Among other developed nations, the U.S. has some stark statistics when it comes to food insecurity and hunger.
Before the pandemic, it was estimated that more than 35 million Americans dealt with some form of hunger (10 million of them children). That number could rise to as many as 54 million (18 million children) by the end of the year.
Enter the work that chefs Daniel Humm, 44, and Matt Jozwiak, 32, both of Eleven Madison Park fame; chef Winston Chiu, 33, part owner of Little Tong Noodle Shop in New York; and a team of entrepreneurs are doing. The trio co-founded New York City-based Rethink —an initiative aimed at resolving hunger through repairing some of the key problems in America’s food chain.
“There is so much food waste in this country every year—like 70 billion tons,” Humm says. “What Rethink has taught me is that hunger is a logistical issue.”
The model, founded in 2017, is fairly simple: Restaurants across the culinary spectrum are asked either to use excess (either their own or from another source) to create healthy, flavorful, ready-to-go meals that are then delivered to nearby communities that need them most. With outposts across New York City and in San Francisco, the program now has 40 “Rethink-certified” restaurants with 400 more vetted for the program as Rethink scales up, according to Humm.
Rethink has served 1.5 million meals with the assistance of 75-plus community partners since its inception in 2018. Humm says that Rethink is also responsible for creating more than 60 jobs in service, distribution, delivery, and administrative functions.
Rethink does not charge for the delivery and distribution of its meals, but some restaurants may pre-purchase food (under their own volition) that otherwise would have gone to waste so it can be prepared for new meals.
San Francisco-based chef Dominique Crenn (a Michelin-starred, highly successful fine dining chef in her own right) has known the Eleven Madison Park team for some time, and her main restaurant, Petit Crenn, has been a part of Rethink since July.
“I’ve been doing a lot of research about this over the last few years and [Rethink] is a good start in finding a better way to fight hunger,” she says. “We do have real food insecurity [in this country] and no one is talking about it, especially with the election coming up.”
Petit Crenn has been producing 2,000 meals a week for Glide, a San Francisco-based organization serving some of the most impoverished communities in the city. She’s a vocal advocate for their work and wants to establish the relationship as a model that restaurants all over the Bay Area can use. She wants to help connect restaurants in her community with sources of food that would otherwise have been wasted and turn those resources into wholesome meals for those who need it most.
“I think the way that we’re talking about the food industry, there’s two different sides: the one that’s feeding people bad food, and then ours who is feeding people good food and doing this because it is a passion. Imagine if all of the chefs [in our area] got involved, everything would be better,” she says.
WHAT’S THE GOOD?
Rethink’s work is especially relevant as pandemic restrictions becomes the standard way of life for restaurants and the food chain, at least in the short term.