Excess Food Makes Menu at Shop Created by Ex-Trader Joe's President

Nearly half of all food in the U.S. goes to waste, study finds

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    The brainchild of a former Trader Joe's president would put excess food to use. Pictured here, a customer buys tomatoes at a fruit and vegetable stand at the Maybachufer market in Germany.

    An apple won’t be tossed because of a small bruise and a bell pepper won’t be thrown out for having a few wrinkles at a new market created by a former president of Trader Joe’s.

    In fact, the first-of-its-kind shop wants that rejected produce – and any other extra food that would otherwise go to waste.

    The Daily Table will repurpose food rejected by major grocery stores – either because of cosmetic flaws or it’s past its “sell by date” – for pre-made meals.

    But don’t call those ingredients expired.

    “This is food that just a few hours ago, people would’ve paid full price for at a grocery store,” said Doug Rauch, former president of Los Angeles-based Trader Joe’s.

    “This is excess food.”

    Rauch spent 35 years in the food industry, and 31 of those years heading Trader Joe’s. Seeing perfectly good food thrown away daily inspired him to try to correct the problem.

    About 40 percent of food in the U.S. goes uneaten. That accounts for at least 160 billion pounds of wasted food each year, according to a report by Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council released last month.

    Picky shoppers and sellers determined to find that perfect piece of produce, and a “dizzying variety” of date labels – including “best before,” “use by,” “enjoy by” and “sell by” – are key contributors, the study found.

    There’s “something about the system that’s just not working,” Rauch said.

    The Daily Table’s pilot shop is slated to open early next year in Dorchester, Mass., chosen for its economic and racial diversity, and openness to “food experiments.” (The city is home to only winter farmer’s market in Boston, Rauch said.)

    Customers will be able to buy ready-to-eat meals, fruits and vegetables, milk, eggs and other basic staples for cheaper than they could at grocery stores, Rauch said.

    Rauch called the rejected food he’ll use at the Daily Table “acceptable but no exceptional” – still nutritionally sound, but maybe not as pretty as Americans are used to.

    Wasted food “represents a missed opportunity to feed the millions of food insecure households” in the U.S., according to the study.

    The Daily Table, Rauch said, aims to take advantage of that opportunity while shining a light on the modern version of hunger in the U.S.

    “Hunger is no longer what we thought it was,” Rauch said. “Hunger in America is no longer a shortage of calories, it is a shortage of nutrients.”

    “Hunger cannot be solved by a full stomach, it has to be fixed by a healthy meal,” he added.

    Owned in part by Codman Square Health Center in Boston, the nonprofit pilot store will test the concept’s reception and whether it can break even.

    The lease negotiations are in the process of being settled, Rauch said. If all goes well, he’ll likely look to open more in areas where there is need.

    Closer to home, a volunteer group has adopted a similar strategy to help those in need.

    The Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition collects leftovers from Southland eateries to create a full, free feast for the city’s homeless every night at the corner of Sycamore Street and Romaine Avenue.

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