The holiday season is a time of year for celebrating over hearty meals with friends and family. The season’s focus on food brings up a timely discussion on food waste and food insecurity in Hudson County. Last year, we introduced Hoboken Girl readers to local organizations that got creative with leftover food items. Many of these efforts were borne out of the impact of the pandemic and a desire to serve the community. Read on to learn more about how Hudson County community members can both reduce food waste and support neighbors in need.
Food Waste + Food Insecurity
Food waste and food insecurity are two problems that seem like they would share the same solution: how to connect the excess food with communities in need. But first, some basics.
Food insecurity refers to the USDA’s measure of a household’s periodic lack of access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods. A household may drift in and out of food insecurity; it is not a steady state. Food insecurity may reflect the household’s need to make trade-offs between important basic needs, such as housing or medical bills, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods. According to a 2018 study by Feeding America, 10.8% of Hudson County’s population was food insecure.
Food waste comes in many forms. The forgotten spring mix salad in the back of everyone’s crisper drawer comes to mind. At the consumer level, surplus or expired food is common, but food waste occurs on a larger scale on the retail and manufacturing level from production, supply chain, and spoilage issues. The end result of all of this is 30 to 40% of the nation’s food supply going to waste.
Connecting excess food to people in need is the second-best way to reduce food waste and the overall best way for consumers to minimize their impact.
Organizations in the Hudson County Area
New Jersey has one of the most food waste mitigation resources in the US. Here in Hudson County, there are several organizations that help both consumers and restaurants mitigate waste while helping community members.
In the spring of 2020, several Hudson County restaurants came together to form the Hudson County Hunger Project, part of the Coalition for Food and Health Equity. The restaurants worked with community partners such as the Hudson County Department on Aging to deliver more than 1400 meals weekly to county residents in need. The restaurant partners include local favorites Doner Express, El Gordo, The Cliff, Hudson Table, Cafe Peanut, Freetown Road, Fork Hill Kitchen, and MadeMeals. The meals are wholesome and nutritious and described as ‘a hug in a box.’ Since March 2020, over 43,000 meals have been served.
The concept of delivering nutritious meals directly to neighbors in need got the attention of the state government. The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) created the Sustain and Serve program in fall 2020. The program is designed to fund restaurants to keep operating while providing meals to communities in need. The state partners with community organizations to fund meals. To date, close to $45 million has been spent within the state to further this effort.
MadeMeals is a Hudson County business that is a recipient of the Sustain and Serve funds through its partnership with the Coalition for Food and Health Equity. The meals are made to the clients’ dietary preferences and needs, such as a low-sugar or allergy-friendly menu. It is a subscription-based meal delivery service, and because the orders are placed in advance, it cuts down on excess food.
In Our Neighborhoods
These big organizations have amazing missions and we are always happy to highlight and support them. But there are ways to mitigate food waste and food insecurity right in our neighborhoods. Each of these organizations is always open to new volunteers and donations. Many of these organizations have online wishlists making it easy to support in a socially-distant way. Volunteers are needed in all kinds of roles, from preparing meals to rescuing food to keeping storage areas clean and dry.
Table to Table is a Hudson County-based non-profit that calls itself a food rescue. Its volunteers make daily pickups of fresh, nutritious food that is headed to the landfill and divert it to food pantries, homeless shelters, senior centers, and other community resources. Table to Table has relationships with dozens of restaurants, grocery stores, warehouses, and suppliers and focuses on large-scale donations. The organization has been doing food rescues for over 20 years, totaling over 25 million pounds of food.
Rescuing Leftover Cuisine is a nationwide non-profit with a Hudson County operation that began in 2020. It has already rescued over 40,000 pounds of food. Volunteers pick up excess food from retailers and deliver it directly to community partners. Some local food retailers who participate include Choc●O●Pain, Sweetgreen, Whealth Kitchen, and Prkup coffee. Some of the community partners who receive meals include the York Street Project, which is a Jersey City-based shelter and support community for women and children.
There are several community fridges located throughout Hudson County. A community fridge is a hyper-local effort to share resources within a community. It is a volunteer-run effort to stock and clean the fridge. While the rules differ slightly, the general principles are the same: take what you need, leave what you can; no expired food; and don’t donate anything you wouldn’t want in your own home. Community members can donate excess food from their own pantries. Several local restaurants contribute excess food to the fridges in their neighborhoods. The fridges in Jersey City are located in The Heights and in the West Side. Other Hudson County fridges are located in Union City and West New York. Neighbors can donate time, resources, and money to each fridge. In addition to fresh food, several fridges also have personal hygiene items available.
Packing up to move to a new home is an endless discovery of all the forgotten items tucked away in closets and pantries. Move for Hunger is a program where participating moving companies will deliver customers’ nonperishable items to local food pantries. Founder Adam Lowy, a New Jersey native, was motivated to start the organization while observing how much food waste was generated during the residential moves he supervised while working for his family’s moving company. Since the organization’s founding in 2009, more than 19.2 million pounds of food have been collected. Move for Hunger is a nationwide organization with several local moving companies participating.