Food Waste Solution Summit – A Social Work Perspective by Sarah Feteih

The San Diego Food System Alliance hosted their annual “Food Waste Solutions Summit” to bring together community leaders and innovators to address the issue of food waste and food insecurity in the United States. I was privileged enough to attend this summit through the School of Social Work. The panels, main sessions, and resource fair were incredibly informative and engaging. I came in with a personal passion for food policy, and I left the event with a better understanding of food waste and food insecurity as social issues and the various ways we can engage to address them.

I learned about the tangible impact of policy. Fear of liability is the single greatest barrier cited by restaurants and food retailers to donating unused food to redistribution organizations or food banks, resulting in about 40% of unused food being thrown away.  The California Good Samaritan Food Donation Act (AB 1219) expands protection from liability for food donors to encourage more businesses to donate unused food. I learned about various grassroots efforts to repurpose food waste: companies like Pulp Pantry that make healthy snacks out of fruit and vegetable juice pulp that would otherwise be thrown away, or Misadventure & Co., a business making vodka out of unsold baked goods.

The more I learned, the more I realized the hand that social work can play in addressing these issues. Food waste and food insecurity are issues that not only impact all levels of social work practice, but all levels of social work practice can be leveraged to address these issues.

At the macro level, food waste and food insecurity need to be addressed through systemic change around food policy and systems. San Diego Unified School District is a leading innovator in challenging food waste, diverting 112,000 pounds of food waste from landfills in the 2016-2017 academic year through programs like Share Tables, where students can place unopened and unwanted food in a designated area for other students to choose from, and utilizing the Offer Versus Serve model for serving lunch, which allows students to choose the items they will eat and decline the items that would otherwise be thrown away.

Even at the micro level, direct practice social workers can also affect change. Incorporating food security as part of clinical assessments can better inform clinicians about the emotional and mental health concerns of their clients. Having an awareness of, and knowledge about, resources in the community that can assist food insecure individuals and families can make a significant difference in the lives of the clients we serve.

In San Diego County, while 500,000 people are food insecure, 500,000 tons of food makes it way to landfills as waste every year. Recovery of just 5% of that food would support every single food insecure person in San Diego County. As social workers, we are committed to bridge the gap between needed resources. Part of that commitment should involve actively working to preserve and maintain the resources that we have by becoming involved in efforts that address food waste and food insecurity.

*All statistics, facts, and numbers are from various presentations during the Food Waste Solutions Summit on Tuesday, September 26th, 2017.

Sarah Feteih is an MSW student


Local Movements

San Diego Food System Alliance:

Save the Food San Diego:

Innovations in Food Waste

Replate – recover food donations based on their needs and location:

ReFED – collaboration of over 30 business, nonprofit and government leaders committed to reducing U.S. food waste by up to 50% by 2030:

Food2Soil – transforming waste into soil, food, and jobs:

BuffetGo – buy leftover food from restaurant buffets ― at up to 90 percent off the original price :

Misadventure – vodka made from unsold baked goods:

Closing the Loop – composting food waste into soil and returning soil to small farmers in San Diego:

Pulp Pantry – snacks made from upcycled fruit and vegetable juice pulp: