One Person’s Trash: A Former Chef Tackles Food Waste and Hunger

Food waste runs rampant in the United States, with some sources estimating up to 40% of the food we produce annually is discarded. Meanwhile, a staggering number of Americans struggle with hunger; a reported 40 million of us grappled with food insecurity in 2017 with the percentage of those struggling in some states like Mississippi and West Virginia ballooning to more than one in five residents.

Luckily, there is a pack of start-ups and organizations working to reduce the numbers in both of those columns, but ReThink Food NYC stands out. Founded by Matt Jozwiak, a former station chef at three Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park, the non-profit not only recovers excess food from restaurants, events, grocery stores and corporate offices, but also utilizes it to prepare nutrient-dense and delicious meals they then deliver to local human service organizations like food banks.

So why would a chef leave one of the country’s best kitchens to take on food waste and hunger? “My fiancée Anna once said to me, ‘focus on a simple idea, drive it and do it well’—[The move] was logical and it made more sense,” Jozwiak says.

Their pursuit to raise awareness of their cause and operation has led ReThink to collaborate with some of the best in food and drink like the Nomad Bar—consistently named one of the best bars in the world—and most recently with Evil Twin Brewing NYC on a sour beer made of spent grains donated by the brewery and used cocktail ingredients like citrus rinds from Nomad Bar. The proceeds will go to help ReThink’s mission of lifting millions of New Yorkers out of hunger.

In NYC alone, some 1.3 million tons of food waste gets dumped into landfills each year. Although this metropolis is home to some of the richest in the world, 1.2 million of 8.6 million documented New Yorkers went hungry last year.

These partnerships have come about as these industry leaders believe in ReThink’s goal as well as their responsibility to help solve both issues. “Restaurants have a huge responsibility to help reduce food waste,” says Alex Pfaffenbach, Food & Beverage General Manager of the NoMad Bar. ”As experts in the field, restaurant operators are in the perfect position to get creative and figure out ways to not take in more food than they need to serve their guests as well as find a good use for their excess.”

Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, founder of Evil Twin Brewing NYC, sees the big picture and hopes more of his fellow food industry powerhouses will get involved. This limited-edition collaborative beer may be a drop in the proverbial bucket, but he knows that “if every brand works towards reducing their food waste we can collectively have a large positive impact.”