Part 3 of TED Radio Hour episode The Food Connection
Social entrepreneur Jasmine Crowe has one mission: feed more, waste less. Her company Goodr is tackling food waste and getting food to those who need it most.
About Jasmine Crowe
Goodr collects surplus food from organizations like Turner Broadcasting Systems, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and others, and redirects that food to nonprofits who distribute the food to people experiencing food insecurity. The company also works directly with cities and governments to purchase quality food for certain communities.
Crowe has collected and donated more than two million food items worldwide and fed more than 80,000 people through the Sunday Soul Homeless feeding initiative as well. The initiative started out as formal pop-up dinners for the homeless community of Atlanta.
Crowe is also in the process of writing "Everybody Eats," a children's book to inspire the fight against hunger.
MANOUSH ZOMORODI, HOST:
On the show today, ideas on reconnecting to what we eat and solutions for some of our biggest food problems, which includes hunger.
JASMINE CROWE: There's a lot that has to do with just access, which is why I have always said that hunger is not an issue of scarcity. There's more than enough food.
ZOMORODI: This is social entrepreneur Jasmine Crowe. For the last four years, she's been trying to figure out how to redirect healthy food that might be wasted to the people who need it - ever since she visited a food bank in 2017 and saw what was on offer.
CROWE: And I always remember the biggest thing is they were giving away a gallon of barbecue sauce. So just think like a whole gallon of milk, but it's filled with barbecue sauce and then no meat. They had Weight Watchers, Ding Dongs, some belVita breakfast biscuits. There were these superhero-shaped macaroni noodles, a couple of canned goods, like, a very small can of corn, a can of peas, a can of refried beans, some kettle potato chips, french-fried green onions. And that's what they were giving people. That was it.
Nothing was fresh. Nothing made sense. I couldn't think that someone would be able to take those items home and actually make a meal of them. I learned that it was ultimately the case for a lot of food banks and a lot of food pantries. They would receive donations of whatever it was going to be that week, and that's what it was. And what I saw that that was doing is it made people have to go to a lot of different food banks because they never knew what they were going to get.
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CROWE: It, to me, was a real eye-opening experience of there being a huge difference in this country between access to food and access to meals.
ZOMORODI: So Jasmine started to investigate why food banks weren't solving the U.S.'s hunger problem. She continues from the TED stage.
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CROWE: In almost every major U.S. city, the food bank is viewed as a beloved community institution. Corporations send volunteers down on a weekly basis to sort through food items and make boxes of food for the needy. And can drives - they warm the hearts of schools and office buildings that participate and fill the shelves of food banks and food pantries across the nation. This is how we work to end hunger. And what I've come to realize is that we are doing hunger wrong. We've created a cycle that keeps people dependent on food banks and pantries on a monthly basis for food that is often not well-balanced and certainly doesn't provide them with a healthy meal.
Yet we're wasting more food than ever before - more than 80 billion pounds a year, to be exact. And as this food sits, it gradually rots and produces harmful methane gas, a leading contributor to global climate change. You have the waste of the food itself, the waste of all the money associated with producing this now-wasted food and the waste of labor with all of the above. All of this made me realize that hunger was not an issue of scarcity but rather a matter of logistics.
ZOMORODI: I mean, Jasmine, that is staggering. I cannot even picture how much 80 billion pounds of food - like, what does that even look like?
ZOMORODI: We are wasting so much every year.
CROWE: And I want to stress that this is not food that's also coming from our households 'cause if you factor that number in, it's even greater. But from consumer-facing businesses every year, 80 billion pounds of perfectly good food goes to waste. So these are the restaurants. These are the grocery stores you go to, the hotels. All that food gets thrown away while at the same time, we have nearly 50 million people that are living food insecure, which means they never know when or where their next meal is coming from. And I just couldn't believe that we were living in a society that was allowing that to happen. All of those things combined ultimately led me to start this company, Goodr.
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CROWE: So in 2017, I created an app that would inventory everything it is that a business sells and make it super easy for them to donate this excess food that would typically go to waste at the end of the night. All that a user has to do now is click on an item, tell us how many they have to donate, and our platform calculates the weight and the tax value of those items at time of donation. We then connect with local drivers in the shared economy to get this food picked up and delivered directly to the doors of nonprofit organizations and people in need.
I provided the data and the analytics to help businesses reduce food waste at the source, and they even saved millions of dollars. Our mission was simple - feed more; waste less. And by 2018, our clients included the world's busiest airport, Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson, Hormel, Chick-fil-A and Papa John's. We've worked with over 200 businesses to divert more than 2 million pounds of edible food from landfills into the hands of people that needed it most.
ZOMORODI: So you create this company, you build an app, and you do well for a few years. But as we've seen, the pandemic upended all kinds of supply chains and particularly magnified the vulnerabilities in our food systems. Did you need to change how you run your business as a result?
CROWE: So the app still exist. But what we did in 2020 is we made a pivot. A lot of the businesses that we were serving had closed their doors - airports, convention centers, stadiums and arenas, colleges and universities. So what I started thinking is, how can we be the helpers? And our first big customer was actually one of the public school districts in Atlanta, where there were somewhere near 50,000 students that rode the bus to school every day - again, logistics - and at school, they received breakfast and lunch. So that's where they were eating. And now when schools were closing, how are these kids going to get access to their food? And so what Goodr came in and did is we started delivering food directly to these students' homes. We then took that same concept, and we started working directly with food distributors and manufacturers, purchasing food at cost and then delivering it in bulk to seniors across the city.
ZOMORODI: So rather than take excess food or wasted food and make sure it gets to people who need it, you are actually buying the food that people need.
CROWE: In one segment of our business, yes. But we are also buying food from distributors and manufacturers that would otherwise go to waste or that they can no longer sell. We're really helping to make sure that food doesn't go to waste at the manufacturer and distributor side. We're also still helping businesses address food waste. And at the end of the day, we're making sure that people have access to food at no cost to them.
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CROWE: In 2016, France became the first country to ban supermarkets from throwing away unused food. Instead, they must donate it, and they're fined if they don't. Denmark now has a mandated food waste grocery store - its name, Wefood. They recover excess food from local grocery stores and sell it at up to a 50% off discount. They then use all the proceeds and donate it to emergency aid programs and social need issues for the people in need. And last year, the world got its first pay-what-you-can grocery store when Feed It Forward opened in Toronto. Their shelves remain stocked by recovering excess food from major supermarkets and allowing families to simply pay what they can at the grocery store. This innovation, we need more of.
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ZOMORODI: Hearing you give examples from other countries makes me wonder where the U.S. government is in all of this. Like, why isn't this a systemic solution? Are city officials reaching out to you and saying, Jasmine, how can we put you out of business? I mean, why do you have to start a company to solve what it sounds like we need laws for?
CROWE: I agree with you. I think 100% it should be a systemic solution. And I think last year should have lifted the veil off of everybody's eyes of the plight of hunger in this country and just how close to being hungry a lot of people are.
CROWE: When you ask me how many people in policy, decision-makers have reached out to me and asked how can they help? - the reality is none. I've been waiting for one city to say, let's make sure that we have food hubs that exists where families know they can go and get meals for their family if they're missing a little bit of money. We need less food deserts. We need more affordable grocery stores. We need more people to have access to SNAP. We have to understand inflation is happening. Right? And until we get cities and more governments involved in actually trying to solve these problems, we're going to continue to have a hunger problem.
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ZOMORODI: That's social entrepreneur Jasmine Crowe. She's the founder and CEO of Goodr, and you can see her full talk at ted.com.
On the show today, the Food Connection. I'm Manoush Zomorodi, and you're listening to the TED Radio Hour from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.