Some 30 percent to 40 percent of America’s food goes to waste, according to the US Department of Agriculture. (The percentage in Boston may be lower if you count the food eaten by rats as “not wasted.”) One local outfit actively fighting food waste is the Massachusetts chapter of Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, which matches organizations with leftovers to charitable organizations that can use the extras and organizes volunteers to transport it all.
I talked recently with Lauren Basler, who coordinates volunteer efforts in Boston and Cambridge.
How long has Rescuing Leftover Cuisine been in existence? How long in Boston?
It started in 2013 in New York. It’s been in Boston since 2016.
In how many cities is it operating now? Is it operating in other cities in Massachusetts?
The number varies from year to year. Sometimes a person who started a branch doesn’t have time anymore. Currently we have eight cities in our database. We are the Massachusetts branch. We’re currently focused on Boston and Cambridge, but we’re looking to expand.
Are most of the rescues one-person jobs? Do many require a truck? Are some rescues walkable?
Yes, most are one-person jobs. In New York, it’s a little different: If we get more volunteers, we might arrange more multiperson jobs. Many require a car but not a truck. Some rescues can be done on foot. The donors in those cases have carts that the rescuer can borrow. It’s about half and half, by car and on foot.
What problems are you having? No-shows, diversions?
We have a problem filling all our events with volunteers. Most of the people who volunteer do show up. Mostly we need more volunteers.
About how many calls do you get a day? What percentage can you answer?
We have two types of rescues. We have regular rescues that happen on a schedule. There are also emergency rescues, fewer in number. We fill about 70 percent of our regular rescues and maybe 80 percent of the emergency rescues. We have about 70 regular rescues a week. We estimate about 30 pounds a rescue. Let me see, how many pounds a week does that come to? …
Is there a typical rescuer?
No. We have high school students, college students, retired people, people with cars, people with no cars, people who work in the city, people who just come into the city to volunteer.
How are you doing getting donors?
The way we work is we recruit donors and then find enough volunteers to take care of those donors. Right now we have enough donors. If we get more volunteers, we’ll recruit more donors. We do have groups that volunteer or offices that organize volunteers. Most of our donors are in downtown Boston or Cambridge.
Any picky recipients who want, let us say, only kosher or vegetarian food?
Some recipients prefer prepackaged food or food that doesn’t have to be heated up.
Are you going to try to organize a flash mob to rescue the enormous amount of food left over after Thanksgiving?
That’s a great idea. How do you organize a flash mob?
I don’t know. Maybe some reader can advise you.
So, readers, if you live or work in Greater Boston, with or without a car, and have some free time, regularly or now and then, you possess a superpower waiting to be unchained—a power just as miraculous as turning water into wine and much more useful:
You can turn garbage into food.
Visit rescuingleftovercuisine.org/ma to learn more or to sign up as a volunteer.