food Shift accomplished all of this with a completely volunteer staff.

Food Shift has big plans for 2013, including the expansion of its educational campaign and food recovery efforts. It will also be implementing a new program to recover and redistribute excess food from the Oakland Unified School District. Through this program Food Shift will develop a model for a food recovery service sector that will analyze costs, audit waste, redistribute food, and create jobs.

To get involved, please visit:

Despite their obvious value, most food recovery groups in the US provide their services for free and depend on volunteer labor and donations to operate. This structure is unsustainable. It limits the ability for food recovery groups to expand, and to achieve the long-lasting results necessary to solve this massive problem. We need to develop a strategy to scale up these models and make them financially viable. Which is why Food Shift is working at developing a cross-sector, unified advocacy platform that highlights and invests in successful solutions across the US and elevates this issue as a national priority. The project invites businesses and institutions to step up as leaders in this growing movement.

Food recovery is a necessary component of a just and sustainable food system and Food Shift is determined to establish it as a valued service within the green economy.

You Make Our Work Possible

You Make Our Work Possible

We don’t have a paywall because, as a nonprofit publication, our mission is to inform, educate and inspire action to protect our living world. Which is why we rely on readers like you for support. If you believe in the work we do, please consider making a tax-deductible year-end donation to our Green Journalism Fund.

Get the Journal in your inbox.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Subscribe Now

Get four issues of the magazine at the discounted rate of $20.