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← What we're getting wrong in the fight to end hunger

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Showing Revision 6 created 12/18/2019 by marialadias.

  1. In June of 2017,
  2. I volunteered with a group
    at a local food pantry
  3. on the south side of my home city
  4. in Atlanta, Georgia.
  5. It was a Friday afternoon,
  6. the day of their weekly food giveaway.
  7. And as I drove up,
  8. I saw people beginning to arrive,
  9. many with their rolling carts in tow,
  10. prepared to receive
    their food supply for the week.
  11. As I was walking in the door,
    there were about 40 people outside
  12. waiting in line.
  13. And I was so excited,
  14. because there are very few things
    I enjoy more than giving back.
  15. But then, as I entered the room where
    the volunteer meeting was taking place,

  16. I immediately realized:
  17. we weren't about to give
    these people any real meals.
  18. We were essentially just giving them food.
  19. I took my place on the assembly line,
    where -- get this --
  20. I was in charge of making sure
    that the Weight Watchers Ding Dongs
  21. made it into every family's bag.
  22. As the bags started to come around,

  23. I'm thinking to myself:
  24. What on earth are we doing here?
  25. Each bag contained
    two 20-ounce diet Snapples,
  26. a gallon of barbecue sauce,
  27. a bag of kettle potato chips,
  28. a box of superhero-shaped
    vegetable-enriched macaroni noodles,
  29. a box of belVita breakfast bars,
  30. a can of refried beans,
  31. a can of sweet peas,
  32. a miniature can of corn,
  33. I can't forget about those Ding Dongs
  34. and french fried green onions,
  35. you know, the kind that go
    on top of a green bean casserole.
  36. And that was it.
  37. We made over a hundred
    of those bags that day,
  38. and people indeed
    stood in line to receive one.
  39. But a feeling came over me;
  40. I felt bad and a little angry.
  41. It was like, how could I even feel good
    about the work that I was doing
  42. when I knew for a fact
    that not one meal was to come
  43. from the food we had just given
    to over 100 families?
  44. I mean, who wants to have
    a meal with barbecue sauce and Ding Dongs?
  45. (Laughter)

  46. And the reality is,

  47. I've been part
    of this process all my life.
  48. I've participated in food drives,
  49. I've collected cans since I was a kid,
  50. I've donated in the grocery store
    more times than I can count,
  51. I've volunteered at shelters,
    I've worked in food pantries,
  52. and I'm sure, like me,
    so many of you have, too.
  53. In 2013, I even created
    a pop-up restaurant,
  54. called Sunday Soul.
  55. And I rented tables and chairs and linens
  56. and I printed out menus
  57. and I took these experiences to alleyways,
  58. underneath bridges and in parks
  59. to allow people that were
    experiencing homelessness
  60. to dine with dignity.
  61. So I've invested in this fight
    for quite some time.
  62. In almost every major US city,

  63. the food bank is viewed
    as a beloved community institution.
  64. Corporations send volunteers down
    on a weekly basis
  65. to sort through food items
    and make boxes of food for the needy.
  66. And can drives --
  67. they warm the hearts of schools
    and office buildings that participate
  68. and fill the shelves of food banks
    and food pantries across the nation.
  69. This is how we work to end hunger.
  70. And what I've come to realize
  71. is that we are doing hunger wrong.
  72. We are doing the same things
  73. over and over and over again
  74. and expecting a different end result.
  75. We've created a cycle
  76. that keeps people dependent on food banks
    and pantries on a monthly basis
  77. for food that is often not well-balanced
  78. and certainly doesn't provide them
    with a healthy meal.
  79. In the US, our approach to doing good,

  80. or what we call "charity,"
  81. has actually hindered us
    from making real progress.
  82. We're educating the world
    on how many people are food insecure.
  83. There are television commercials,
  84. billboards,
  85. massive donations,
  86. the engagement of some
    of our biggest celebrities in the fight.
  87. But the ever-present reality is that,
  88. even with all of this work,
  89. millions of people are still going hungry.
  90. And we can do better.
  91. Globally, 821 million people are hungry.
  92. That's one in nine people on this planet.
  93. And here in the United States,

  94. nearly 40 million people
    experience hunger every single year,
  95. including more than 11 million children
  96. that go to bed hungry every night.
  97. Yet, we're wasting more food
    than ever before --
  98. more than 80 billion pounds a year,
  99. to be exact.
  100. The EPA estimates that food waste
    has more than doubled
  101. between 1970 and 2017,
  102. and now accounts for 27 percent
    of everything in our landfills.
  103. And as this food sits,
    it gradually rots
  104. and produces harmful methane gas,
  105. a leading contributor
    to global climate change.
  106. We have the waste of the food itself,
  107. the waste of all the money associated
    with producing this now-wasted food
  108. and the waste of labor
    with all of the above.
  109. And then there's the social inequity
  110. between people who really
    need food and can't get it
  111. and people who have too much
    and simply throw it away.
  112. All of this made me realize
    that hunger was not an issue of scarcity

  113. but rather a matter of logistics.
  114. So in 2017, I set out
    to end hunger using technology.
  115. After all, food delivery apps
    had begun to explode on the scene,
  116. and I thought surely we can
    reverse-engineer this technology
  117. and get food from businesses
    like restaurants and grocery stores
  118. and into the hands of people in need.
  119. I believe that technology and innovation
  120. have the power to solve real problems,
  121. especially hunger.
  122. So in 2017, I created an app

  123. that would inventory everything
    that a business sells
  124. and make it super easy for them
    to donate this excess food
  125. that would typically go to waste
    at the end of the night.
  126. All the user has to do now
    is click on an item,
  127. tell us how many they have to donate,
  128. and our platform calculates
    the weight and the tax value
  129. of those items at time of donation.
  130. We then connect with local drivers
    in the shared economy
  131. to get this food picked up
    and delivered directly to the doors
  132. of nonprofit organizations
    and people in need.
  133. I provided the data and the analytics
  134. to help businesses reduce
    food waste at the source
  135. by letting them know the items
    that they waste repeatedly
  136. on a regular basis,
  137. and they even saved millions of dollars.
  138. Our mission was simple:
  139. feed more, waste less.
  140. And by 2018, our clients included
    the world's busiest airport,
  141. Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson,
  142. and we were working
    with brands and corporations
  143. like Hormel, Chick-fil-A and Papa John's.
  144. We even had the opportunity
    to work with the NFL for Super Bowl LIII.
  145. And over the last two years,
    we've worked with over 200 business
  146. to divert more than two million pounds
    of edible food from landfills
  147. into the hands of people
    that needed it most.
  148. (Applause)

  149. Thank you.

  150. (Applause)

  151. This has accounted
    for about 1.7 million meals

  152. and allowed us to start to expand
    our efforts to other cities,
  153. like Washington, DC, Chicago,
    Miami, Philadelphia and more.
  154. That's just one approach
    that actually tackles the problem.

  155. Another was the launch
    of our pop-up grocery stores.
  156. We recover excess food from businesses
  157. and set up free community grocery stores
    right in the middle of food deserts.
  158. We bring out a chef,
  159. and we do on-site taste-testings and allow
    families to leave with recipe cards.
  160. We give every family reusable grocery bags
    and allow them to simply shop
  161. minus the price tag.
  162. We wanted to give people access to meals
  163. and not just food.
  164. We wanted to change the way that we think
    and work to solve hunger in this country,
  165. get people to believe
    that we can solve hunger,
  166. not as a nonprofit,
  167. not as a food bank
  168. but as a social enterprise,
  169. with the goal of reducing waste
    and ending hunger.
  170. But it hasn't been as easy as I thought
  171. to change the narrative
    and the thought process
  172. on how we think that hunger can be solved.
  173. In 2016, France became the first country

  174. to ban supermarkets
    from throwing away unused food.
  175. Instead, they must donate it,
  176. and they're fined if they don't.
  177. Yes.

  178. (Applause)

  179. In 2017, Italy followed suit,

  180. becoming the second European nation
  181. to pass an anti-food-waste ban.
  182. And they stated it so simply
    as it was passed through legislation:
  183. "We have millions of pounds
    of good food going to waste,
  184. and we have poor people
    that are going hungry."
  185. That simple.
  186. Denmark now has a mandated
    food waste grocery store.

  187. Its name: Wefood.
  188. They recover excess food
    from local grocery stores
  189. and sell it at up to
    a 50 percent off discount.
  190. They then use all the proceeds
    and donate it to emergency aid programs
  191. and social need issues
    for the people in need.
  192. It has been hailed as
    "the Goodwill of grocery."
  193. And last year, the world got its first
    pay-what-you-can grocery store,

  194. when Feed it Forward opened in Toronto.
  195. Their shelves remain stocked
    by recovering excess food
  196. from major supermarkets
  197. and allowing families
    to simply pay what they can
  198. at their grocery store.
  199. This is amazing.

  200. This innovation we need more of.
  201. Everyone can take on the roles
    of changing the attitudes
  202. about how we solve hunger.
  203. When we think of how we've allowed
    innovation and technology
  204. to change our lives,
  205. from how we communicate with each other
  206. to how we view our entertainment
  207. to how we even receive food,
  208. it's amazing that we haven't
    solved hunger yet.
  209. We literally have cars
    that can drive themselves
  210. and millions of people
    that cannot feed themselves.
  211. With millions of dollars being donated
    to end food insecurity,
  212. we should've solved hunger years ago.
  213. And I asked myself --
  214. (Applause)

  215. I asked myself, why can't we
    escape this vicious cycle?

  216. Why haven't we solved this problem?
  217. I remember meeting with investors
    and pitching the idea,
  218. trying to raise funds for my business,
  219. and one of them said to me,
    in true seriousness,
  220. "Hunger is already being solved,"
  221. as if millions of people weren't going
    to go to bed hungry that very night,
  222. and as if there was nothing else to do.
  223. And the reality is,
  224. one would think
    that hunger is being solved,
  225. but the truth is, it's being worked on.
  226. If we really want to solve hunger,

  227. then we have to change
    the way we've been doing it.
  228. The same actions will always
    garner the same results.
  229. There are hundreds of social
    entrepreneurs all over the world.
  230. They have a focus to solve
    really big problems, like hunger,
  231. but they'll never get the same support
  232. that we give national hunger-fighting
    organizations and food banks.
  233. But, if given the opportunity,
  234. they have the ability to foster insight
  235. and perhaps be forward-thinking enough
  236. to solve this problem.
  237. That's why I'm traveling the world

  238. and I'm really talking about
    what hunger looks like in America
  239. and explaining the difference between
    giving people access to food
  240. and access to meals.
  241. I've been meeting
    with city council members
  242. and city organizers across the US
  243. and telling them that technology
    indeed does have the power
  244. to connect businesses with surplus food
  245. to people in need,
  246. and explaining to them
    what a meal can actually mean to a family.
  247. I've been meeting with school boards
    and school districts
  248. to talk about how we feed hungry children,
  249. and health care organizations,
  250. sharing the message that food is health,
  251. and food is life,
  252. and that, by solving hunger,
    we can solve so many more problems.
  253. So if we want to know

  254. that we don't live in a nation
  255. where perfectly good food goes to waste
  256. when our neighbors don't have food to eat,
  257. then we need to change the laws.
  258. We need to introduce new policies,
  259. and, most importantly, we need to change
    our minds and our actions.
  260. Food drives are fine.
  261. Food banks serve a huge purpose.
  262. And yes, sometimes I like Ding Dongs, too.
  263. But the reality is that food drives
    do not solve hunger.
  264. And if we are smart
    about connecting the dots
  265. that are right in front of our noses,
  266. we can do far more than give a family
  267. a box of superhero-shaped
    vegetable-enriched macaroni noodles
  268. and a gallon of barbecue sauce
  269. to feed themselves.
  270. Instead, we can
    give them back their dignity.
  271. Perhaps we can increase
    school attendance in schools.
  272. We can improve the health
    outcomes for millions.
  273. And, most importantly, we can reduce
    food waste in our landfills,
  274. creating a better
    environment for all of us.
  275. The thing I love most is that
    we can feel good about it in the process.

  276. If we solve hunger,
  277. we have nothing to lose
    and everything to gain.
  278. So let's do it.
  279. Thank you.

  280. (Applause)

  281. Thank you.