Choose What to Pay at New Cafe!

Philadelphia is living up to its name. In late October, the “city of brotherly love” opened its first non-profit community café in the Mantua neighbourhood.

Known as EAT (Everyone At the Table), the café has a defining feature: it operates on a pay-what-you-can model. In other words, although the restaurant suggests a donation of $15/meal, “patrons are welcome to pay less, more, or nothing at all”.

The idea behind the café is not new. In fact, there are about 50 similar restaurants throughout the United States. But EAT Café is working hard to set itself apart. While most of its counterparts are “cafeteria-style” and “hosted in church basements”, EAT Café is a full-service restaurant offering a 3-course meal (like kale salad, ginger-gazed chicken, and apple cobbler). According to Mariana Chilton, a partner from nearby Drexel University, “I wanted to make sure that this would not be confused with a soup kitchen”.

The goal is not just to alleviate hunger in Philadelphia, where 1 in 4 people are food insecure. It is also about providing food without shame in an environment where all kinds of people can “meet up and intermingle.” After all, “there’s a lot of shame and isolation that goes along with the experience of hunger”.

However, for EAT Café to have a lasting impact in the community, it needs to be “sustainable” beyond 2019 (when its grants expire). Currently, the café benefits from the generous donations of a number of partners. Metropolitan Bakery, for example, donates bread for each meal, La Colombe provides discounted coffee, and the Drexel Urban Growers supply vegetables. But EAT Cafe believes that it will require 60+% of its ingredients to be donated. Additionally, the restaurant estimates that it needs to serve about 130 meals/night (costing $3.25/meal) for an average of $15 each.

Unfortunately, EAT Café is off to a slow start. In its first week, it served just 125 meals. General Manager Donnell Jones-Craven believes that the key will be “getting the word out”. To this end, he plans to invest in a larger sign, to leverage twitter, and to speak with community groups. But the best spokespeople for EAT Café are the patrons themselves! Matso Baatarkhuu, a struggling student from Mongolia, says “I was about to starve and this place saved my life… It’s not just that it’s this pay-what-you-can model, but they also have great, respectful service. They really take care of you.”

This November, in honor of Thanksgiving, do your part to address hunger. Stop by a non-profit community cafe or complete Op4G surveys for one of our partner food banks: the Central Texas Food Bank, the Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana, the Oregon Food Bank, the SF-Marin Food Bank, the Vermont Foodbank, CUMAC, and the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties. Learn more here.




Rio Olympics Brings Feast to the Favelas

For over a week, the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro have showcased the feats of the world’s top athletes. But on the outskirts of the city, in the neighbourhood of Lapa, something else remarkable is occurring. A new restaurant is using the leftover ingredients from Olympic caterers and other partners to prepare gourmet meals for Brazil’s poor.

Known as Refettorio Gastromotiva, the open-concept restaurant features designer wood tables, over-sized photos, and murals by leading Brazilian artists. Every night, a different famous chef “takes the helm”, turning overripe bananas or “ugly” mangoes into an “epicurean delight”. Then, waiters in “prim orange aprons” serve the 70 guests, selected by local shelters and non-profits. Guests range from homeless mothers to prostitutes to alcoholics.

The idea originated with Lassimo Bottura, a master chef who runs the Michelin three-star Osteria Francescana in Italy. Inspired by Pope Francis’ advocacy work, Bottura built a fancy soup kitchen in an abandoned theatre during the 2015 Milan World Expo. He recruited 65 international chefs, including Brazilian David Hertz. After witnessing the success of the effort, Hertz implored Bottura to partner with him on similar restaurant during the Rio Olympics.

The result – Refettorio Gastromotiva – has already won a gold medal in our books. After all, the restaurant has highlighted “Olympic waste: the more than 230 tons of food supplied daily to prepare 60,000 meals for athletes, coach and staff”. It has also demonstrated how such waste can help feed the world’s 800 million hungry people.

Of further note, the restaurant has employed students of Gastromotiva. Since 2007, the non-profit cooking school has trained 2500 Brazilians from the country’s favelas (urban slums) to be cooks. In doing so, it has used “the power of gastronomy, food, and all its elements to transform society, bring people together, and help reduce social inequality”.

Finally, by feeding Rio’s poor in an upscale setting, Refettorio Gastromotiva has supplied needed nutrition and human dignity. In the words of Bottura, “One of the most important things of this project is we give dignity, rebuild dignity. It’s not just about good food”. Cota e Silva, a fellow chef, adds “We want [the guests] to feel spoiled – for at least one night”.

The feedback speaks for itself. One guest, Valdimir Faria, said “Just sitting here, treated with respect on an equal footing, makes me think I have a chance”. Another, Rene da Conceicao,  called the food “the best he’d had in 40 years” and claimed that he felt “like a boss”.

The timing is ideal. Over the past year, Brazil has “plunged into its deepest recession in decades”. In Rio alone, approximately 25% now live in favelas and 5500 are homeless. To exacerbate matters, Rio’s state government closed or reduced service at 16 meal centers in June. This contrasts the lavish spending ($12 billion) on the Olympic Games, which has “only heightened a sense of abandonment among the homeless”.

Fortunately, Refettorio Gastromotiva will not close with the Olympic Games on August 21. Instead, it will “morph into a lunchtime restaurant” for paying customers. The proceeds will then fund evening meals (made with surplus food) for the homeless. Additionally, the restaurant will continue to train Gastromotiva students. In support, the City of Rio has given the non-profit a free 10 year lease on its current building.

Bottura’s Olympic dream is that the restaurant will flourish and inspire other such projects around the world. Several cities, such as Montreal and Los Angeles, already plan to open ritzy soup kitchens next year. If this dream materializes, Refettorio Gastromotiva will be the true Rio Olympics legacy project.


Please consider donating to one of our partner food banks: the Central Texas Food Bank, the Friends of St. Joseph Food Pantry, the Gleaner’s Food Bank of Indiana, the Oregon Food Bank, the SF-Marin Food Bank, the Second Harvest Food Bank, and the Vermont Food Bank.

The Bitter Fight against Sugar

Americans love the sweet taste of sugar. In fact, the FDA estimates that the average American consumes 20 teaspoons of added sugar daily – almost double the recommended maximum (12.5)!

But this love affair comes at a price. The CDC reports that over 1/3 of American adults and 17% of youth are obese. This costs the US medical system approximately $147 billion per year. Moreover, obesity-related conditions like heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes are among the leading causes of preventable death in the United States. You just can’t sugar coat it.

Government officials have taken note and have tried to curb sugar consumption. Yet, progress has been slow as molasses. Hence, this year, governments are pursuing new and more aggressive tactics.

Last week, for example, the FDA announced a major update to nutritional label requirements on packaged foods. Among other things, food producers will now have to list the grams and percent daily value of added sugar in their foods. They must also indicate the amount of added sugar “per package” and “per serving”, and update serving sizes to reflect what people actually consume. So that 20 oz bottle of coke that you gulp over dinner will now be 1 full serving. The new rules will take effect in July 2018 (or 2019 for small producers).

Of course, not everyone is sweet on the idea. The “outraged” sugar lobby claims the decision is “not grounded in science”, while General Mills argues that labels already feature total sugar counts. But there are also many fans. Michelle Obama, a champion for healthy living, said “I am thrilled…This is going to make a real difference in providing families the information they need to make healthy choices”.  Michael Jacobson, founder of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, added that new labels should “spur food manufacturers to add less sugar to their products”.

Some cities are going a step further, appealing not to people’s logic but to their wallets. They are imposing a “sugar tax” on each ounce of sugary products. The progressive bastion of Berkeley, California, was the first such city, approving a 1 penny-per-ounce tax in 2014. Other cities like San Francisco, Oakland, Boulder, and Philadelphia are now considering a similar tariff.

In the case of Philadelphia, the mayor has proposed a 3 cent-per-ounce tax on sugar-added drinks, “potentially increasing prices by more than half”. Though the mayor acknowledges the health benefits, he has pitched the tax as a primarily economic measure to reduce healthcare costs and to raise up to $400 million. This money will go to various “services for the city’s needy”, including schools, universal prekindergarten, parks, recreation centers, and libraries.

Some, including presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, have denounced the tax as “regressive”. They note that poor people consume disproportionately high volumes of soda and will therefore shoulder the largest economic burden. However, a nutrition expert at the University of North Carolina maintains that the poor will simply buy less harmful soda, while enjoying improved public services. In the words of the mayor, “There is no downside to this other than that the three major soda companies may make a little less money”. Philadelphia will vote on the tax in June.

Do you want to learn more about sugar and healthy eating? Check out Let’s Move, Shape Up America, Healthy Lifestyle Choices, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, or the Diabetic Youth Foundation.



Would you take the Food Stamp Challenge?

This week, actress Gwyneth Paltrow joined a growing list of celebrities by accepting the “Food Stamp Challenge”. The challenge involves living for a week on food purchased through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Formerly known as food stamps, SNAP gives low-income individuals approximately $43/week to spend at authorized retailers. As of 2014, the program benefits over 46 million Americans.

Just a few days into the challenge, Paltrow has already sparked controversy. Many have noted that the actress (worth $280 million) can soon return to her ultra-rich lifestyle. Hence, she “cannot come close to the struggles encountered by low-income families week after week and month after month”. Some have even called the challenge “foul” for treating hunger like a short-term game or experiment.

Paltrow’s choice of food has also garnered criticism. The food (a dozen eggs, black beans, brown rice, corn tortillas, and an array of vegetables) reflects a macrobiotic diet of under 1000 calories/day. This may sustain a wealthy movie star trying to stay slim. However, “busy, working people” (31% of SNAP recipients) “have no choice but to be far more active and thus require far more calories”. Also, many SNAP recipients live in food deserts and lack access to fresh produce. In the words of one twitter user, “[not all] families on SNAP have cars to drive to Whole Foods”.

But perhaps these critics should bite their tongues. As the Food Research and Action Center notes, “many anti-hunger advocates encourage and appreciate famous people getting a taste of the food stamp life”. After all, living on food stamps can give people “a new perspective and greater understanding”. It illustrates the difficulty of subsisting on SNAP and how judgmental others can be about food stamp purchases. This, in turn, may lead to donations, lobbying, or partnerships with food banks.

Moreover, by sharing their experience with fans, celebrities shine a bright light on the problem of hunger. Paltrow’s tweet about her SNAP food purchase, for example, reached 2.12 million followers (and was retweeted 2000 times). It also attracted significant media attention, including from the Washington Post and the New York Daily News.

So now that you know about America’s hunger problem, would you take the Food Stamp Challenge? At the very least, please donate to one of our partner food banks: the Oregon Food Bank, the Vermont Food Bank, the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo County, Operation Sack Lunch, and the Friends of Saint Joseph Food Pantry.

Thankful? Prove It – Donate to a Food Bank!

3Thanksgiving in the United States is only a few weeks away. Just in time for the holiday, Feeding America has released its latest report, Hunger in America 2014. The report is part of a quadrennial series that provides comprehensive profiles of the hungry to guide US policy development. It is based on interviews with more than 60,000 subjects using 200 food banks.

This year’s report reveals some staggering realities. Foremost, approximately 50 million Americans—or 1 in 6—currently suffer from hunger. This includes at least 7 million seniors and 12 million children. Not surprisingly, these individuals report relatively modest incomes. In fact, their median annual household income is $9,175 (compared to $53,891 for the general US population). Additionally, nearly half report only “fair” or “poor” health.They suffer from particularly high rates of diabetes and hypertension.

But, in many respects, these individuals defy common stereotypes. According to the report, 54% of surveyed households have at least 1 employed member. 41% have at least 1 member with post-secondary education. 20% have at least 1 military veteran. And only 5% of survey respondents are homeless, as defined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

So how do these individuals cope? Currently, approximately 46 million Americans are enrolled in the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Formerly known as food stamps, SNAP provides food-purchasing assistance to eligible, low-income individuals and families. Certain subsets also take advantage of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), and the School Breakfast Program (SBP). However, such federal assistance is often insufficient. In fact, among the 55% of surveyed households who receive SNAP benefits, “a fifth exhaust their full month’s benefit within a week”.

Consequently, over the last year, 46.5 million individuals turned to Feeding America-affiliated food banks for help. Combined, they visited the food banks 389 million times. Thus, “many individuals are routinely turning to the Feeding America network to meet their nutrition and food budget needs”.

Some also resorted to more drastic measures. Over two-thirds of surveyed households chose between paying for food and paying for utilities, transportation, or medical care during the last year. 35% sold or pawned property to increase their food budget. Furthermore, 40% watered down food or drinks to “make them last longer” or feed everyone in the home.

Given these shocking statistics, Op4G is pleased to promote our partner food banks this month. Currently, these partners include: New Hampshire Catholic Charities, the Oregon Food Bank, the SF-Marin Food Bank, the Vermont Food Bank, the Friends of Saint Joseph’s Pantry, Operation: Sack Lunch, Cumac, the Community Food Bank, and the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.

As of November 11, Op4G members have donated $18,650 to these food banks. In fact, the Second Harvest Food Bank alone has received $11,504! In this month of Thanksgiving, Op4G encourages our members to complete more surveys for our partner food banks. Remember, every dollar can provide 10 meals!

Flickr photo credit: Peter aka anemoneprojectors


In the Red: World Surpasses Annual Natural Resource Budget

picwaterLast week, on August 19, the planet reached Earth Overshoot Day. Also known as Ecological Debt Day, the date marks the point at which “humanity has used up its natural resource budget for the year”, including land, trees, and food. In other words, “our use of resources has started to exceed the Earth’s ability to regenerate”.

The Global Footprint Network, a California-based non-profit, calculates Earth Overshoot Day annually. The Network divides the “world’s biocapacity – the amount of natural resources generated by the planet that year – by humanity’s natural consumption of Earth’s resources”. It factors in approximately 6,000 data points for 230 countries, territories, and regions. It then multiplies the total by the number of days in a year. According to the Network, the result is accurate within 15%.

The arrival of Earth Overshoot Day on August 19 is certainly worrisome. As noted in the Daily Mail, “Earth is in overdraft just EIGHT months into the year”. But even more alarming is the shift in the Earth Overshoot Day over time. In 1961, “humans used only around 3/4 of the Earth’s capacity for generating food, timber, fish and absorbing greenhouse gases, with most countries having more resources than they consumed”. Since then, however, the earth overshoot day has crept up earlier each year. In 1967, the US began consuming more than its natural budget. By the 1970s, “enough countries had moved from ecological creditor to ecological debtor status that the earth as a whole was overshooting its sustainable supply of critical resources”. This upward creep has accelerated in recent years. In 2000, the Earth Overshoot Day was November 1. In 2009, it was September 25.

According to Mathis Wackernagel, President of the Global Footprint Network, the Global overshoot is becoming “a defining challenge of the 21st century”. Already, in 2014, it would take 1.5 Earths to produce the renewable resources needed to support current human consumption. By mid-century, however, “moderate population, energy and food projections suggest that humanity would require the biocapacity of 3 planets”. The resulting “deforestation, fresh-water scarcity, soil erosion, biodiversity loss, and the build-up of CO2 in our atmosphere” will come with enormous human and economic costs. Countries with resource deficits and low incomes are particularly vulnerable, but high-income countries will also pay a price.

In response, the Global Footprint Network urges countries to implement long-term solutions before “such dependencies…turn into a significant economic stress”. In the words of Wackernagel, “Government can always print more money, but it can’t print more planet. Ecological overshoot should lead the political agenda”. Already, Global Footprint has inspired several countries to take action. The Philippines is implementing national land-use planning, Morocco is investing in sustainable agriculture systems, and the UAE is installing high-efficiency lighting. Individuals can also act. Using the organization’s personal calculator, they can pinpoint their own overshoot day, and reduce their consumption accordingly.

To learn more, please contact the Global Footprint Network, the Environmental Defense Fund, or our partners, the Ocean River Instituteand Solar Sonoma County.

Flickr photo credit: Bryan Wysoglad 

Waste Not, Want Not: Solving the Global Food Crisis

pic3Ever find yourself throwing out last week’s groceries, or only finishing half your meal? You are not alone. According to the latest research from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), roughly 1/3 of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally. This amounts to 1.3 billion tonnes of food or 57% of all the calories harvested each year.

The magnitude and cause of the problem vary by region. In the developing world, per capita food waste equates to 6 – 11 kg/year. Most of this waste occurs at the start of the supply chain due to inefficient harvesting, inadequate local transportation, and poor infrastructure (e.g. a lack of refrigerating facilities). In the developed world, however, per capita waste equates to a shocking 95 – 115 kg/year. Waste occurs primarily at the end of the supply chain, as supermarkets “often reject entire crops of perfectly edible fruit and vegetables…because they do not meet exacting marketing standards”. Consumers also purchase “excessive quantities” of perishable foods and dispose of food early due to “confusing” food labels.

The human impact of such waste is considerable. After all, about 1 billion people globally (or 1 in 7) continue to suffer from malnutrition or starvation. According to the Feeding 5000 Campaign, the vast quantity of wasted food “would be enough to satisfy the hunger of every one of them”.

But “wasting food means losing not only life-supporting nutrition”. It also mean losing “precious resources, including land, water and energy”. In fact, producing wasted food requires 28% of global farmland – approximately the size of Mexico. It uses enough freshwater to meet the domestic needs of 9 billion people (200L each/day). Furthermore, since each calorie of food takes an average of 7 – 10 calories to produce, it consumes a significant portion of the global energy budget. This, in turn, generates 6-10% of greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to “to unnecessary global warming”.

To compound the problem, the United Nations projects that the global population will reach 9.5 billion by 2075 (based on mid-range forecasts). This represents over 2 billion more mouths to feed. Furthermore, “substantial changes are anticipated in the wealth, calorific intake, and dietary preferences of people in developing countries”. Hence, the demand for food—particularly resource intensive food like meat—is expected to increase.

Fortunately, awareness of global food waste is also growing and key players are starting to act. The United Nations, for example, has launched the Think.Eat.Save program, which works to galvanize global action and exchange ideas. Farmers are donating “edible but imperfect-looking” crops to local food charities, such as City Harvest. Food processors are finding innovative ways to salvage previously rejected foods, such as “making baby carrots out of carrots too bent to meet retail standards”. And grocery stores like Waitrose and Sainsbury are cutting the prices of expiring goods, donating leftovers to charities, and sending remaining food waste to bio-plants for electricity generation.

Such efforts offer real hope of solving the global food problem. In fact, the United Nations reports that “cutting the rate of food loss and waste in half by 2050 would close 20% of the (expected) food gap.”

To learn more about the food waste problem, please click here. To help reduce hunger, please donate to one of our partner food banks: Friends of Saint Joseph’s Food Pantry, Operation: Sack Lunch, the Oregon Food Bank, the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, the Vermont Food Bank, and the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.

Flickr photo credit: Kabsic Park


Op4G Approaches 50,000 Meals Donated to Partner Food Bank!

holiday mealOver the next few weeks, America will celebrate Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas. But not all Americans will enjoy a holiday feast. In fact, around 48 million Americans will have less money available for food costs.

Why? On November 1, the temporary expansion of the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) expired. Passed as part of the 2009 stimulus package, the $45.2 billion expansion raised monthly benefits (a.k.a. food stamps) to an average of $133/person. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, these benefits have now dropped by approximately 7% or $10/person.

Furthermore, as noted in a previous blog, congress is finalizing the farm bill. As part of the bill, the Senate has approved a $4.5 billion cut over 10 years to SNAP. The House has gone even further, voting to cut $39 billion over 10 years (primarily by raising qualification criteria). This would eliminate food stamps for 3.8 million Americans.

Second Harvest Food Bank Banner
To counter the cuts to SNAP, many are increasing support to local food banks. Just last week, Op4G sent a check for $4,519 to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties. The check raises Op4G’s total donations to the non-profit to $24,544! As each dollar can provide two meals, this equates to nearly 50,000 meals! Second Harvest is moved by the donation and applauds the Op4G model as “one more easy way” for supporters to “provide meals to their neighbors”.

In addition to Second Harvest, Op4G also donates to the San Francisco Food Bank ($19,856 to date), the Oregon Food Bank, the Vermont Food Bank, OPERATION: Sack Lunch, New Hampshire Catholic Charities, CUMAC and the Friends of Saint Joseph’s Food Pantry. To help reduce hunger this holiday season, please complete Op4G surveys on behalf of these non-profits today!

Flickr Photo Credit