When diverting food from landfill, most think about the option to compost, but in reality, perfectly edible food is ending up in landfill. Federal legislation, such as the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, encourages businesses to donate food to nonprofit organizations by minimizing liability. We sat down with Rethink’s CEO, Matt Jozwik, to discuss how they were inspired by and taking action on food insecurity across the United States.
Q: Tell us about yourself and what inspired you to get involved with food donations and start Rethink?
A: Before founding Rethink Food, I was a cook in a number of fine dining restaurants around the world. I was seeing firsthand how much perfectly good food was being wasted in restaurants while people in the community were struggling with food insecurity. In looking for ways to support the community, I wanted to find a better solution for connecting the excess food in our system with the people that needed it. That is how the idea of Rethink Food was born in 2017. We developed a process to transform excess food from restaurants, corporate kitchens, and grocery stores into nutritious meals for communities facing food insecurity.
Q: What do you think are the gaps in our current food system that allow for so much food to be wasted while millions of people are suffering from food insecurity? How is Rethink creating a more sustainable and ethical food system?
A: The biggest gap in our current food system is inaccessibility. Annually, 70 billion tons of good food goes underutilized in the United States but people who are impacted by food insecurity simply do not have access to it. Another gap is the perception that underutilized food is waste. The food we utilize in our programs is perfectly good and in changing the idea that it’s waste, we can show that there is more food available than originally thought.
We are bridging the gap to create a more sustainable and equitable food system through programming that addresses the big issues, excess food and sustainably providing access to food for communities facing food insecurity. Rethink Food operates three programs: Rethink Certified, Rethink Cafe, and our community kitchen. For Rethink Certified, we partner with restaurants to utilize their excess food to provide meals to local community based organizations (CBOs). Our Rethink Cafe is a pay-what-you-can model to increase access that communities have to affordable and healthy meals. Finally, our community kitchen transforms excess food from partners into meals for CBOs. Since April 2020, we have provided nearly 5 million meals to communities experiencing food insecurity and utilized over 400,000 lbs of excess food.
Q: How do you ensure that the Community Based Organizations (CBOs) are receiving the right amount of food to serve the community, so they don’t need to waste anything?
A: Rethink developed a proprietary technology platform called Xylem. Through Xylem, CBOs and restaurants interface directly. On a weekly basis, CBOs and restaurants are communicating on the number of meals needed and menu planning to ensure the meals being provided meet the dietary and cultural requirements for the community receiving. In addition, Xylem supports delivery logistics ensuring it’s a simple and easy process for our partners.
Q: In addition to giving back to their communities, what other incentives are there for businesses to participate in the Rethink Certified Program?
A: While Rethink Certified was launched in the pandemic, it is a model intended as a long term solution to addressing food insecurity and supporting small businesses. Rethink provides resources to restaurants to support integrating community meals into their daily operations and benefit their business. Resources include: funding, mentorship, marketing/public relations, financial training and fundraising support. By partnering with Rethink, restaurants are attracting more socially conscious customers, providing a meaningful employee engagement opportunity for their staff, and receiving tax deductions for donated meals and food. It’s a win-win-win.
Q: Can you tell us how you connect CBO’s with donors? What does that process look like?
A: 100% of every dollar donated to Rethink goes towards providing meals to CBOs which distribute those meals to their communities. In addition to free meals, Rethink also connects our CBO network to our partners that donate excess food.
Q: You recently opened up your first Rethink Café in Brooklyn, what was the inspiration behind opening up this space?
A: The inspiration for the Rethink Cafe stemmed from the question of how do we create better access to healthy and affordable meals in the communities we serve. The Rethink Cafe is one of New York City’s first pay-what-you-can models which invites everyone to enjoy a nutritious meal for a suggested donation of $5. The cafe has become as much as a go-to spot in the neighborhood to grab coffee or lunch, as it is a place our neighbors who are impacted by food insecurity can count on to have a delicious meal in a dignified setting.
You can check out the daily changing menu at Rethink Cafe here.
Q: Rethink has served nearly 5 million meals to date, what has been the reaction from the community and donors?
A: The support has been incredible. I am humbled by the number of people and partners that have reached out to us to become a part of our community and help further our mission. We hear from our CBOs how grateful the local communities are, and how we have provided a lifeline during a challenging year. We are only scratching the surface here, and Rethink, along with our community of supporters, will keep challenging and improving the issues in our current food system.
Q: What are some ways that individuals can get involved to support your mission to create a more sustainable + ethical food system?
A: The best way to support our mission is by donating. Because our Board of Directors covers our administrative cost, 100% of every donation goes towards providing meals to communities facing food insecurity. You can also sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Instagram.
Q: What’s next for Rethink?
A: At the heart of our work is creating a more sustainable and equitable food system. Whether that’s through utilizing excess food, creating new and better channels to address food insecurity, or by partnering with food establishments (restaurants, caterers, bakeries, etc.), our work is grounded in building better food systems.
Rethink is expanding nationally — we have worked with over 100 restaurants in New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington D.C., Nashville and soon to be in Miami and Raleigh. We are aiming to create a new industry standard for how restaurants and food establishments play an active role in supporting their communities — a model that can be easily adapted, no matter the location.
Our scope of work is growing and I am truly excited to see how Rethink can continue to help shape structural and lasting change in our food system.
For information on how your business can tackle food waste, contact one of our TRUE advisors today. For more information on sustainable waste management, reduction, and recycling, subscribe to the RTS blog.