Lovin’ Spoonfuls Food Rescue: An interview with founder Ashley Stanley

It is something that many of us living in the United States likely take for granted; Knowing, without doubt or fear, where our next meal is coming from. This is, after all, the land of opportunity! Food security shouldn’t be an issue here. And, you’re right. Food security shouldn’t be an issue in the United States. But, just because it shouldn’t be an issue doesn’t mean that it isn’t.

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Food security: The availability of food and one’s access to it. A household is considered food-secure when its occupants do not live in hunger or fear of starvation.

It is something that many of us living in the United States likely take for granted; Knowing, without doubt or fear, where our next meal is coming from. This is, after all, the land of opportunity! Food security shouldn’t be an issue here. And, you’re right. Food security shouldn’t be an issue in the United States. But, just because it shouldn’t be an issue doesn’t mean that it isn’t.

According to a report issued by the USDA’s Economic Research Service, “14.5 percent of American households were food insecure at least some time during the year in 2012, meaning they lacked access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.” That’s approximately 17.6 million households, comprised of 49 million Americans, 15.9 million of those being children.

Staggering.  

So what’s to be done in support of those who are struggling with food insecurity? In many major cities in the United States you’ll find organizations that are dedicated to help those in need, and in Boston, it’s no different. We have the privilege of a fantastic organization called Lovin’ Spoonfuls. I had the opportunity to speak with founder Ashley Stanley about the organization, the support that Lovin’ Spoonfuls gets from the restaurant community in Boston, and a personal food memory that represents just how important the work organizations like these do every day.

 Foodie Journal: So how did you come up
with the idea for Loving Spoonfuls?

Ashley Stanley: I kind of hate the
term “a-ha moment”, but something did click and while my background is athletics
and fashion and these things that my life has really focused on for such a long
time, food has been such a fundamental part of my life. It’s been a fundamental
part of my family, and my friends.  Really everything good has revolved
around food. A few years ago, I was looking for a career change.  I was looking for something else to do.  I wasn’t really sure what that was and it was
during the holidays.  I found myself
sitting in a restaurant with plates of uneaten food and tons of leftovers and I
started thinking about portion size and serving size.  During the holidays you always hear about
people in need, charity, and how there isn’t enough for everybody. That was
sort of in the back of my mind because on my table I had enough.  Not
just for me, but for probably five or six other people too.  

FJ: Right.

AS: All I thought about is I can’t be
the only person in the only restaurant at the only table with this much food
available. 

I woke up for a few days really
thinking, “Is that message really accurate that there’s not enough?”  Maybe we’re asking the wrong questions.  Maybe we’re responding to the wrong
statement.  So I googled the phrase “what
happens with the wasted food” and found the sites for City Harvest and Philabundance,
Food Runners, all of these established food rescues in different parts of the
country.  I called and that’s where
I learned about food rescue clinics.  Here we are a few years later!

FJ: That’s awesome! It’s true,
though. I think portion size is something many of us forget about.  Too many people are just looking for the most
food at the cheapest price and never really stop to think about what they’re
leaving on the plate. Plus, how many times do you really end up finishing a
full plate when you go out to eat at a restaurant?

AS: Yes, and it was just one of those
things and it probably wasn’t the first time I’d been in a restaurant with all
the leftovers and it wasn’t the first time there was an opportunity to maybe
see that that was happening, but it was the first time where it really made
sense to me.  

FJ: So what were the first steps for
you?  How did you actually get to the point of establishing this
organization?

AS: Well, they weren’t any linear
steps. First understanding the statistics about food production helped out. One
thing I did was I thought about our market, because I was
reading about waste and I wanted to know if it was food that was coming off of
people’s plates at the end of the night, which you can’t do too much with, or
if it was whole raw product that essentially should be getting used in some
manner.  I found it to be the latter, and
so much of it.  I was stunned. I saw
pallets of eggplants and potatoes and carrots, and sure some of it maybe had
lost some if its marketable or salable value, but not much. When I go
to buy food, if I’m grilling it or putting it in a stew or if I’m cooking it
down, the appearance is less important I think. 
The point is that I was shocked as to what was classified as
eligible for waste.

FJ: Yeah, it’s funny the view we have
of food quality. If we have a garden in our yard, we aren’t going to toss
things we grow ourselves just because they don’t look picture perfect, but in a
grocery store we avoid those items for some reason.

AS: It is a little strange, isn’t it?

FJ: For sure. So what kind of support
have you seen from the restaurant and culinary industry in Boston?

AS: We exist in large part because of
our friends in the restaurant industry. 
I think regardless of what a non-profit mission might be, whether it’s
trying to cure cancer, or something directly related to food, regardless of
what it is the culinary community and the restaurant community always are the
first to say yes.  There’s this seemingly
built in willingness to help your community and that is something we are
forever grateful for.  In terms of food rescue and in terms of Lovin’ Spoonfuls
in particular, I think this is something that chefs, restaurateurs, folks
who’ve been working in this space for a long time feel a particular connection
to because they see first hand the waste that can happen.

We have a culinary panel, which includes
folks like Christopher Meyers who has been in the food space for 30-plus years
in Boston, LA and New York. I remember when I was listing the pros and cons about
potentially starting a food rescue I asked him and Joanne [Chang], “Do you
think this is a good idea?” They said, “Oh my God, yes and you’ve got our
support!”  They’ve been just incredible
supporters and advocates and mentors to us in that space.  You’ve got folks like Jeremy Sewall who has really
helped us to see how to make a difference in our community.  Jaime Bissonnette from Toro is a great friend
of ours and is really committed to whole ingredient cooking which results in
little to no waste in his restaurants. 
Then nationally we have Andrew Zimmern, a great friend of mine, who does
Bizarre Foods and writes columns for Food and Wine and all that.  He’s a fierce advocate for food justice, and
stands behind what Lovin’ Spoonfuls is doing and he’s given me some the best
advice I’ve gotten along the way.  It really has just been an
unbelievable amount of support from people in the industry.

FJ: What type of impact do you think
Lovin’ Spoonfuls had so far?

AS: Well, we rescued, in just about
three and a half years, we’ve rescued just under three-quarters of a million pounds
of food.

FJ: Wow!

AS: Yeah!

FJ: So I usually end interviews
asking for a personal food memory.  For
you I’d like to know if you have a memory specific to the work that you’ve been
doing so far with Lovin’ Spoonfuls?

AS: I do.  It’s actually a
memory from when I was a kid, but then it clicked just after Spoonfuls
started.  My family loves food, we’ve always loved food, and we have
family in New York and we traveled to New York often when I was a kid.  We’d go into the city and when you’re staying
in a hotel, you usually don’t take your leftovers with you since you typically
don’t have a fridge. My family, we always packed up our leftovers no matter
what, something I thought that everybody did when they traveled. [LAUGHS] So we’d
pack up our leftovers and my parents taught us that we leave it by the side of
a trash can or by the side of something where you know it’s a high traffic area
and somebody’s going to see it. I never
thought too much of it.  I just did it because I thought that’s what everyone
did. 

When
I was maybe eight or nine, I remember eating at the Carnegie Deli, which for
most people is guaranteed leftovers. Corned beef hash in particular because
it’s a mountain of stuff in front of you and as much I tried, I could never
finish it.  My dad and I, it was just him
and me at this particular meal, and we took our leftovers and dropped it at the
side of trashcan on Fifth Avenue like usual. 
For whatever reason, I happened to just turn around and I saw somebody
pick it up and start to eat it.  It made
sense in that moment, not to the point where I grew up thinking about food
rescue or wanting to get into hunger relief or anything like that, but it was
just something that made sense to me and I said, “Oh! That’s why we do it  

I
don’t think I thought about it again until 2010 when Lovin’ Spoonfuls started,
but that was a real visceral memory for me because it was one of those rare
times where one experience helped make sense of so many other moments in my
life.

 Lovin’ Spoonfuls has rescued more that 841,345 pounds of food to date. That’s food that would otherwise have been disposed of, but was instead used to help those in need.

If you’d like to learn more about the organization, or are interested in supporting Lovin’ Spoonfuls by volunteering or donating, visit their website at www.lovinspoonfulsinc.org.

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