Feeding the 5000 Comes to the US

This past Saturday, I participated in Feeding the 5000, a campaign that exposes food waste by feeding thousands of people a free, delicious meal prepared with food that would otherwise go to waste. Feeding the 5000 began in Europe in 2009, but Saturday marked its debut in America.

4000 lbs
4,000 pounds of sweet potatoes too large to sell

The event’s name invokes the story of Jesus feeding 5,000 people with a mere five loaves and two fishes. We had quite a bit more to work with than that. After I arrived at St. Vincent de Paul in Oakland on Friday morning to chop vegetables for Saturday’s event, we volunteers started in on the 4,000* pounds of sweet potatoes pictured above.

big potatoes
Big potatoes

Why would these delicious, perfectly edible sweet potatoes have headed to landfill had they not gone into soup? They were too large to sell. Grocery stores refuse to take them.

In the US, we waste 40% of the food we produce. Tossing perfectly edible food represents an obscene waste of resources all along the food’s life-cycle and contributes to climate change. Food crops account for 80% of water consumption in the US. Farmers burn fossil fuels to run equipment that helps them produce a large amount of food that no one will ever eat. Once discarded food arrives at the (overburdened) landfill, it releases methane gas as it decomposes.


Meanwhile, as Vlad literally points out above, 1 in 6 Americans goes hungry. Our industrial food system is madness.

Yet, as Tristram Stuart, founder of Feeding the 5000, said on Saturday, “The great thing about food waste is that the problem is edible.” And eat people did. When I asked the indefatigable event manager, Jordan Figueiredo of EndFoodWaste.org, for a tally of the day’s food numbers, he said:

We fed thousands on fruit and greens smoothies; rolls and bags of bread; sweet potato, caramelized onion and carrot soup; and grocery giveaways of sweet potatoes, squash, onions, carrots and apples. All from 11,000 pounds of produce, 2,000 rolls and 2,000 bags of bread that would have been wasted were it not for Feeding the 5000 Oakland.

soup tent
The free lunch tent
the soup
The soup
blender bike
The smoothie-making bike

In addition to the free lunch and free produce giveaway, various speakers, chefs and performers took to the stage. I didn’t have a chance to hear all of the impressive speakers in the lineup, but I’ll give you a few short tidbits.

Rob Greenfield
Rob Greenfield

I was so happy to meet in person the remarkable, kind and all around wonderful human being, Rob Greenfield. By cycling across the country barefoot on his bamboo bike and dumpster diving behind grocery stores, this environmental activist has helped expose the shocking extent of our nation’s food waste. At Feeding the 5k, Rob said he finds about $2,500 worth of edible, fresh, tasty food in these dumpsters in a matter of hours. He added that only the size of the borrowed vehicle in which he hauls away the food prevents him from taking more. Rob then spreads the food out at a nearby park, where people help themselves to it. You can check out the pics of his food fiascos here.

Kitchen on Fire

Chef Olive and nutrition consultant Lisa Miller, of Berkeley cooking school Kitchen on Fire explained how to make soup. I thought this was a brilliant demonstration. If you want to cut down on food waste at home, learn how to make soup. Their tips included:

  • Shred vegetables to cook them faster
  • Have a squash? Cook it at 400°F, add it to soup and puree
  • Toss apples into soup
  • Cook vegetables, blend what you need into soup and refrigerate the rest
  • Use up wilting, yet perfectly good vegetables in soup
  • Add slow-cooking vegetables at the beginning, quicker-cooking at the end
Food Shift bananas
Food Shift’s dancing bananas

During a break between sets, these dancing bananas entertained the crowd while holding up signs urging us to text “Shift 41444” to donate money to the non-profit Food Shift. The mission of the organization?

Food Shift works collaboratively with communities, businesses and governments to develop long-term sustainable solutions to reduce food waste and build more resilient communities.

Check out Food Shift’s website here and learn how to cut down on waste and how you can get involved.


sauerkraut demo
Sauerkraut 101

Here I am on stage with Jordan, giving a demonstration on fermenting sauerkraut, loosely following my fermentation workshop outline. If you read my blog at all or follow me on social media, you may know that I am obsessed with fermentation. I almost need an intervention. When Jordan approached me about doing a demo for Feeding the 5k, fermentation was the first thing I thought of. If you want to prevent waste, learn how to preserve food, something fermentation does efficiently and deliciously.

And to help cut down on food waste at home, check out my upcycled food waste posts:

One last note. Someone tweeted me after the event, asking for my number one tip for cutting down on food waste at home. It didn’t have to ponder that question for long:

Learn to cook.

So I do realize that some people work two jobs and go to school and raise kids and have no time, but as Michael Pollan points out, “many Americans are spending considerably more time watching images of cooking on television than they are cooking themselves.” Pollan goes on to say that we spend, on average, only 27 minutes per day cooking. Is it any coincidence that as we have spent less and less time cooking, our food waste has increased dramatically (by 50% since the 1970s)? I doubt it. Learn to cook and you learn how to use what you already have. You don’t have to worry about those often-artificial best-before dates, because you’ll make most of your food from scratch. Your food will taste better. You’ll appreciate it more. You’ll waste less.

*We actually chopped only about 1,000 pounds for the soup and gave the rest away at the event.

28 Replies to “Feeding the 5000 Comes to the US”

  1. Michelle Snarr says: Reply


  2. lindsaychichester says: Reply

    What a great event to bring awareness to such terrible waste.

    1. Plus the food was delicious! (I think I failed to mention that in the post.) Thanks for the comment 🙂

  3. WOWIE! This is awesome! I’ve never heard of anything like this but it’s amazing. 🙂 Thanks for writing about it. It’s a dream come true for me to hear these things.

    1. It was a lot of fun. Seeing all of these dedicated people working to reduce waste, feed the hungry and address climate change was very inspiring. I’m glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

  4. This is so great! I have a small pipe dream to one day open up a soup cafe where I only use food collected from local supermarkets before it gets chucked out. This post was super-inspiring! (and just this evening I fried my potato peelings as a garnish for dinner on a whim…)

    1. Thank you for reading the post. I’m happy you liked it. That’s a wonderful dream you have. The grocery stores certainly throw out enough food that you could do that. You would have an awesome angle for marketing too. In my real life, I work for a publisher and we write books for small businesses, so whenever anyone mentions to me they want to start a venture, my brain starts planning how to start it and market it…You could even start small with a food cart. I think I want to steal this idea actually! It’s a really good one…

      I hope you emjoyed your potato peels. I made my picky daughter some on the side the other night and once again, she gobbled them up. Thanks for the comment 🙂

      1. That is exactly how I intend to start: having a mobile stall to set up at markets and drum up awareness before sinking money into a permanent location (I’m in Sydney so rent is astronomical!). Feel free to steal the idea if you’re in a position to make it work – just promise me you’ll share what you’ve learned once I’m ready to give it a shot! 😉

      2. Please let me know how it goes! I love this idea. I doubt many people have done it. You would be a trailblazer. Not only that, you’d raise awareness and help divert food from landfill. It’s a win-win! I will let you know if I do anything 🙂

    2. And thank you for the reblog!

  5. Reblogged this on The Making of Mediocre Meg and commented:
    How inspiring is this? Once I get my own life in order I hope to get more into a zero-waste lifestyle – and possibly branch out into community activism like this.

  6. Applause, applause, wonderful! I’ve often thought we need a Food Czar and not a drug czar, a more centralized system to distribute the food we grow because the problem does seem to be so “edible”; however, ultimately I do believe grass roots, people-initiated programs work better than top-down governmental organizations for the most part . . . and this is what we have here with the Feeding the 5000 — so proud of you!

    1. Thank you! I’d like to see a Food Czar. Maybe Michael Pollan will volunteer 🙂 I agree with you that grass roots programs will have to fix our food system, especially with so many politicians in the pocket of Big Food. Things seem to be changing, or at least, people seem very aware of the problems. People want their healthy, local, sustainable food. My farmer’s market is so popular now, I’m nearly trampled every Sunday. I know some people complain about farmer’s market prices, but real food does cost more.

      I’m really excited about this new trend to start urban farms. The problem is not just he distribution but the production. Ron Finley in LA is a hero. Some of these farmers find themselves in hot water, like he did (so absurd), but as more and more people grow food in the city, the laws that restrict urban farming will have to change. So…as you said, people-initiated programs work best 🙂

  7. Wow! Such a great cause, looked like an amazing event. And you on stage- awesome! Keep up the great meaningful important work. X 🙂 ★

    1. Thank you 🙂 It was so much fun and I was so nervous. But they day went really well. I just have to figure out how to do more work like this.

  8. Reblogged this on brown bread & baked beans and commented:
    I loved reading this account of the first Feeding the 5000 event in America. It’s great to know so many people are passionate about trying to do something about food waste.

    1. Thank you so much for the comment and the reblog! I really appreciate it 🙂

  9. What a wonderful day this must have been, great post ! I love the Tristram Stuart quote “The great thing about food waste is that the problem is edible.”. For the stuff that really can’t go into a soup, a couple of chickens and the compost are still zillions times better than landfill. There is really great joy to be had making good of what was labelled refuse (and not just food).
    Thank you for your really inspiring blog !

    1. It was wonderful and so much fun. I was very inspired. I agree, chickens and compost are the way to go. My daughter worked at a goat dairy in high school for a year and those goats love vegetable peels. A closed system like that is a beautiful thing. Thank you so much for the nice comment and the reblog 🙂

      1. My goats gladly eat a lot that could be composted, even (organic) banana peel which doesn’t compost well. I used to leave the peel on the dashboard of the car to dry and use it later as fire starter, but I got the idea to offer it to them from a story book from Hungary that was given to my children.
        Let’s imagine a supermarket of the future that donates all edible unsold goods and that has a grass roof where chickens are kept, they would eat meat that is going off too that you really want to keep away from landfill…

      2. How wonderful that you have goats and chickens. I hope to have a homestead/small farm one day.

        I like your vision 🙂 Aside from the environmental benefits, using everything up in a closed system like that just makes good business sense. Eventually perhaps it will become the norm.

  10. Reblogged this on maison djeribi and commented:
    Truly inspiring post (great links too) on a burning issue from a wonderful biogger. As Tristram Stuart, founder of Feeding the 5000, said on the day “The great thing about food waste is that the problem is edible.”
    Make good soup !

  11. I’m shaking my head over those beautiful sweet potatoes. Send them home with me!

    1. I know! They were perfectly good sweet potatoes and they made delicious soup.

  12. Not sure how I missed this post but better late than never!!! Love what you’re doing here. I agree that we’re spending too much time/energy/resources on producing more food instead of producing better ways to preserve/distribute/not-waste the food we already create. But then don’t get me started… 😉 PS, I saved this link from an UTNE email that made me think of you: http://www.utne.com/environment/zero-waste-living-ze0z1306zpit.aspx#axzz3Gm9aaS7i Have u seen it? Keep up the good work and I do mean good!

    1. Thank you! I would love to do more of this type of thing. I agree, it’s crazy to talk about producing more food while ignoring how much we waste.

      I hadn’t heard of this zero-waster. She mentions a bunch of others and I’ll try to find them all on social media. Like the author, I find the zero-waste lifestyle more enjoyable. I don’t feel I’m denying myself of anything. I eat really well and am very healthy (can’t remember the last time I had even the sniffles–2011?). Thank you!

  13. Thanks for sharing this article with me. Looked like a great day and much was achieved. I am diving into preserving this year so I will be diving into your site for some tips.

    1. Thank you for checking it out! It was a lot of fun and the food tasted delicious.

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