For us to let anyone go without, when food is plentiful, is to say, “You don’t deserve to eat.”
As we wrap up our 25th year, we celebrate how far we’ve come and all that we’ve done together. Let me start our reflection on the past by painting a picture of the present.
Every pound counts…
- In early 2022, 141 million dollars in emergency food assistance was cut from the State of Iowa budget, reducing benefits for every Iowan in the program. Meanwhile the USDA estimates that grocery prices have gone up by 11% in 2022.
- Here on the ground, we’re seeing more neighbors seeking emergency food assistance than at any point in the last three years.
- I recently read an account from a woman in another county who was turned away at her local pantry because she was a SNAP participant and they assumed she shouldn’t need more support. She writes, “I suddenly felt embarrassed and asked if she was sure. Like, hey, I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t really need the help.” The common experience is that SNAP helps but is just not enough. Then there are those who don’t qualify for the program at all. We won’t turn away our neighbors.
No one should feel embarrassed for trying to feed their family. As a society, we should be ashamed at the lengths our neighbors must go in order to access enough to eat. These folks are resourceful and resilient, prioritizing what little they have in ways that are most effective for their families. To make it work, many sacrifice a number of meals per week. Meanwhile, ever-tightening budgets limit affordability of the most nutritious foods.
…and we’re working harder for every pound
Food rescue organizations across the country have experienced unprecedented fluctuations in food donations.
- Supply chain disruptions and inadequate staffing leave stores with bare shelves and fewer staff to pull food for donation. We must stop at donors more frequently to capture every available donation. More pick-ups mean more coordination, more volunteers, more fuel.
- We have to maintain the capacity to say “yes” to more last-minute donations. Last month we got a call from a truck driver who had 700 pounds of ground beef, ribs, and roasts to offload in the next hour. With our new location and more staff, we readily accepted this valuable donation that we might have had to decline three years ago.
- We’re harvesting directly from farms, working with more processors, and adding many smaller food outlets to our routes. The most requested foods are also the most costly to recover.
What does all this mean? Table to Table is working harder and investing more to capture every pound, and it is well worth the investment. Many of our partners would have to more than double their food purchasing budgets without our daily deliveries.
Your investment in Table to Table these past 25 years has fueled the flexibility and ingenuity of our team and our programs today.
Winter is coming… but what are you going to do with all that zucchini that needs to be used now? Freezing and preserving your food will ensure you don’t have to throw extra away and you’ll get to enjoy that summer bounty throughout the long, cold winter months – it’s a win-win!
Monthly Topic Overview
You can save food for months – like hitting a “pause” button on it – by freezing or canning, and it just might surprise you how many different types of food can be preserved for long periods of time. Read on for tools to preserve your food safely while retaining as much delicious taste as possible.
Here’s a few tips to keep in mind when preparing food to freeze:
- Keep food safety in mind. Don’t leave hot food out at room temperature for hours to cool off before freezing it, as this increases risk of foodborne illness. Instead, set the pan of just-cooked hot food in a tray of ice water so it cools down quickly before putting the food in the freezer.
- Package food in portion sizes before freezing. This makes it super easy to take out of the freezer and heat up for a quick meal later!
- Use airtight containers or bags to prevent freezer burn. (Note: freezer burn is harmless; it just makes food not as tasty.) Freezer bags, freezer wrap, aluminum foil, and freezer paper all work well as flexible, airtight containers to maximize your freezer space. Rigid containers work well for certain foods, especially liquids – just make sure you leave about a half-inch gap to allow for liquid expansion while it freezes.
- Label the food you’ve frozen with its contents and date. You can even try making a freezer inventory list. Generally it’s best to use foods within 8-12 months of freezing. Quality deteriorates over time, but as long as the food stays frozen, bacteria and molds don’t form.
When you get that food out of the freezer to use again, the safest ways to thaw it are to place it in the fridge (often overnight), heating it up in the microwave, or placing it in a bowl of cold water. If you use the microwave to thaw food, make sure you use it immediately afterward, since you don’t want it to sit at a temperature where bacteria can grow for long.
What foods can I freeze?
We’re serious: you can freeze almost anything to enjoy later! There’s a few foods that don’t freeze well (lettuce and cabbage become limp and watery, for example), but you may be surprised at just how much you can freeze.
- Flash-freeze fruits and veggies, like berries, or even bacon and bread slices so they don’t freeze in huge chunks. Flash-freezing is easy and fairly quick! Check out this video on how to flash-freeze.
- Frozen fruits (especially bananas) and even zucchini chunks make great smoothie ingredients.
- Freeze extra cheese and milk. Since these products don’t often last long in the fridge, freezing can be a great option to store leftovers if you don’t use these foods up quickly.
- Pro tip: use a muffin tin to freeze stews, chili, etc. in lunch-sized portions.
- Use an ice cube tray to freeze sauces, juices, and condiments. You can even freeze individual cracked eggs in cubes.
- Freeze chicken bones to make stock later.
- Try blanching veggies before freezing to slow vitamin loss and retain better quality.
Quick canning overview
Canning foods is another preservation option. Create jams, jellies, relishes, pickles, salsas, sauces, butters, and more by canning foods!
- Make sure you research how to safely home-can foods before you attempt this method to prevent risk of food-borne illness.
- There are a few different methods of canning foods, including boiling water bath, atmospheric steam canning, or pressure canning method. Research which method you should use for the type of food you are canning.
- This is a great source for more information on safely canning foods at home.
Learn more about the myriad of foods you can freeze and how to use those frozen foods in this article from the archives. Now do a quick sweep of your fridge and/or countertops. Is anything nearing the end of freshness? What can you transfer to the freezer? If you haven’t before, try some of the methods listed above or in the resources below to freeze your food to retain the most quality.
Benny Hawkins, Sr., a former Table to Table food rescue route volunteer, passed away on August 31 at the age of 91.
Benny Hawkins, beloved T2T volunteer, rescued food on his weekly Wednesday route until the age of 89. Known for his warm conversations and genuine interest in the folks he met, we looked forward to seeing him every week and hearing stories from his decades of travel, sense of humor, and hugs.
Benny began volunteering on his weekly food rescue route in 2016. His longtime route partner, Bryan Clemons, remembers his friendship with Benny fondly:
“It was a pleasure to work with Benny when we were volunteers at T2T. Because we had known each other for years as dental colleagues, we had many things to talk about. We both had served as officers in the U.S. Air Force, and that gave us even more common ground.
I was usually the driver on our food rescue route, and it was easy to get so involved in our conversations that I could miss a turn. Fortunately, Benny was always gracious in redirecting me, and then we enjoyed a good chuckle.
Benny was a man who was kind to everyone he met. He had a great sense of humor and was quick to see the funny side of any situation and flash his wonderful smile. He had definite political opinions and was willing to discuss them if you asked, but he did not try to push his views on you.
Several years ago, Iowa Public Television asked for permission to do a short documentary about the mission of Table to Table. They interviewed Emily [Meister, T2T Program Manager at the time], and she requested that a videographer go on a route to show what happened when food was being rescued. Benny and I were chosen as the team to record. We became ‘immediate IPTV stars,’ and Benny reveled in that ‘honor’ with a twinkle in his eye.
We were both sad to leave T2T when Covid-19 became a problem. However, we continued to see each other and share stories during the Wednesday morning retired dentists’ coffee hour after we had received our vaccinations.
Everyone who knew Benny was fortunate to have Benny call them a friend.”
Executive Director, Nicki Ross, remembers his kindness and welcome when she began in 2017. Shortly after starting she and the program manager were asked to present at a regional food recovery conference, the first big audience for either of them. Benny offered to be an audience of one in run-throughs of the presentation, keeping it light and offering kind and helpful feedback. “When we faced our big audience, it was Benny’s face I pictured. His support made me a better public speaker and presenter of the T2T mission,” Nicki remembers. “He also joined us for every MidwestOne Bank Rock the Chalk – getting down on the pavement to color in the designs or holding and entertaining my 5 month old while we worked. Benny was a gem and we will miss him dearly.”
“Benny epitomized the best of everything as a T2T volunteer and as a human being,” T2T volunteer Steve Gallagher adds. “I’m so glad I became acquainted, however briefly. He had a kind, gentle, warm aura and people loved him. The world lost a beautiful human being in him.”
In the archives
We found Benny’s volunteer spotlight from a few years back:
What’s one of your favorite memories from your time volunteering with Table to Table? Interesting people I have worked with.
Do you volunteer at other area organizations? If so, where? Formerly, Meals on Wheels for four years.
What is/was your occupation? Dentist, Periodontist, Faculty Dental College.
What are your hobbies? I enjoy word puzzles.
What’s a fun fact you’d like to share about yourself? Lived in seven states, including England during my Air Force career.
Where are you from? Originally Chattanooga, Tennessee.
If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life what would it be? My oatmeal and fruit breakfast.
Table to Table staff discuss documentary “Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story”
A bell pepper seedling blooms on the screen as Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” begins to play. The camera follows one pepper as it forms on the plant, is picked, and is transported to a processing facility. It’s placed in a box with several other peppers, shipped to a grocery store, set on the produce shelf, and finally purchased by a lucky consumer.
After its months-long journey it is placed in that person’s refrigerator. We watch as the pepper turns yellow, then orange and red – then it loses its shape as it rots on the shelf, forgotten.
As we watch, every member of the Table to Table team groans or exclaims once it becomes clear no one is going to eat that beautiful pepper. For a team that spends all their working hours rescuing food from such a fate, it’s almost painful to watch.
In Just Eat It: A food waste story, filmmakers Jen and Grant decide that for six months, they will only eat food that was headed for the waste stream. They source this food by asking grocery stores if they can look through items that have been culled from shelves, or by going straight to the dumpsters behind stores to see what’s available. T2T staff gathered to preview the film together before we showed it on the big screen at our drive-in movie night. Here’s our take.
It is important to note that T2T rescues food before it reaches dumpsters. In the model we use, food donor partners set aside good food that otherwise would have been tossed for a variety of reasons unrelated to whether the food was still edible: there was an error in ordering and they have too much, containers are mislabeled, or it’s “ugly” produce or getting close to the “sell by” date and consumers aren’t likely to buy it. Table to Table volunteers collect this food from stores and deliver it to hunger relief partners within a few hours.
At least one-third of all food produced worldwide isn’t eaten. Just Eat It is an attempt at answering the questions, “What impact does this have? Why does the world let so much food go to waste?”
Wasted food affects our climate. Once large amounts of food are compacted together in landfills and rotting, they produce methane. “Methane is a potent greenhouse gas MANY times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere – and the primary contributor to the formation of ground-level ozone,” Nora Garda, T2T Gleaning Coordinator, observes after watching the film.
Molly Suter, Local Foods Recovery Specialist, adds, “Through wasting food, we are directly contributing to the quickly changing climate of our own planet.”
Resources that went into producing the food are also wasted. Several T2T staff were shocked to learn that throwing away one hamburger is equivalent in water usage to taking a 90 minute shower. “The water used to produce the total amount of food the world throws away can provide water for 500 million people,” Molly says, which then raises her question, “What other overlaps with social issues exist with food waste?”
“It’s an issue of environmental justice in terms of who has access to the food in the first place, AND people who need this water and this good food often don’t have access to it,” Lillian Poulsen, Food Access & Equity Training Specialist, notes. “In my role, I focus on access and equity in terms of education for our partners and the volunteers with whom they work. The issue of environmental justice is a key facet of what we do as an organization, and the amount of food wasted in our country, state, county, and community directly affects the lives of poor and marginalized communities where food insecurity is most prevalent.”
The documentary states that the majority of food waste comes from households, pointing out that generally individuals waste up to a quarter of what they buy from the store. The documentary demonstrates with a particularly effective illustration: “Imagine walking out of the grocery store with four bags loaded with food and you drop one in the parking lot on the way to your car…and you just leave it there.”
What contributes to this level of waste?
One issue pointed out by Nicki Ross, Executive Director, is “this idea that we determine what we will eat by first asking, ‘what do I feel like eating?’ She adds, “My family didn’t always have a lot growing up and one of the skills we developed is making a pretty good meal with whatever was left in the fridge or cupboard. ‘Do I really want that?’ is partially the product of a wealthy society.”
“It’s important to highlight how our culture views food in terms of abundance,” Lillian says. “The movie talked about how it’s seen as a failure in our culture when food runs out [at a party, for example], and wasting food isn’t taboo.”
“In the end I was disheartened to think about the waste that is created by me as a consumer and the way that stores order and stock food to appease the consumer, from rejecting perfectly good fruit because the shape is not ‘perfect’, to ordering way more than needed so that the shelves always look full,” Jared Long, Volunteer Coordinator, says.
Nicki adds, “It’s not uncommon for food sellers to have this opinion. They don’t want to ‘ruin their image’ by offering ‘ugly’ or discounted products. Interesting fact: Retailer standards far exceed that of the state for food safety/quality reasons.” Retailers who donate food are also protected under the Bill Emerson Food Donation Act.
“How can we change consumer/grocery store standards so grocery stores don’t only display ‘perfect-looking’ products and consumers don’t insist on only that?” Celia Eckermann, Bookkeeper, asks. The only item required by the FDA to include Best By dates for safety is infant formula. She continues, “How do we educate the public on the meaning of those dates and get manufacturers to adjust the wording so grocery stores and consumers don’t waste dated products?” (Learn more about how to decode Best By, Use By, and Sell By dates here.)
Fruits and vegetables are the most-wasted food group. What stood out from the film to Alyssa Schaeffer, Local Foods Access Specialist who coordinates free produce stands, was “how much food gets wasted at the beginning of the food system cycle. A lot of food gets left in the field, which is where T2T gleaning and free produce stands come into play.”
In the film, a celery farmer is shown letting half the cut celery go to waste out in the field because it won’t fit in the bags it’s sold in and it isn’t economical to pay for labor costs to collect it. A situation like this is where T2T comes to the rescue, literally. We send teams of volunteers to local farmers’ fields to glean extra produce at no charge. Farmers don’t want their produce to be wasted; there is just no financial or time incentive to harvest everything they produce.
“I wish every community had a Table to Table,” Molly adds. “I wish everyone was more cognizant of the tremendous amount of food wasted and how it connects to other issues.”
T2T recovers over 2 million pounds of food each year in Johnson County and connects this abundance to the great need in our community. You can help! Learn more about volunteering, or make a donation. Are you a gardener? Bring your extra produce to our office and we’ll distribute it.
Missed our screening of “Just Eat It?” You can watch it here – then let us know what you think! Send your observations and questions to us at email@example.com.
“Which fruits do I keep in the refrigerator (fridge), and which ones on the counter? How can I make my bread last longer?”
Monthly Topic Overview
Oftentimes, we find ourselves peering into the depths of a fridge at a Tupperware long-forgotten on the bottom shelf and wondering, “what was that?” By checking your fridge daily and making sure produce isn’t kept in the coldest spots and leftovers are properly sealed and labeled, you can stop playing “what was that” and fully enjoy the meals you create.
How you store food matters. You can make your food last longer by storing it in optimal conditions and organizing your fridge and pantry. Another essential benefit is that correct food storage helps to prevent foodborne illnesses.
Reduce food waste with these tips:
- Fruit and vegetables:
- Apples, tomatoes, citrus fruits, and bananas should be kept separate from other produce to prevent speedy ripening.
- Keep potatoes in the fridge, which can make them last up to 3 to 4 months
- To prevent potato sprouting, keep potatoes and onions separate, and place an apple with potatoes.
- Milk: Don’t place milk in your fridge door, as the frequent temperature fluctuation from opening the fridge can make the milk go bad faster.
- Cheese: Store cheese in a colder area of your fridge in a breathable wrap, such as wax paper, which prevents molding.
- Bread: Freeze bread that you will not use right away.
- We can’t always eat food in time, so knowing when to freeze food can make your food last longer and reduce food waste.
- Get to know your fridge:
- Organize food to help you keep track of food that needs to be eaten soon. Use this “Eat Me First” sign to dedicate a section in your fridge for food that is about to go bad and needs to be eaten first.
- Mark opened food containers and leftovers with a date of when it was opened or prepared to help keep track of how soon items need to be used up.
- Be intentional and efficient when you open the fridge door, and make sure it is completely closed when you’re done perusing the fridge. This reduces how much cold air escapes, which means less energy demand to re-cool the fridge.
- These tips were provided by Eureka Recycling’s A-Z Food Storage Tips and Stop Food Waste’s Fruit & Veggie Storage Guide.
- Reorganize your fridge and pantry! Try starting with the five most wasted foods – bread, milk, cheese, potatoes, and apples.
- If you have a loaf of bread that’s been sitting on the counter a little too long, freeze it, or try making croutons or bread crumbs.
- If you have milk in your fridge door, place it in the interior instead.
- Wrap your block of cheese in wax paper and place it in a cold section of your fridge (toward the back). If you have any cheese close to expiring, freeze it! (It helps to shred it before freezing.)
- If you have potatoes in the pantry, place them in the fridge to keep them fresh longer.
- Place apples farther away from other fruits and vegetables to prevent speedier ripening.
- Fruit & Veggie Storage Guide from Stop Food Waste: https://stopfoodwaste.org/media/resources/StopFoodWaste-StorageGuide2020.pdf
- A to Z Food Storage Guide: https://www8.iowa-city.org/WebLink/ElectronicFile.aspx?dbid=0&docid=1779820&
- Cold Food Storage Chart: https://www.foodsafety.gov/food-safety-charts/cold-food-storage-charts
- “Eat Me First” sign: https://www8.iowa-city.org/weblink/0/edoc/1779819/Eat%20me%20first%20label.pdf
- NY Times how to keep produce fresh: https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/blog/keep-your-produce-fresh/
- We Don’t Waste food storage tips: https://www.wedontwaste.org/10-best-ways-to-improve-your-food-storage-at-home/