Ronni Kahn: How can we divert resources to create social impact?

Ronni Kahn: How can we divert resources to create social impact?

Ronni Kahn: How can we divert resources to create social impact?

Ronni Kahn: How can we divert resources to create social impact?

Acknowledgement of Country: This interview was conducted on Gadigal Country. We pay our respects to the traditional custodians of this land, past, present and emerging. We recognise their deep connection to the land and their unique cultural heritage, which continues to enrich our shared community.

In this interview we speak to Ronni Kahn AO, founder and CEO of food rescue organisation OzHarvest

Ronni is an activist, advocate and social entrepreneur. Through OzHarvest, she leads hundreds of staff and thousands of volunteers in reducing food waste and providing meals to vulnerable people. Ronni also advises governments on improving social justice and environmental outcomes.

Why must we address food waste?

Growing food takes energy, fuel, water and love. Every time we throw away a vegetable or piece of fruit, we challenge the cost and value of that food.

A third of all food goes to waste globally. Yet the need for food has never been so great.

We are in both a cost-of-living crisis and a food security crisis. And the need for food is growing. Millions more people needed food last year, and we still wasted a third of it.

There’s also a very clear connection between food waste and climate change. Most people don’t realise that when food goes to landfill, it gives off methane gas. This gas is more destructive than carbon dioxide. It’s a big contributor to climate change.

The more we can stop food waste going to landfill, the better. And the more food we rescue, the more we can feed vulnerable people and help stop global warming.

What is the current state of food security in Sydney?

The demand for food in Sydney is huge. The number of people visiting our free supermarket has gone from 200 a day to 400. And our restaurant, Refettorio, where we serve free lunches, is also seeing higher demand than ever.

We have a new demographic of people needing food too. Many of them have a job. They have never needed food relief in any way, shape or form before. The cost of living crisis means that their wages have not risen commensurate with the cost of living index. 

The organisations we support need more food than ever. We have 679 charities on a waiting list right now. During COVID, we had the funding to bring our waiting list down. That funding has ended now, but food poverty has a very long tail. You can't just end a relief program and expect the problem to be solved. We’re seeing greater need now than we did through COVID here in Sydney —and that’s a mirror of what’s happening around the country. 

How does OzHarvest fight food waste and support people in need?

Every day we rescue food from farmers, manufacturers , supermarkets, the hospitality industry and the whole  food supply chain. We collect perfectly good food that would have been thrown away and deliver it to over 2,000 charities across Australia. These charities then feed vulnerable people.

To date, OzHarvest has delivered food for over 240 million meals. We’ve prevented around 80 million kilos of good food from going to waste. And in the last year we’ve given out 16,000 produce hampers to those in need.

Education programs are another huge part of what we do. The more you educate people, the more they understand and have capacity to change their behaviour.  

Our education programs are for all ages. Our NEST program teaches adults about healthy eating and easy, affordable cooking. Our FEAST program goes into schools to nurture young climate activists and eco warriors. 

We also brought our mobile markets to regional communities affected by the pandemic, bushfires and floods. Usually after a disaster, the government and many organisations would provide support immediately. But the support diminishes within a few months. But the need is still there. These communities need sustained support, so we go in a couple of months later to continue to provide fresh produce to people in need. To date, we’ve run 1,360 mobile markets across 55 towns within 3 years. 

How does OzHarvest collaborate with other organisations?

Collaboration is a huge part of what we do. In fact, we are completely dependent on interconnection. We need funding to roll out our programs, but we also need to connect people to the notion of feeding vulnerable people. The best way for us to do that is through partnerships and engagement. 

Woolworths is one of our major partners. They give us funding, and we support them in their goal to achieve zero waste, making sure their surplus stock is rescued and delivered to people in need. 

We also offer workplace team building opportunities, in the form of cooking classes. In the last two weeks, we’ve had 200 different corporate organisations engaged in the Cooking for a Cause program. Each class gives us a chance to share our message: we are all responsible for reducing food waste. 

We live in a society that has become centred around the ‘me’ economy. We need to realise that what's good for us as individuals is only good if it's good for the planet and the people around us as well. The more we engage in circular economy activities, the better it is for our world.

What are the biggest challenges in the fight against food waste?

Shifting people’s mindset is the toughest thing to do. We’re all very set in our ways. The appreciation of the value of food has changed over generations. Our grandparents, who experienced times of scarcity during the depression and war, had a deep understanding of food's worth. The current generation is used to the convenience of quick and easy supermarket access.

We need to change expectations and promote food choices based on local, seasonal ingredients. Encouraging people to connect with the origins of their food and appreciate the natural cycles of produce can help shift mindset towards food.

Another aspect is scale, which is crucial in having significant progress towards reducing food waste. We’re committed to the National Food Waste Strategy’s target to halve food waste by 2030. But we have less than 3,000 days to do that. To meet this ambitious target, we need to engage as many people as possible and encourage collective action. 

How can we overcome these challenges? 

One of the ideas is to offer tax incentives to farmers and businesses that donate surplus produce. According to Foodbank, the initiative could generate a $2 billion social return to the government and the community. (Source: ABC)

We’ve also got to make it easier for farmers to reduce food waste. The logistics are very complex. But they also face the risks of sending produce that may be rejected later. It’s great to see some major food suppliers have started selling imperfect produce, but that still only takes up a very small percentage of food waste. 

Education is crucial. For example, even though we have imperfect produce, people still prefer to go to the supermarket shelf and purchase the perfect looking ones. Shifting consumer mindset can significantly reduce waste.

Reducing food waste across the supply chain isn’t an easy task. It needs everyone working together. Each of us can learn the impact of our own behaviour—and take action to tackle food waste together.

What can individuals do to reduce food waste?

Being an eco warrior or a climate activist starts with the simplest actions. Not everyone has the means to buy an electric car, but there are many other things we can do: be mindful about our shopping, learn about the impact of our own behaviour and discover the power of personal choices.

There are ways individuals and households can reduce their food waste:

  • Before you go shopping: Check what you have already. plan your meals and write a list of what you need.

  • When you shop: Be mindful about the produce and product choices you make at the shops. Only buy what you need, and choose loose fruit and vegetables rather than packaged ones.

  • At home: Use our Use It Up Tape! It’s free and creates a visual reminder in your fridge or pantry to focus on food that should be eaten first. You can order it here: Use It Up Tape™

Learn more
ozharvest.org

Connect
Linkedin

This interview is part of ReCo Circular Sydney 2023 Series, supported by the City of Sydney Knowledge Exchange Sponsorship program. Explore more free content at: reco.net.au/circular-sydney

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Author

Interviewed by Danling Xiao. Edited by Lucy Campbell.

Lucy Campbell is a writer and editor with a long-standing interest in and commitment to science and sustainability. Solicitude and solastalgia motivate her to preserve precious resources and promote positive change. Connect with Lucy on Linkedin.

Danling is the co-founder of ReCo and creative director of reco.digital. Danling has an unwavering passion for creativity, spirituality and the pursuit of positive change in the world. Connect with Danling on Linkedin

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