Why is 40% of food we produce getting trashed? Nonprofit ensures excess donated food isn't wasted

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Food insecurity exploded during the pandemic. Many who had never been to a food bank, suddenly couldn't survive without one. So then why is 40% of the food we produce just dumped in the trash?

"Back last March, both husband and wife lost their job on the same day. And they were in an absolute panic," describes Lisa Skelley, the program director for Grace Diner.

The need was met with great generosity across the city, but that actually created a different challenge.

As food donation poured in, FoodCycle LA Director Nancy Beyda pointed out, "Some of the larger food banks were getting massive quantities of food. And they were actually not using the food that they were getting."

When that happens, food goes to waste and often ends up in the landfill where it rots and produces large amounts of methane. In the U.S. alone, the production of lost or wasted food generates the equivalent of over 32 million cars' worth of greenhouse gas emissions.

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"Forty percent of food in the United States is getting thrown away. So we're throwing away massive quantities of food, while there are all these people who are food insecure and hungry," Beyda said.

Using an app called ChowMatch, FoodCycle LA matches food donations to nonprofits who can use it that day.

This includes high end, perishable foods donated by stores like Whole Foods that are still good but can't be sold because the food is near its expiration date. It's food that if eaten soon, won't go to waste.

James Phillips, an associate team leader at Whole Foods, explains why it's important for his employer to participate

"We always want to make sure we can second use, and donate still good foods to our partners like FoodCycle LA, to make sure that we're reducing anything that can go into the landfills and go into people's hands," Phillips said.

Martina Gallagher of FoodCycle LA explains how it gets done.

"We don't just drop everything that we pick up necessarily at one location. So it takes more time, it takes more coordination, but I feel like it's more important.," Gallagher said.

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A fleet of electric vans pick up donated food every day at hundreds of markets or bakeries around L.A., and they immediately deliver the food to a large network of nonprofits, like Grace's Diner at Grace Lutheran Church, who then feed their neighbors, some who might have to choose rent over food.

"People come up and say I've tried so many new foods because of FoodCycle LA - dragon fruit, you know, all milk, oat milk. People have tried stuff, mushrooms, all these things that they never would have normally tried, when we get it they try it," Skelley said.

"Right now we're serving 60,000 meals a week. And when you think that that would be thrown away, if it wasn't being redirected to people, it's something that I think is really important. And really, it's a crazy problem to have that we have more than enough and yet people are going hungry," Beyda said.

And it's not just avoiding waste, either. When low income or homeless individuals get high quality meals like those served through FoodCycle LA, the positive change in their physical appearance is noticeable to the volunteers who are helping them.

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