The vote is in and our 2012 ChangeMaker of the Year is Food Shift!
What began as an educational organization, Food Shift (www.FoodShift.net) is now developing food justice and recovery programs in our very own Oakland, California. Working with community members, public schools and food businesses alike, founder Dana Frasz is an inspiring leader in the movement to reduce waste. Dana sat with me this April to talk about what we can do to curb waste, empower communities, and respect the environment.
Jordan – Thanks for spending the morning with me Dana. I’m excited to learn more about you and your amazing work with Food Shift! As we always say, Fearless Chocolate is inspired by you who have the courage to dream and act. What inspired you to dream and act, and create an organization called Food Shift?
Dana – When I was 17, I took a year off after high school and spent 4 months traveling around South-East Asia — volunteering and living with families. It was at a Buddhist meditation retreat in Dharamsala, India when I first tapped into my higher calling. The experience of international travel helped shape my world view, awakened my understanding of the true value of food, and helped me realize my position of privilege and therefore responsibility. When I returned home I was overwhelmed by the excess, consumption and waste in our society. I remember the day I saw tray after tray of totally edible food being dumped down the garbage disposal in the campus kitchen at RIT. I freaked out. For one night the manager allowed my friend Len and me to package up the food and take it into the abandoned subway tunnels in Rochester. We shared the food with some men who were living there — this was my first experience with hunger and homelessness in America. I transferred to Sarah Lawrence College and was attracted by the opportunity to design my own major. I studied hunger in America, the economics of waste and consumption, sustainable food-systems and non-fiction writing. The campus was located in Bronxville, New York — a wealthy town with several upscale eateries. I began to ask the businesses and school dining hall if they would donate their excess food. There was a lot of resistance at first but I remained persistent and, by my senior year, we had 10 donors in the community, including the school dining hall, 45 student volunteers and our excess was helping to feed 500 people in the Bronx everyday. After college I spent 3 years working at Ashoka where I became fascinated by social innovation, worked with social entrepreneurs from all over the world and learned about creating sustainable systemic change. I moved to the Oakland and began attending a lot of sustainable food events. I met incredible people, learned about great organizations and yet was wondering why no one was talking about the fact that we are wasting almost half of all our food. I saw this as a real gap in the conversation and a gap in the food justice and sustainability ecosystem.
Jordan – How would you frame hunger in America?
Dana – We are throwing away 40% of all the food we produce while 50 million Americans don’t have adequate access to food. I see this as one of the most disturbing, unjust, and yet solvable paradoxes of our time. We have more than 40,000 groups working to alleviate hunger in this country, yet, hunger in our country is a bigger problem than ever before. The traditional models of food recovery and food assistance are not working. Food alone will not solve hunger. A free meal or bag of groceries is only a temporary fix to a complex problem rooted in unemployment and structural inequality. And that is why Food Shift is working so hard to shift the paradigm around food recovery and food assistance from one that is volunteer and hand-out based to one that focuses on using food to cultivate jobs and catalyze self-sufficiency.
Jordan – I like the idea of approaching the problem by pairing food recovery with job creation. Food is always coming from somewhere and going somewhere, and this implies a whole chain of potential value. How is Food Shift trying to change our culture around food waste and hunger?
Dana – Food Shift’s work involves increasing awareness about the social and environmental impacts of wasted food and inspiring a shift in thinking and behaviors around food. 25% of food waste is happening in our own homes, so we all have an opportunity to be part of the solution by shifting our own behaviors. Right now, there’s a lack of consciousness around the value of food and often people don’t quite connect how wasted food also means wasted land, oil, water, and soil fertility. Food Shift is developing revenue generating food recovery models that provide job training and employment opportunities for vulnerable populations. We know we can employ people in the recovery, redistribution and processing of excess food. This requires a shift in our thinking around both food recovery and food assistance. For decades, we have relied on charity groups to address these massive challenges of food waste and hunger. Despite their obvious value, most food recovery groups in the U.S. provide a free service, receive limited financial support and depend on volunteer commitments to operate. This structure is unsustainable and limits their ability to expand, increase impact, purchase necessary infrastructure, provide wages, and effectively tackle a crisis of this magnitude.
Jordan – I like this idea of food recovery as a service. And I’m trying to imagine you going into a restaurant or an Andronicos and saying “Hey I have this service I want to provide.” Is that an easy conversation?
Dana – It is not easy to get businesses to donate food. We often have to conquer the perception of extra labor, cost and the fear of liability to the business in order to successfully engage with donor businesses. Fortunately, the Good Samaritan Act protects donors of food from liability issues when they donate food to non-profits. We often start with the staff to make sure there’s “staff buy-in.” We’re asking questions like “how will this best work for you? What time should pick-ups happen? How should we label the boxes for your ease of use?” And we work to make sure they understand where this food is going and why this program is important. The staff buy-in is critical. If we don’t achieve that we know the program isn’t going to work.
Jordan – 6 years ago I started a chocolate company and there have been so many moments where moving forward just seemed improbable or downright impossible. You have that self-aware moment of holy$%&* what the heck am I doing? How am I going to solve this? The world doesn’t make it easy to do good work, especially when the driver of your business is values and principles beyond profit. Sometimes you reach that moment where it truly takes a Fearless attitude to push on through. You’re thinking, “I don’t know if this is possible….but if it is, this is how I think its going to work,” and you put your faith in that idea to move forward. You started this program a year and a half ago. What was your greatest Fearless moment so far?
Dana – My fearless moment was the day I decided to launch Food Shift and every day since then that I have been working to take it to the next level. Working to shift a paradigm, change cultural behaviors and influence widespread mindsets is hard. What we are proposing is a major shift in how we regard and utilize food and people in our communities. We are suggesting that we develop different systems that will be better for the environment, the economy and our communities. It’s big, its unique, and its outside what most people consider a possibility.
Jordan – How exciting! And now that you’ve got a year and a half behind you, where do you hope to be in the next year and a half?
Dana – Currently we are exploring a fee-for-service food recovery model with Andronico’s Community Markets in which they would pay us to remove their unwanted food. They see it as a way to reduce waste disposal costs, receive tax deductions, and benefit the community and environment which of course is valuable for marketing and branding. Additionally, we are working with St. Vincent de Paul and Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency (BOSS) in Oakland to make use of cosmetically imperfect and surplus food from farms and grocers. With this food we are going to set up farmers markets, in communities like West Oakland, where we have liquor stores but no grocery stores. We are going to sell the produce at a low cost on a sliding scale so low-income individuals and families can access affordable nutritious food. We also are piloting a program in which we will utilize this food to create value-added products — like jams, sauces and chutneys. These programs will be used as job training opportunities for individuals who are overcoming difficult life circumstances. These are realistic strategies that embrace the potential of food to be used as a tool to empower people and strengthen communities. This is a way we can do more than just feed people through a soup kitchen but also feed them through skill building, employment and opportunity. Lastly, we are working with Oakland Unified School District to reduce waste at schools and redistribute excess food to students and their families.
Jordan – Fearless is a humble sized company but we have customers all over the country and all over the world. How can people get involved with Food Shift locally, but also nationally and globally?
Dana - There is a very tangible action everyone can take to support Food Shift and the movement to end food waste. Until May 12th Food Shift needs votes in a Facebook contest in order to win $50,000 worth advertisements on San Francisco’s public transit. Food Shift is currently in the lead but we need more votes! And, everyone who votes has a chance to win a $500 BART card! People can join Food Shift online at www.FoodShift.net, www.
Jordan – We have a program we call “Bite-Back,” where we give a bite-sized portion of our proceeds from each bar we sell to changemakers nominated by our customers. Fearless found Food Shift because you were nominated by one of our customers. Congratulations and thanks for doing such inspiring work! Now lets pay it forward, who inspires you and Food Shift, who would you like to nominate for 2013?
Dana – Josh Arnold at GALA: Josh makes magic happen in his community, based in New Hampshire — its all focused on strengthening the community and making it more sustainable. He has dedicated the last 6 years of his life to this project, helping his town and NH become more self-reliant, aware and connected. He is a strong leader with the vision and talent to make this world a better place.
Gavin Radars at Planting Justice, based in Oakland. He has an incredible vision for establishing backyard gardens to both explore elements of food justice and job creation. They offer a paid landscaping service where the proceeds are reinvested into garden planting projects at homes and public spaces in low-income communities. It’s about empowerment, employment and a more sustainable food system. Gavin is a true leader, incredibly articulate and has created a fantastic model that should be expanded across the country.
Avery Ellis is Co-Owner at Backyard Revolutions and Owner/Designer/Builder/Teacher at Integrated Aquaponics, based in Colorado. Avery is a leader, teacher and most of all a do-er. He creates, builds, grows, learns and each day is creating a more nutritious, sustainable world through his development of permaculture agricultural systems that use aquaponics.
Jordan – Thank you Dana and congratulations on winning our 2012 ChangeMaker of the Year award! Its an honor to support you and your work with Food Shift, we are inspired!
A big THANK YOU to everyone who voted for Food Shift in the BART Blue Sky contest by May 19th!
Nearly 900 people indicated through the online contest that they believe in the work and want to see Food Shift ads on San Francisco’s public transit system. We believe, along with Food Shift, that this is a reflection of how deeply people desire a more just and less wasteful food system.
You can help TODAY by donating to Food Shift here: donate