Leket Israel, the country’s largest food-rescue organization, hosted the annual Global FoodBanking Network board meeting in the capital this week.
The GFN is an umbrella organization for food-rescue groups across the globe, supporting and enhancing their work through cooperation and roundtable discussions such as the one that took place in Jerusalem on Tuesday to allow for food banks in different areas to learn from each other.
Members of the GFN board spoke to The Jerusalem Post
about the state of food rescue, food insecurity, and the future of food banking in Israel and around the world.
Patrick Alix, secretary-general of the European Federation of Food Banks, said that in Europe there are approximately 20 million tons of edible food wasted every year before it even reaches the table.
Gidi Kroch, CEO of Leket, spoke of some “NIS 1.3 billion worth of food being destroyed each year” in Israel.
Leket board member Cheri Fox explained that the one of the important roles of a food bank is to “protect the safety of the food” from the minute it is rescued until it reaches the consumer’s table by teaching partner agencies how to handle food safely and monitoring the process.
All the board members agreed that partnerships with agencies and cooperation between organizations was key in getting rescued food onto the tables of hungry people.
Alan Gilbertson, the director of FoodBank South Africa, spoke about “virtual foodbanking,” the process of vetting charities so distributors recognize them as legitimate and feel comfortable donating their food without worrying about food safety issues after the food leaves their hands.
Jaynee Day, president and CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee, related a story about its green beans project, saving some 6 million to 10 million pounds of green beans from being wasted simply because they weren’t the right size for the retail market.
How much does rescuing food cost? According to Gilbertson, every shekel spent by his organization rescues food worth about NIS 4.5, allowing for about three meals to be distributed for only a shekel.
Cristian Cardoner, board member of Banco de Alimentos Food Bank Foundation in Argentina, said that his organization has a running cost of about $1.5 million and distributes about $20m. worth of food, largely with the help of in-kind donations such as trucks to transport the food.
The USA and Canada, for example, distribute about four meals for every dollar donated.
Leket has running costs of about NIS 1m. a year and in 2014 distributed some 1.5 million hot meals.
The goal for 2015 is to raise that number to 2 million meals, as Leket – which collects and distributes NIS22.5m.
worth of food annually – has expanded its partnership with the IDF and the hotels industry.
Leket collects food in a number of ways, including gleaning its own produce from the fields and collecting leftovers from cafeterias, catering companies and event halls.
One of the keys to food banking, said the board members, are the volunteers. Leket has tens of thousands of volunteers helping collect, sort, package, and distribute food annually.
According to Joseph Gitler, chairman and founder of Leket, if all the volunteers’ hours were converted into permanent staff positions, he would have a staff of about 500.
Israel is unique, said Gitler, in that volunteers are not just locals but also large groups of Diaspora Jews who volunteer as part of their visits to Israel and also Evangelical Christian groups visiting the country.
Leket CEO Kroch added that the vast network of volunteers has the additional and very important benefit of bringing more awareness to the amount of food going to waste and how that food can be utilized to assist those who need it.
Volunteering with Leket, Kroch said, educates people that “it is safe to consume, it is good to consume” produce that isn’t pretty.
Jeff Klein, president and CEO of GFN, pointed to Tesco, one of the UK’s largest supermarket chains, which embraced “the ugly produce movement,” encouraging consumers not to shy away from misshapen produce, a movement that is also gaining momentum in other European countries such as France and Belgium.
Kroch spoke about the situation in Israel, where as of 2005 there were at least 150 registered support agencies, such as soup kitchens and nonprofit packaged-food distributors, as well as many more unregistered ones, noting that there are some 500 to 700 agencies dealing with food distribution to those in need.
It’s difficult to assess how many people in Israel are assisted by all the agencies working across the country, but Kroch said that about 140,000 people are reached by Leket through the agencies it partners with, and he estimates that between 300,000 and 500,000 people are reached overall.
According to the National Insurance Institute, about 2 million people in Israel live below the poverty line, Kroch noted, adding that most of those are probably in need of food assistance. Not all of them, however, reach out to organizations like Leket, but rather rely on family, friends, and savings.
Brian Greene, president and CEO of the Houston Food bank, said that need is greater than the statistics make out.
About 60 percent of Americans reported in the last year that they had to choose between buying food and paying rent, a choice that leads many to go hungry, he said.
While there is a lot of focus on reducing food waste, Greene gave a different perspective on the issue, saying he sees food waste as a “resource to help reduce human suffering.”
With one-third of food that is grown around the world not being consumed and the large number of people who desperately need food, Leket encourages everyone to make sure they do their part by donating surplus food from events, contacting Leket to rescue fruit from private gardens, and asking caterers if they work with a food-rescue organization before booking their services.