For most, 2020 was a year to rethink everything. For those at Rethink Food, however, this was a practice they were quite familiar with.
Based in New York, Rethink Food is a non-profit that has been on a mission to create a more sustainable and equitable food system since 2017. By actively rethinking what our food system can be, the organization has been able to not only fight hunger in the United States but also tackle another nationwide issue: food waste.
In order to do so, Rethink rescues excess food from local businesses and restaurants and transforms the ingredients into fresh, ready-to-eat meals crafted by their own culinary team to then be later distributed to those in need.
Even when the pandemic hit, Rethink didn't halt their mission–they simply had to rethink again. As issues from these old systems became exacerbated, in particularly food insecurity, the organization launched their Rethink Certified Program and opened their donation-based cafe Rethink Cafe in Clinton Hill.
To shed more light on all things Rethink, we asked co-founder and CEO Matt Jozwiak a few questions.
Rethink tackles two major issues many Americans face that are interconnected: food insecurity & climate change. How did Rethink initially come to be, and how has it since transformed?
When I worked in fine dining restaurants as a young chef, first in Chicago and then in New York City, I saw firsthand how much good food goes underutilized each day. In looking for ways to give back to the community, I realized how dire food inequality is in America. That is how the idea of Rethink Food was born in 2017: We started developing a process to transform excess food from restaurants, corporate kitchens, and grocery stores into nutritious meals to feed communities. Since then, we’ve grown to an organization with three practical programs designed to reduce food insecurity across communities: Rethink Certified, Rethink Cafe, and the Commissary Kitchen.
Since April 2020, we have invested over $20M directly into restaurants and local communities and distributed over 4.8M meals through community-based organizations (CBOs).
Over the pandemic, while many restaurants and small businesses closed, Rethink emerged with the Rethink Certified Program and, by doing so, helped keep some of these restaurants afloat. For those who are not familiar with the program, can you explain how it works?
Our Rethink Certified program was created in April 2020 during one of the most challenging times in our country’s history. The program, which was only intended to run for six weeks, was launched to feed communities and keep local restaurants in business.
We partner with restaurants and food establishments to prepare nutritious meals for communities in exchange for a grant to cover a portion of operational costs. The meals are then delivered to our neighbors impacted by food insecurity through CBOs.
Since the program’s launch, Rethink Food has partnered with over 100 restaurants and food establishments in all five boroughs of New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, Nashville, Washington DC, and soon Miami.
What do you think (or dream!) is the future of restaurants, food, & sustainability?
We aspire to create a new industry standard where restaurants and food establishments actively engage their customers in financially supporting efforts to provide community meals. A great example of this is our Rethink Cafe: located in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn; it is one of New York City’s first pay-what-you-can community cafes. Its mission is to invite anyone and everyone to enjoy a nutritious meal for a suggestion-based donation of $5. The cafe has become as much as a go-to spot in the neighborhood to grab coffee or lunch, and pay it forward for someone else, as it is a place our neighbors who are impacted by food insecurity can count on to have a nourishing meal in a dignified setting. I truly believe that we can make a difference by implementing this model to a larger scale to continue serving meals well into the future.
Do you have any tips on ways we can rethink our habits at home regarding food waste or food insecurity? (OR any tips on reviewing in general – it's so easy to fall into a routine intentionally or not)
Here are four simple habits you can implement to reduce food waste:
- Indulge the imperfect. Misshapen, bruised, or scratched fruits and vegetables are good to eat. Do not throw them away.
- Loosen up on expiration dates. Dates on food packages are not absolute confirmation on when something has gone bad. Always smell or carefully look at a product before throwing it out.
- FIFO (First In, First Out) as a rule of thumb. When buying new groceries, place new items in the back and move older items to the front. You’ll be able to notice the older food items and use them up before they go bad.
- Don’t leave it, Freeze it. Freeze your produce before they start to turn. Keep a list of what you place in the freezer and when the item was frozen for easy reference.
What's next for Rethink?
At the heart of our work is creating a more sustainable and more equitable food system. Whether that’s through utilizing excess food through our commissary kitchen and cafe, by creating new channels to address food insecurity, or by partnering with food establishments (restaurants, caterers, bakeries, etc.), our work is grounded in building better food systems.
We are also starting to expand our Rethink Certified program from our traditional model of providing capital to restaurants to produce meals to more and more partners creatively supporting our work through fundraising and impact campaigns-- all of which are helping to grow the program and our impact in communities. We are making authentic and meaningful connections between our partners and CBOs and putting food establishments and their customers in a more active role in supporting communities. Our scope of work is expanding, and I am truly excited to see how we can keep evolving to contribute to structural and lasting change.
What are some ways our community can support Rethink and its mission?
Everyone can join our movement and support our mission by donating directly here. 100% of your donation goes now toward feeding communities.