Locals + Culture

Food Habits | Waste Less Solutions

4/23/2024 | Cody Derrick
Kerri Fukui

I think maybe what is happening more and more often in our communities is this: we are finding and connecting with other folks who have figured out how to serve the whole, from uniquely personal places. Belief in humanity comes from seeing the good actions of others. And of ourselves. I have been inspired by my friend Dana for years. We sat on the board together for Preservation Utah's mid-century architecture. We have sat in each other's homes and dreamt about the world together. The genuine place that Dana has come from with her desire to keep all folks from being hungry, comes from her soul. That all people may be nourished. What a gift that in our very own town, we have a woman committed to transforming food waste into healthy and healing food for all those who need it. Thank you, Dana. 

The following is a chat about the heart of her efforts to feed folks. 

What do we need to know about the topic, food waste? Food waste is more harmful for our planet than the carbon dioxide from our cars. When food rots in the landfill it releases methane gas which is upwards of 20 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. If food waste were a country it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter, behind China and the US. Not to mention, when we waste food we are wasting the nutrients that went into that food, transportation, water, labor and packaging. It is estimated that food wasted accounts for 25% of all our fresh water usage.  And at the same time, here in Utah, we have 400,000 people who identify as food insecure, which means they don't know where their next meal is coming from. If we could save the 600,000 tons of food wasted in Utah every year we could feed those 400,000 people 3 meals a day for 9 months.

How did this start for you? I had been working in Corporate America for 20 years. I stayed there as long as I did as for many of those years I was a single mother and it provided me a good paycheck and flexibility to be the type of parent I wanted to be. When my daughter was 16 I found her needing me less and my career not satisfying me as much. So I said what next? I started looking into my passions which were food, the environment and education.  As I was searching the internet I learned about how bad food waste was and then learned about food rescue and I thought, that is it, this is what I am going to do.

I am a natural problem solver and I said this is something I want to solve.  

Say more about the specifics of your 'ahha' moment in 2017. I have always had this desire to give back. I didn't come from a family that gave back but I feel like I came to this world with this desire. Or maybe it came from feeling unseen in my family that I had this desire to take care of others. Not sure. But I found myself being involved in nonprofits throughout my life so I understood the space. I remember the weekend I had the 'ahha' moment. I was on the internet and my pile of food-related articles was piling up and I was seeing this pattern about food waste and that it was such a big problem but was mostly going unsolved across the world. So I literally said this is it, this is what I am supposed to do. I was married at the time and my husband was out of town. When he came home I told him what I wanted to do and he said, "you should do it".  And he continued to be my greatest cheerleader, he believed in me even when I didn't believe in myself.  And even after a divorce, he is still there supporting me and this nonprofit. For me, this is the value of surrounding yourself with good people and people who gently push you to strive for what you want and believe you can do it.

Then what? What happened? What did you do? So I consulted an attorney, we put together the paperwork and I reached out to organizations that were already doing food rescue (as it wasn't as popular in 2017), I found one that said yes to letting me use their app. That was in Oct of 2017. I went back to my alma mater, Westminster College and talked to the dean of the business school and told her what I was doing. She immediately introduced me to people who could help, and we walked over to the cafeteria and talked to the manager. He said they would be closing for Winter Break and would have food that wouldn't last. So in Dec 2017 I did our first food rescue. I took my car, went to the Westminster College cafeteria and packed it with all this beautiful produce and I took it to the YWCA (where I also had contacts, helps so people don't think you are crazy).  Both sides agreed it was much needed and loved the idea. So that is how it started. I just started talking about it, finding new food donors and talking to the media to get more volunteers and I haven't looked back since. I did this for 4 and a half years on the side while still having my day job.  Then in July 2022 we had raised enough money for me to come on full time.  And since then I have been CEO.

And how's it going now? I feel in the last 9 months or so the food waste movement I had been hoping for is here. People get it. As well as, I think it does take 4-5 years for people to really know your name and brand in a space like this. So we are growing! Not just in the amount of food we rescue (now up to over 2M pounds, the equivalent of over 1.7M meals) but also in the number of people reaching out asking to help, asking to get involved, asking us to speak at events. It is now so much bigger than just me, which was always my goal.  I feel the community is really behind this and helping to push this forward. We are trying to launch an extensive education program that would start at schools, and work with homes and businesses to make a social movement around food waste so that we really make a difference. That we are all making conscious decisions differently to reduce food waste at school, in our homes, when we eat out when we go to events. We are currently in Salt Lake County, Box Elder County and Weber County.  And our hope is to be in Summit County before the end of the year.

How can we help? To be honest the ask right now is financial funding. We have had over 700 people sign up to rescue food with us but we are at capacity. We are a team of 2 full-time and 2 part-time and we just can't handle the growth on our own anymore. Managing 700 volunteers, managing a food rescue that is growing over 25% every year, expanding counties, and launching an education program just can't keep going with just 3 full-time equivalent people. For this to continue we need funding. We need funding from individuals, corporations and foundations to keep this going.  

Secondly, we could use the help of the community in asking their favorite food businesses what they do with their surplus food and if they say they throw it away, tell them about us. Put them in touch with us and we can get them signed up.

Lastly, make one small change in your habits around food you waste.

If we all make small changes, it will add up to a big difference for our planet. We need to value our food more, it has the potential of being a not-so-renewable resource if we keep wasting it like we do today.

At the end of the day, I love nothing more than seeing, feeling and applauding people's genuine selves. Our truest desires stemming from our most honest places. When our inner home desires to offer its warmth and shelter to others, that's the truest gift. Dana’s soul wants so very much to nourish others. It breaks her heart to think that people go hungry, that parents have to hear their kids say they are hungry and feel helpless if they aren't able to feed them. Her genuine understanding that this is a basic need and that we all deserve healthy food, opens something in me. The doorway to the heart has many passages, thank you Dana, for kindly knocking on this one.

 

To get in touch with Dana and her team, visit Waste Less Solutions

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