A meal for 5,000 – cooked with produce that would otherwise have been thrown away – will be served in Oakland’s Frank Ogawa Plaza on Saturday, October 18 to draw attention to the problem of food waste in America.
Dubbed “Feeding the 5000” after the Biblical story in which Jesus feeds the multitudes with five loaves of bread and two fish, the event began in 2009 in the United Kingdom and has been taking place in European cities ever since. This is the first time it will take place in the United States, with a second event following the Oakland one in Chapel Hill, N. C., a few days later.
“The vision behind it is that we can feed everyone on this planet with the amount of food we produce, but so much is thrown away,” said Dana Frasz, executive director of the Oakland based Food Shift, one of the event’s sponsors. Some estimate that 40 percent of food is thrown away in the U.S., while one in six people are food insecure.
The meal will come from some 10,000 pounds of food that would not be sold because the potatoes or carrots are “too big or too small or blemished somehow or sunburned,” said Frasz, noting that produce that does not conform to specific standards by grocery stores is often thrown out.
While the public is invited to the rally and feeding on Saturday, which goes from noon to 5 p.m., organizers have several days worth of events keeping them busy.
On Wednesday, organizers and speakers will spend the day harvesting vegetables from Petaluma’s Bloomfield Organics to be used in the meal. On Thursday and Friday, a conference on reducing food waste dubbed the First Zero Food Waste Forum will take place at UC Berkeley timed to coincide with World Food Day on October 16. Sponsored by the Northern California Recycling Association, National Resources Defense Council and Food Shift, the conference is expected to draw 300 people, and features many of those who will be speaking at Saturday’s event, but also such locals as Sam Mogannam of Bi-Rite Market, speaking from a grocer’s perspective on food waste, and Cassie Bartholomew of Stop Waste, speaking about how Alameda County is trying to lessen its food waste through prevention and donation.
On Friday night, volunteers and organizers will spend their time prepping and chopping in what’s been dubbed “Disco Soup.” Music will be blaring at the commercial kitchen of St. Vincent de Paul of Alameda County, where organizers and volunteers will doing much of the prep work for Saturday’s meal.
In addition to the meal on Saturday, 3000 pounds of groceries will be given away. Keynote speakers that day include Tristam Stuart, founder of the first Feeding the 5000 in the U.K.; Dana Gunders of the NRDC who wrote a widely distributed report called “Wasted: How America is Losing Up to 40 percent of its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill;” Jonathan Bloom, author of “American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of its Food;” and Robert Egger, founder of DC Central Kitchen and LA Kitchen, both of which train low-income adults for culinary careers, as well as use recycled food. There will also be a special presentation by Rob Greenfield, who rode his bike across the country, stopping in various cities making displays of food he found in dumpsters.
There will also be cooking demos by chefs showing how to waste less food.
Jordan Figueiredo, whose day job is as a Solid Waste Professional at Castro Valley Sanitary District, but is volunteer event coordinator as well as “coordinator of chaos” for the conference and Saturday event, has been working closely with organizers in London.
He noted that one in five residents of Alameda County depend on their local food bank or pantry, which is higher than the national figure. And food waste isn’t just about people going hungry, he said, it’s also taking a major toll on the environment. “Food systems are responsible for 33 percent of our human-made emissions, which, if you extrapolate that out, 14 percent of all of our human-made emissions come from just food waste.”
Feeding the 5000 is cosponsored by Feedback, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sustainable America, GRACE Communications Foundation, Food Shift, People’s Grocery, Ecology Center, Oakland Unified School District and St. Vincent de Paul of Alameda County.
Keeping food out of the landfill and compost and getting it to hungry people is a mission all of these groups support.
“This issue wasn’t really part of the conversation three years ago, but now it’s very much part of it,” said Frasz. “Part of what we’re doing here is encouraging people to think beyond compost. We’re doing a good job of developing a compost system, but we need to cultivate a system in which we capture food before it goes into the trash or compost.”