What has the government done to improve food insecurity over the last 20 years?

Elderly man receiving cooked food from Leket Israel NPO partner (photo credit: AMIR YAKOBY)
Elderly man receiving cooked food from Leket Israel NPO partner
(photo credit: AMIR YAKOBY)

This year, Leket Israel is marking 20 years of its food rescue operations. What started as a one-man volunteer project, by Joseph Gitler, has grown into the largest food rescue organization in Israel, feeding 234,000+ Israelis each week. 

One of the catalysts for beginning this initiative was the release of the 2002 National Insurance Institute’s Poverty Report, which revealed that in 2001, 17.7% of people living in Israel lived below the poverty line, including 319,000 families and 531,000 children. This number, then believed to be astronomical, inspired action. It led to Joseph spend late nights in his car collecting excess meals from catering halls and sending tens of volunteers to a farm in the center of the country to harvest surplus persimmons. 

As I look back on the 20 years of Leket’s incredible history, I am proud of the work we have accomplished. Our partnerships with farmers have only continued to grow and we are aiming to rescue 30,000 tons of agricultural produce this year. We have continued to collect hot meals from hotels, corporate cafeterias and IDF army bases and increased our food safety regulations ensuring the safe, effective, and efficient collection and distribution for the benefit of the recipients. We have learned best practices from our partners at the Global FoodBanking Network and are focused on learning new innovative ways to rescue and distribute food for those in greatest need. 

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Gleaning fresh agricultural produce for Israelis in need. (Credit: Adi Huberman)Gleaning fresh agricultural produce for Israelis in need. (Credit: Adi Huberman)

However, despite Leket Israel's growth, unfortunately, poverty rates in Israel have not improved. Israel has the highest percentage of people living below the poverty line of any OECD country, with over one-fifth of the population experiencing nutritional insecurity as of 2021. This number continues to rise due to the increased cost of living, highlighting the ongoing need for organizations like Leket Israel to provide its food rescue services. 

And yet, the government still refuses to take any responsibility for this crisis. 

37% of the food produced in Israel, around 2.6 million tons, goes to waste each year. This is quality food that could be rescued and distributed. Why does the government refuse to invest in food rescue as a viable option for alleviating hunger in Israel? The potential is exponential. The volume of food available for rescue and the leverage created by it is what makes it so appealing. For every NIS 1 invested in food rescue, Leket recovers food valued at NIS 4 (equivalent of USD $1 = USD $4). 

Throughout the years Leket Israel has met with various government officials but instead of formulating a plan they move the accountability to someone else. It is my belief that the government does not want the responsibility of having to create committees to find solutions to this issue. 

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Rescued cooked meals at Leket Israel NPO partner agency (Credit: Amir Yakoby)Rescued cooked meals at Leket Israel NPO partner agency (Credit: Amir Yakoby)

As Leket Israel has expanded and gained knowledge from its experience, it has developed a series of policy strategies for reducing food waste in Israel, inspired in part, by their successful adoption in other countries. If implemented, they will lead to a decrease in food waste in Israel. 

  1. Creating a national strategy to reduce food loss which begins with setting a national goal. The United Nations has set a goal at reducing food loss by 50% by 2030. We also recommend the creation of a government body in the Prime Minister’s Office which will oversee all relevant partners and promote legislation. 
  2. Provide a financial incentive for farmers who are unable to sell their goods. 
  3. Offer tax exemptions for anyone who donates their surplus food. 
  4. Reevaluate expiration dates and enact regulations that establish different labels based on food safety and food quality. 
  5. Enact a law requiring food manufacturers and large supermarket chains to donate their surplus to food banks and fine those who do not comply. 
  6. Examine a ban on transferring organic waste to landfills which will gradually stop landfills from overflowing with high quality food and will encourage alternative solutions. 

Leket Israel has shown, over the past 20 years, that it is capable of rising to the challenge.  What started as a one-man operation now has 130 employees and over 54,000 annual volunteers. It is my hope that in twenty years’ time, we can look back at Leket Israel and the work we did and reminisce on a time when our organization was a vital contribution to Israeli society that is no longer needed. 

Leket Israel Truck (Credit: Adi Huberman)Leket Israel Truck (Credit: Adi Huberman)

Until that day comes, we will do the work of the government and provide food to those who need it most. 

Gidi Kroch is the CEO of Leket Israel – the National Food Bank. Now in its 20th year, Leket Israel rescues cooked meals from hotels, corporate cafeterias and IDF army bases and fresh surplus agricultural produce from farmers. This food is distributed through a network of nonprofit partner agencies feeding 234,000+ Israelis in need each week.

For more information: Leket Israel

This article was written in cooperation with Leket Israel