Will Boston Become the First US City to Require Food Vendors Donate Leftovers to Its Hungry?
City could take a page from BU Dining Services, which already has a program in place to give away surplus food to needy residents
Boston may take a leaf from BU Dining Services’ anti-hunger efforts.
A proposed ordinance would make Beantown the first US city to require that food vendors donate leftovers to the needy—donations that Dining Services already makes voluntarily. The proposal comes at the intersection of a feast and a potential famine. The feast: 1 million tons of wasted food in Massachusetts annually. The famine: the expiration of COVID-era, expanded benefits for 630,000 Bay Staters under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Under the ordinance proposed by City Councilors Ricardo Arroyo and Gabriela Coletta, the city would require food vendors to contract with nonprofits to transport donations to food pantries and other groups. The largest vendors would face the requirement starting in 2025, with others following the next year.
Dining Services donates leftovers to food-insecure Bostonians as part of its multipronged, food waste reduction program. Nonprofits, such as Somerville’s Food For Free, help some vendors do the same (including Dining Services, which also partners with Rosie’s Place and BU’s Student Food Rescue to arrange donations).
We spoke with Lexie Raczka, Dining Services’ sustainability director, about BU’s program and what lessons it offers Boston for its proposed ordinance.
With Lexie Raczka
BU Today: How much food does Dining Services donate each year?
Raczka: Last year, BU Dining recovered and donated more than 8,500 pounds of food. The year-to-year quantities vary. Feeding America estimates that 1.2 pounds are equivalent to an average meal.
This year, we have expanded our food recovery efforts and have plans to continue to grow the program. The vast majority of the food waste generated by BU Dining is not donatable; the primary sources of food waste are guests’ plates and produce and meat trim. Moreover, our food recovery partners have criteria around acceptable and unacceptable food for donation; not all surplus food is able to be donated. Our primary focus is preventing surplus food, which we do by cooking in small batches and to order and repurposing ingredients.
BU Today: To whom do you donate the food?
Raczka: Food For Free is our primary food donation partner. They work with over 100 organizations in eastern Massachusetts. We also recover and donate food through BU’s Student Food Rescue program and Rosie’s Place.
BU Today: Do other local universities have similar donation programs?
Yes, other colleges and universities also have food donation programs, though programs differ from school to school.
BU Today: It seems that Boston’s proposed ordinance would require vendors to do what Dining Services already is doing. What lessons would you offer to vendors to make it work?
First and foremost, it is important to create a network of food recovery partners who can support donation efforts. I would recommend starting small, by developing a pilot and growing the program based on best practices from the pilot program. Additionally, it is also important to use food recovery efforts to better understand production volumes, and make adjustments to purchases and/or production to reduce the amount of surplus food generated, especially since not all surplus food can be donated.
BU Today: Have the city or ordinance sponsors asked for your advice on the proposed ordinance?
The public process hasn’t really started on this proposal yet, so while we haven’t been asked, we’re looking forward to the discussions to come. BU Dining strongly supports efforts to reduce food waste and increase food recovery and donation, recognizing the need in the community and consistent with our sustainability initiatives. We’re pleased that the issue is receiving increased attention.