Current Issue #488

OzHarvest CEO on Food Waste and Hunger

OzHarvest CEO on Food Waste and Hunger

It is an odd thing to hear an executive so heartily advocate for the destruction of their own business, but OzHarvest is not a conventional group.

“We need to fix the problem, not see it continue for decades to come.”

The problem Kahn is referring to is that of food waste, which OzHarvest exists to eliminate. “One third of all food produced in the world is wasted,” Kahn says.

Having founded OzHarvest in 2004, Kahn has seen OzHarvest grow into a nation-wide organisation with bases in seven cities and a regional program to boot. Kahn was in Adelaide this week to launch a brand new food collection van. Under the name ‘Daisy’ this van joins sisters Marigold, Buttercup and Primrose in OzHarvest’s South Australian fleet of food collectors.

These vans, and dozens more across the country, make their way to supermarkets, restaurants, convention centres, hotels – any participating outlet possessing excess food at the end of the day – and delivers the excess to charitable organisations feeding the needy, all for free.

Each van has the capacity to deliver around 15 tonnes of food annually. Daisy’s addition to the fleet has come simply because there is still so much to be picked up and delivered in the state. With this new van, OzHarvest has signed an agreement with Woolworths to be able to pick up food from 20 additional stores, which add to a total of more than 2000 outlets across the country, Kahn explains.

The groups donating food have signed up to do so for entirely altruistic reasons, as OzHarvest and more than 850 charitable groups nationwide receiving food that would otherwise go to landfill pay nothing for the bounty.

“We are completely non-denominational and non-discriminatory in the groups we work with,” Kahn says. “Our purpose is to ‘nourish our country’,” Kahn notes, quoting OzHarvest’s motto, explaining that the first aim of the company is to feed vulnerable people and those who have fallen on hard times.

“It doesn’t take much to fall through the cracks. A person could get divorced, lose their job and find themselves homeless quite quickly today.” Kahn lays out the four pillars on which the company is founded and demonstrate a far-reaching and well-considered goals for the corporation: Rescue, Educate, Engage and Innovate. Food waste is a pervasive problem in today’s society, says Kahn, so it’s important to speak to the all sections of the community in different ways, which these pillars help to do.

“Household, businesses and individuals are all responsible for this issue,” Kahn says. Obviously, the first of those pillars is dedicated to the core mission of rescuing food that would otherwise be wasted and delivering it to the needy. The other pillars go a step further to ending the cycle of food waste.

Through ‘Education’, OzHarvest aims to teach the general public about things such as the impact of the modern food chain, and how wasting one piece of food in fact wastes all of the resources that were used in its production, including water, space, time and fuel. Another program, called ‘Nourish’, aims to train disadvantaged youths in hospitality, and “break the cycle of intergenerational poverty”.

Targeting the corporate side of waste, the goal to ‘Engage’ is carried out through in a series of programs designed to involve businesses in combatting waste. One such program takes shape in the form of a Cooking for a Cause, a team-building exercise for business groups where individuals work together to cook rescued food into dishes to be given to the needy. Kahn says that programs like this are effective as they help businesses fulfil their own ethical goals, and build morale at the same time.

“People are looking to find meaning, and programs like that have a direct purpose they can connect to.” The final pillar aims to ‘Innovate’ in ways through which OzHarvest can build its profile, as well as spread its message in eye-catching and effective ways.

For example, the group set up a pop-up restaurant in Sydney, serving meals made from rescued food that were prepared by the youths taking part in the Nourish program.

While programs like this might have a lower immediate impact on the community, they are garnished with strong media coverage and build awareness.

Notably, OzHarvest has had success in the past lobbying state governments to change laws allowing food providers to be able to donate their excess to the group. On the subject of whether OzHarvest would lobby the government to draw up laws like those recently introduced in France, which mandate that supermarkets must donate their excess to charitable organisations, Kahn plainly says, “No”.

“We think that there is no need for that kind of legislation here. Businesses are already working hard in that space in Australia and we are about 10 years ahead of countries like France when it comes to issues like this. There is nothing like OzHarvest in France.”

Kahn goes on to say that “fining and penalising” companies for their practices in an area like food waste are counter-productive, and that it’s simply smarter to make sure the population at large understands the problem at hand. For OzHarvest, guidance is far superior to penance.

“We are products of an over-consumptive society, and this is not a problem to fix overnight,” she says. OzHarvest derives its greatest strengths from the community that serves it. Volunteers, donating businesses and charities power the group’s success in feeding and educating the populace.

Interestingly, much of OzHarvest’s funding comes not from government or a greater charitable organisation, but from philanthropic groups, a trait much more common in countries like the USA than Australia.

These donors are diverse and include groups like Macquarie Bank, Jarvis Toyota, the Wood Foundation, the FWH Foundation and the Thyne Reid Foundation. “Living is giving, and giving is living,” Kahn says.

With Daisy joining OzHarvest’s South Australian fleet, a plethora of other worthy activities and strong support through the community, it would seem that OzHarvest will be giving long into the future until, as Kahn hopes, it runs itself out of business.


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