We’re only a few months into our project on combatting food waste, and it’s already clear that there are plenty of examples of great initiatives underway across the motu. We’re tackling the project as a series of interrelated reports, starting with a quick scan of the current state of food waste in Aotearoa New Zealand and then launching into a report on food rescue. Food rescue feels like a sensible place to start – from an environmental and social perspective, capturing quality surplus food and ensuring it reaches bellies instead of bins is crucial.

To get on-the-ground insights into the food rescue sector, last Wednesday I hitched a ride with Teina, a driver at KiwiHarvest, on a food rescue run in Tāmaki Makaurau.  KiwiHarvest rescued and distributed over 2,114,000 kg of food at their five sites across Aotearoa New Zealand in 2020/21 – so it was great to be able to check this mahi out in person.

The KiwiHarvest truck

Food rescue serves to connect surplus quality food to those who need it. KiwiHarvest operates using a traditional food rescue model, meaning they pick up food from supermarkets and deliver it to organisations that are already doing great work in the community – these might be food banks, social services, afterschool programmes or women’s refuges. KiwiHarvest has a strong volunteer base and their work is vital in ensuring that KiwiHarvest can have the reach and impact they do.

There are other food rescue models too – free food stores, community meals or even community fridges. Food rescue looks a little different in each community – which is great because each community has its own needs.

I rode in the largest truck, which can take 7 pallets worth of food. Some of KiwiHarvest’s infrastructure is funded by the Ministry for the Environment through the Waste Minimisation Fund, which in the last funding round supported five projects to reduce food waste.

The trucks are all refrigerated – which helps to ensure the food stays in the best condition possible for the recipient organisations. Because a lot of the food is short dated, it needs to get to the recipients quickly, meaning KiwiHarvest drivers do pick-ups and drop-offs in the same trip.

Our journey took us to 11 supermarkets all over South Auckland. Each store had a few different spots we went to collect the food – including the fridge for dairy items and the freezer for the meat (I made the mistake of wearing shorts so both the meat and I were freezing).

Rescued broccoli, grapes and bananas.

Rescued fruit from one of the stops.

Teina and I picked up between two and six boxes of food from each supermarket – a mixture of produce, a few grocery items, meat, dairy, and sometimes food from the deli. The KiwiHarvest team want to make sure the food delivered to recipient organisations can be used; so we had quick look through to make sure we only took the kai still good to eat.

The food rescue run started in Ormiston and Papatoetoe before heading down to Manukau and then all the way out to Pukekohe, where we dropped off kai to a transitional housing provider who works with women and children.

The manager outlined just how important the kai was “It honestly makes all the difference for our clients, it is a huge help for our people. Almost all of the food gets eaten, but if there is something inedible we compost it on site.”

Food rescue diverts waste from landfill, but it is also about the social impact – and it is great to hear that it makes a difference for the women and their tamariki.

Kiwiharvest chiller

The warehouse chiller.

The KiwiHarvest warehouse.

Colson, Angela and Teina.

While food rescue doesn’t address the root causes of food insecurity, such as income inadequacy relative to the cost of living, it’s clear that this kai is making a positive difference in people’s lives today. And with surplus food a feature of our current food systems, it’s sensible to put it to good use – which means nourishing people before considering using it for animal feed, compost, or other products that don’t fill bellies.

In our series of reports over the coming months, we’ll be exploring in greater detail why food waste occurs, how it can be prevented, and what to do with food waste when it can’t be eaten – we need to look at food waste throughout the food system. I am looking forward to the mahi as it progresses – and  joining Teina on his Wednesday rounds showed me why food rescue is a great place to start.

Learn more about our food waste project on our topic page. If you are keen to be involved and we aren’t already connected, please get in touch info@pmcsa.ac.nz

If you are keen to volunteer, either out on a truck or in one of the other areas of KiwiHarvest then get in touch with them through this email: hello@kiwiharvest.org.nz

Ngā mihi,