I’m on the planning committee for Charlotte’s Taste of the Nation event to benefit Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, and I can’t wait for tomorrow night. If you’re local, you can still buy tickets for the 4/17 event here. (Our local hashtag is #nokidhungryCLT.) Not in Charlotte? Browse the national calendar of culinary events to find one near you.
My involvement in this event is minimal, which leaves me so impressed by the army of volunteers dedicating their time and talents to the cause in a much larger capacity than I. But I’m happy to participate at any level because hunger is a cause that, simply put, lights me on fire. And here’s why…
In the United States, 50 million people are hungry; 16 million of them are children who will go to bed tonight not knowing where their next meal is coming from. They will walk into school tomorrow more focused on their growling bellies than on their growing minds.
Unlike in the developing world where hunger is often a result of a lack of food, hunger in the US persists despite an agricultural abundance. In fact, if you looked at the Earth’s global production of food, we have enough of a collective surplus to adequately feed a population of 10 billion people. (Our current global population is just 6 billion, mind you.)
Hunger, then, is a complex, multi-faceted problem perpetuated both by a lack of food in some areas but also by a lack of funds for and awareness of a broken hunger relief system. (Note that lack of food and/or lack of access to food is a MAJOR part of the problem, especially in developing countries. The point being made here is that IF DISTRIBUTED EQUALLY there is enough food for everyone already.)
According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, we need $30 billion a year to eradicate global hunger . Thirty billion dollars sounds like an awful lot of money, but it pales in comparison to the amount of food wasted annually just in the US. Each year in the United States alone we throw away the equivalent of $165 billion of edible food.
This means that the monetary equivalent of what’s currently rotting in our dumpsters could have fed the global hungry population for five years.
Let’s say that again:
The monetary equivalent of what’s currently rotting in our dumpsters could have fed the global hungry population for five years.
What are we doing wrong?
It seems like common sense to address the issue of hunger by providing food. So well-meaning, good-hearted people host food drives to collect cans for their local food banks. The intention is great and part of the need is met, but as a long-term solution to the problem, food drives will never end hunger.
Here’s why: When you purchase food to donate to a food bank you’re purchasing it at a substantial retail markup. So a lot of what you’re paying for isn’t the food itself but the packaging it’s in, the advertising dollars that went into marketing it to you, and the cost to harvest, process, and deliver it to grocery store.
Once your overpriced food makes it to the sorting floor at your local food bank, it demands the crucial resources of an under-funded and under-staffed organization in order to be sorted, processed and distributed to those in need.
Is there an easier way?
Yes. Food banks have the ability to purchase food in bulk at wholesale rates, which means they can buy more with less and ultimately feed more people. The bottom line is that a dollar you spend at the grocery store won’t go as far as a dollar spent by the food bank.
Having control over what they purchase (rather than receiving random piles of food from different organizations) would also empower our food banks to have more control over what they distribute and when.
This means they could better adapt to the ebbs and flows in demand rather than hoping to meet increased need based on arbitrary donations. It also means that they could have more control over the quality of food purchased.
Imagine a world where our hungry populations are fed healthy, locally produced food rather than over-processed junk food from the back of someone’s pantry. It can happen.
I call it PlateShare.
PlateShare is a platform that allows people to round up their restaurant bill to the nearest dollar and donate the change the feed the hungry. The concept taps into an already established buying pattern—dining out—and encourages a small-change contribution to the cause with the simple swipe of your credit card.
Microdonations of $0.01 to $0.99 may seem nominal, but small change makes big change when we all work together. A similar concept tested at 27 restaurants found that on average each restaurant generated $40/day from diner microdonations.
There are 600,000 restaurants in the United States. If only 1% of those restaurants encouraged their guests to participate in PlateShare, we could generate $87.6 MILLION in one year. And that money would go to food banks to allow them to purchase 600 million pounds of whole, healthy, local food for those who need it most.
“For decades, the world has grown enough food to nourish everyone adequately. In the modern world, like never before, famine is by and large preventable. When it occurs, it represents civilization’s collective failure.”
Are we done failing?
PlateShare is very much in its infancy and we aren’t ready to roll out quite yet, but you can still get involved. Here’s how:
For months now I have been auditing my bank statements for restaurant and food purchases and keeping a running tally of what my roundup would have been. I then donate that equivalent to my local food bank. It’s tedious and slow, but it keeps me motivated to make PlateShare happen so that there will be an easier way for others to do the same. I find that on average I round up about $12 a month. Painless for me but a huge impact if hundreds of thousands of us all did it.
Make Some Noise
My food blogging friends are already out there snapping pictures of their food, checking in to restaurants, and tweeting/Facebooking about the whole ordeal. Next time you do this, keep an eye on your bill to see how much you could have rounded up with PlateShare and tweet that along with the photo of your meal. (See the example below.) Follow us on Twitter: @plateshare. Like us on Facebook: facebook.com/plateshare. (I use hashtag #endhunger to join the larger hunger relief conversation on Twitter.) Messages like this that show consumer demand give me leverage when I’m pitching the idea to potential partners, donors and investors. They also light my heart up and inspire me to keep on trucking. So thanks for that.
Tell Restaurants You Want to PlateShare
If you have restaurant connections, please let the owners know you’d love to see a PlateShare roundup line on your receipt. The PlateShare platform is two-fold: a mobile application for consumers and a point-of-sale system integration for restaurants. We are actively seeking restaurant partners willing to pilot a POS integration of the PlateShare platform. Your elevator pitch is this: “Hey, have you guys heard of PlateShare? No? Well, it’s this awesome platform that allows diners to round their restaurant bills up to the nearest dollar and donate the change to feed the hungry. You should look into being a partner! I’ll connect you with the founder. [INSERT HIGH FIVE HERE]” You can direct them to our Restaurants page to learn more or directly to me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seek Out and Support Other Hunger Relief Efforts
There are a lot of hunger relief organizations already doing a lot of very good, very important work. We’re all on the same team and PlateShare and I are here to support them. I’m actively reaching out to Share Our Strength/No Kid Hungry, Feeding America and Stop Hunger Now, as well as smaller local initiatives here in Charlotte to see what we can do when we work together. This is bigger than me. It’s bigger than PlateShare. It’s a movement. Join it.