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Making the Most of Leftovers

Ariel Ben Solomon

Israel works to solve poverty crisis with increased surplus food distribution

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

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TO THE RESCUE Food rescue organization Leket Israel recovered 2.5 million meals last year. The extra food, about NIS 19.5 billion worth, is mainly produced in hotels, banquet halls, military bases, and hospitals (Photo: Leket Israel)

L ast week, an Israeli nonprofit organization released a shocking report: more than one-third of all food produced in Israel is wasted, a full 2.4 million tons, enough to provide 64 million meals annually.

The food rescue organization Leket Israel further said that Israel ranks near the bottom of Western countries in food recovery and that the government must do more to prioritize redistributing food in a country where the poverty rate hovers at about 20 percent.

Curious to know how the chareidi community ranked in the food-waste category, we turned to Leket for the data. As it turns out, the chareidi community in Israel wastes far less food than the secular or national religious communities, likely because the great need leads caterers and others to waste less said Joseph Gitler, chairman and founder of Leket Israel.

“We have been doing this for 13 years and one thing we have learned is that it is extremely difficult for catering companies to decrease the amount of food they serve,” said Gitler, noting that food caterers generally prepare an extra 20%-30% of food, concerned there won’t be enough. Gitler, who grew up in New York, started Leket in 2003 when he saw the high poverty rates in his new country. “Western countries waste food in staggering amounts. In Israel and the US, it is around 30-40%. It is a scandal.”

Of that extra 2.4 million tons, about half of it can be redistributed for human consumption, according to the report, Food Waste and Rescue in Israel: The Economic, Social and Environmental Impact Report, prepared by Leket and BDO Ziv Haft Israel.

The extra food, about NIS 19.5 billion worth, is mainly produced in hotels, banquet halls, military bases, and hospitals.

 

Gitler estimated that his organization recovered 2.5 million meals last year. “Why should we be talking about hungry people in this country when we throw away so much food?” Gitler said. “It bothers us when we get calls from soldiers or a waiter who tells us, ‘You cannot believe how much food we threw away.’ ”

Leket maintains exclusive agreements with the army, all major hotel chains, and most of the big corporate caterers. The organization brings the extra food directly to soup kitchens, after-school clubs, and shelters, where it is distributed to the poor and needy. Interestingly, Leket is active in all parts of society in Israel, including the Arab sector. “Any non-kosher food is given to non-Jews and this food is run on an entirely separate logistics system,” he added.

Leket also works with farmers to distribute over 30-million pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables that are damaged or badly shaped. When farmers don’t harvest fruit and vegetables because the price at market is too low, the group goes out to the fields to harvest. Leket distributes the food throughout the country with the aid of 18 refrigerator trucks and volunteers.

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