Daily Bowl’s Simple, Direct, Effective Approach to Food Recovery
Food insecurity in Alameda County has risen by nearly 50% during the pandemic. In 2019, 9% of residents were considered food insecure, and now research by Feeding America estimates that the COVID-19 crisis could push the rate of food insecurity to 13.9% in 2021.
The most confounding part of the nation’s hunger crisis is that there is plenty of healthy food available, but much of it is wasted. In fact, the USDA estimates that 30-40% of the food supply—roughly 133 billion pounds—is discarded. Billions of pounds of healthy food that could have fed food insecure families is regularly sent to landfills.
Paddy Iyer was volunteering at a food pantry, watching the “cross-cultural demographic” of people waiting in line, when he started to think more deeply about food waste. Although they were grateful for the food, the people waiting in line asked Iyer if there was a way to get food from their own cultures.
“Let me see what I can do,” Iyer told them. That’s when he started digging deeper. He soon determined that “a preference for perfection” is one of the driving reasons for food waste.
At the time, Iyer was the owner of Paddy’s Coffee in Union City. When he had extra inventory in his coffee shop, he would simply give the items to his staff, or he would offer the extras to his unhoused neighbors.
“You don't want to sell the old surplus the next day,” said Iyer. “It didn't enter your mind that you could sell it the next day for half-price or whatever, right? So you just give it away.”
“Consumers expect perfection, so that impacts what the stores can sell,” he said. “That’s one of the driving reasons for food waste.”
The desire to help solve the food waste problem inspired Iyer to create a new nonprofit in 2016 called Daily Bowl to divert healthy food from going into landfills. At the same time, the legal environment changed significantly, allowing the redistribution of excess food from retailers and professional kitchens.
Daily Bowl’s mission is simple: Volunteers recover edible food that would otherwise go to waste and deliver it to local agencies to feed needy families. The nonprofit visits grocery stores, farmer’s markets, restaurants, and institutional kitchens, picks up excess food at the end of the day, and then delivers it to a network of food banks, social services agencies, soup kitchens, and places of worship where it is put to good use before the food spoils.
Since its inception, Daily Bowl has helped divert more than 3.5 million pounds of edible food to agencies that help the food insecure.
“All the stuff that we pick up is all good stuff,” said Iyer. “I mean, it could be blemished a little bit—you know, a little soft or a little squiggly—but it's still perfectly edible. Or, it could have a sell-by date that recently passed, but it's still perfectly good. Our philosophy is if it looks good, smells good, and tastes good, it's good, right?”
“We've got the best hand holding partner in DSAL.”
Collaboration is key to Daily Bowl’s success, according to Iyer. As he builds cross-cultural partnerships and attracts volunteers, he is actively weaving new relationships across the County. In addition to addressing food insecurity, these new relationships reinforce mutual trust, strengthen the fabric of the community, and increase what we refer to as “collective efficacy” in our Community Capitals approach to policing.
On the receiving end, Iyer has created partnerships with dozens of nonprofit food pantries, places of worship, and social service agencies that have offered distribution.
“I've built up a model where I know which receiving agency will appreciate the donation that's coming in,” said Iyer. “For example, if we get produce favored by Latino or Asian communities, we know where that can go.”
Iyer has also built strong relationships on the pickup and delivery side of the food recovery equation. That’s where DSAL comes in.
“We work very closely with DSAL,” he said. “We’ll say, ‘okay, team from DSAL and Dig Deep Farms, there is stuff to be picked up over here, can you handle it?’ That's one of the many ways we collaborate. DSAL also serves as a central hub where people can drop off the excess food.”
“Let's say, for example, we pick up 800 pounds of bananas,” said Iyer. “Now, I'm not going to drive around town dropping off 200 pounds here and 100 pounds there. We drop it off at the Dig Deep Farms Food Hub, a central hub, right? Then you come to the Food Hub, and you pick up what you need? And when you get there, you might find something more than just bananas, right? What’s happening is a cross-pollination of activity among different organizations. We’re making grassroots connections that didn’t exist before.”
“As a nonprofit, especially when you're dealing with an issue like food security, operating in silos is really not the right thing to do,” he said. “You need collaboration. People need to hold hands and help the community, right? And we've got the best hand holding partner in DSAL.”