This afternoon I volunteered at the Alameda County Community Food Bank with some Voxify co-workers as part of a work sponsored event. We processed 2500 pounds of food and were able to completely sort and shelve 1500 pounds of that total. It was a great experience and I highly recommend helping out, especially this time of year and with the current state of the economy.
Food banks used to get most of their food from grocery overstock. However, improved technology and better supply chain management software has cut off much of that source. In addition, second tier grocery chains now buy up most of the remaining oversupplies, as well as items close to their expiration dates, for resale at deep discounts. That doesn’t leave much on the table for the food banks.
I was stunned to learn that approximately half the food that ACCFB now distributes is fresh produce. The great thing about it is that fresh produce is a much healthier source of nutrition for those most in need of a good meal. However, it also brings added cost with respect to storage, distribution and short shelf life. If I remember correctly, ACCFB now has a 120,000 square foot refrigeration room at their new location. They also have two big trucks devoted to deliveries that allow them to deliver the produce, along with other foods, while it is still good.
Food donations aren’t enough to cover existing needs, though, so ACCFB also buys food. Since they buy in such huge quantities, they have significant purchasing power. ACCFB is a member of Feeding America, formerly known as America’s Second Harvest.
While donating food to food banks is a great idea, I don’t recommend buying food solely to donate it. Your money will go a lot farther if you allow them to pool it with other donations and buy much more food for the same amount. Also, it allows them to better fill the gaps in what they currently have on store. However, if you’ve already bought non-perishable food and it’s still in good shape, but you don’t expect to eat it, then definitely donate it.
ACCFB is also planning a demonstration kitchen for their new facility. This is really important, because a lot of the organizations and people receiving the now much greater amount of fresh produce aren’t always prepared to cook a variety of healthy recipes. This educational training is a very admirable new part of the outreach effort of ACCFB.
Of course, I’ve simplified the flow of food through ACCFB. They have a great one page flow of food diagram in a PDF file that tells more of the story.
One of the many interesting parts of volunteering at ACCFB is learning about the pig’s bin. Food without ingredient lists, open bags of pasta or cereal, etc., all go in a huge plastic bin to later become pig slop. However, four items are not allowed in the pig’s bin.
- top ramen
- cup noodle soup
Even if coffee isn’t bad for them, I can understand farmers not wanting their pigs to be hopped up on caffeine. Chocolate is bad for dogs, so it’s not a stretch to imagine it being bad for pigs.
But if Top Ramen and Cup Noodle soup isn’t suitable for pigs, then why do so many college students and others subsist on so much of it? Maybe it’s the incredibly high sodium content (at least in the “flavor” packs) that makes it bad for pigs. Maybe they don’t want to cure the ham until later. I couldn’t find much about it on the interwebs, though I found one article that reports that farmers are picking up the scrap ramen and noodles from the floor at a Nissin plant. The article wasn’t clear as to what animals were being fed the noodles. Next time I volunteer at ACCFB, I’ll ask why they ban the sodium bombs from the piggies.