Hunger and food waste solutions from 2022

Solutions

A woman picks up a Bento takeout order at a local restaurant. Courtesy of Bento.

(NewsNation) — As global food prices surged at their fastest pace ever and the economy was rocked by a war and inflation, many families found essentials like groceries and gas unaffordable. 

Despite a complex food system that stretches across the globe, NewsNation found ideas that prove useful in how we address the basic but complicated issue of hunger.

From technology to community movements, here are four ideas to reduce food cost and waste. 

Text for food 

Food banks serve millions each year, yet the people with the most need often face barriers to getting the food, said Adam Doerr, co-founder of Bento, a texting service helping to address hunger.

Food banks are often difficult to access using public transit and may only be open during work hours. Those who can visit food banks might not find what fits their culture or health needs, or may be embarrassed or ashamed to access them.

“Solutions in this space, despite their best efforts, weren’t doing what needed to be done to close the (food insecurity) gap,” Doerr said.

Bento’s discreet text messaging service offers participants another option. Users choose from a variety of options offered by local businesses, send a text and then pick up their free grocery or food order. 

Behind the scenes, community, health or government agencies identify who can qualify for the program and then pay Bento to do the rest. And due to its anonymity, people may feel less ashamed than when visiting a food bank.

Neighbors helping neighbors

Before the pandemic, Ernst Bertone Oehninger had a dream: refrigerators plopped in front yards and public spaces and filled with free food for anyone who wanted it. 

Two boys stock food in a community fridge. Courtesy of Freedge.

But it took the surge of need created in the early days of the pandemic for the idea of community fridges to take root in the U.S.

The idea is simple, and it’s stuck in several locations across the country. Community members stock the fridges with the same fresh produce, meat or other goods they’re buying for their own families. Sometimes, local groups and stores pitch in as well.

Then, anytime anyone needs to, they can visit a fridge and take whatever they want. Since they’re open 24 hours a day and relatively anonymous, proponents say people feel less embarrassed about visiting a community fridge if they need to. 

“The metrics of the success, it was really not the pounds of food,” Oehninger told NewsNation earlier this year. “It was like when we received a little note on the fridge saying, ‘Thanks for changing my day. I was very thirsty and I came here and there was a bunch of Gatorade in the fridge.’”

Reducing waste

In the U.S. alone, 30% to 40% of the food supply is wasted, and food waste is the single largest contributor to local landfills, according to the FDA.

That waste can happen anywhere along the food supply chain, from labor shortages causing crops to rot in the field to a distributor or grocer rejecting still-edible produce that looks past its prime. 

On the distributing end, Hazel Technology’s solution comes in the form of small packets, dropped into the packaging of produce, slowly releasing anti-aging chemicals for up to three weeks.

Patricio Mendoza looks at the grapes of one of Oppy’s growers. Mendoza says Hazel’s technology has extended the life of their fruit by up to three weeks. Courtesy of Hazel Technologies.

Produce treated with their products has a 40% increase in shelf life compared to untreated fruit, reducing food waste and carbon emissions, chief technology officer Adam Preslar told NewsNation earlier this year

Hazel estimates they’ve saved more than 460 million pounds of food waste in the past seven years working with 300 companies across 12 countries.

On another end of the food chain, the Northern Virginia Food Rescue — a Washington D.C. area group — “rescues” excess food from grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals and farmers’ markets that would otherwise be thrown out. 

Volunteers get notified via app and bring the excess food to food banks or other nonprofits. Since its launch three years ago, the organization has saved around 3 million pounds of food.

Increasing yield

Artificial intelligence and other technology is transforming how farmers work by providing more specialized data in real-time. Think on-the-ground sensors that can predict where and when frost will hit, or satellite imaging that shows where to water.

Andrew Nelson, a farmer and software engineer, has been working with Microsoft’s Research for Industry to study this technology in the real world. He told NewsNation this fall the technology allowed him to target herbicide only to the areas that need it — and spend 38% less.

A man flies a drone over an empty farm field
Andrew Nelson launches a drone from the back of his pickup truck to take multispectral images of a field to document drainage and the amount of fall weeds.(Photo by Dan DeLong for Microsoft)

And when growing food is more efficient, it lowers prices across the food chain and helps address food insecurity, managing director Ranveer Chandra said. 

“Given the food security problem right now, given the problems around climate change and water, we don’t have a choice but to start adopting these technologies really fast,” he said. “Working with Andrew, we’ve shown that (this technology) is mature, but the ecosystem needs to evolve.”

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