FoodWasteFresh Taste Initiative and Seven Generations Ahead convened a half-day meeting at the Greater Chicago Food Depository on May 16 to explore food waste solutions in the Chicago region. Presented under the title, "Exploring Food Waste Solutions in the Chicago Region," the meeting brought together groups on both sides of the food waste reduction equation-those involved in food scrap composting and those who recover food to feed those in need.

     On the composting side, the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition (IFSC) advances food scrap composting in Illinois through education, program implementation, policy and advocacy. IFSC is comprised of members from solid waste agencies, counties, businesses, community organizations and local governments. Groups focused on agriculture surplus capture are the Illinois Commission to End Hunger and Emergency Food System Work Group.

     "It became clear there's a logical coalition here that could work for policy change," said Karen Lehman, executive director of Fresh Taste, an initiative headed by 12 Chicago-region foundations that are working together to relocalize the Chicago foodshed and improve equity of access to good food. It was Fresh Taste that first approached SGA Executive Director Gary Cuneen and Kate Maehr, CEO of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, about holding the meeting.

Among the groups and organizations represented at the meeting were Faith in Place, Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry, The Lumpkin Foundation, NRDC, Crown Family Philanthropies, Growing Power, Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition, Collective Resource and Plant Chicago.

Small group discussions drew on a report by ReFED (Rethink Food Waste Through Economics and Data) that identifies that consumers are the big problem in food waste, Lehman noted. In states like Vermont and Massachusetts that take organic waste out of the waste stream, donations to emergency food assistance have gone up as much as 20 percent, Lehman said.

IFSC is mainly focused on building a robust food scrap composting industry in Illinois, said Cuneen, an IFSC founding member. “The IFSC fully supports the EPA Food Recovery Heirarchy, which advocates for source reduction and feeding hungry people as priorities before diverting food material to composting.”

Lehman said, “The purpose now is to try to convene people to figure out is there a way we can work in the Chicago region to have a more systemic approach and really develop a food waste strategy. A lot of the pieces are there.”

—Cassandra West