The country’s first food bank shows how fighting hunger and championing sustainability go hand in hand.
In one of the inner barangays of Taguig, a small, incongruous-looking shop has popped up, squeezed into a narrow lane between the Ususan Barangay Hall and a public basketball court. Called the Good Food Grocer, it’s the first food bank to open in the Philippines, part of Rise Against Hunger Philippines’ initiative to curb a global hunger epidemic.
When it comes to solving hunger, the initial response is to keep supplying more food to areas with higher incidences. This sentiment is behind a lot of current efforts to alleviate the problem, which include conditional cash transfers, feeding programs, and community gardens, often spearheaded by the government. But for Jomar Fleras, Rise Against Hunger PH’s Executive Director, this isn’t enough. “When people talk to us about hunger, we tell them it’s not because we don’t have enough food,” he said. “It’s a matter of logistics. There’s food, but it's not distributed equitably.”
He notes that food waste is a particularly significant offender, with roughly 30 percent of food consumed often getting lost or wasted, an amount that can feed all the hungry people in the Philippines—which is a lot of people. The Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey noted that there were 3.6 million Filipino families who experienced involuntary hunger in the last quarter of 2017, around 700,000 more than recorded in the previous year. “Involuntary hunger” here refers to the hunger experienced when there is “a lack of food to eat.”
“When people talk to us about hunger, we tell them it’s not because we don’t have enough food… There’s food, but it's not distributed equitably.”
- Jomar Fleras, Rise Against Hunger Philippines
Unfortunately, the concept of mitigating food waste isn’t as widespread in the Philippines as it is in other countries. In the UK, for instance, supermarket chains offer discounted prices for misshapen produce to prevent them from going into the waste bin. Some companies even make sauces out of the food surplus. And in France, it is illegal for big chains to throw out unsold food. Instead, the laws require them to donate it to organizations as a way to provide more meals and further lessen the waste generated.
Good Food Grocer hopes to be the first step in that direction, with a foundation built on a holistic approach to food sustainability.
What exactly is a food bank and how will it help achieve RAH’s goals? It is a place where food manufacturers like hotels, restaurants, farms, and consumers donate goods that are still edible, yet not up to par for their serving standards. Food banks then donate these to food pantries, or places and organizations where the supplies are most needed, such as schools, orphanages, emergency shelters, and feeding programs. They can also distribute directly to the beneficiaries.
When it comes to food donors, Jomar says they’re mainly cautious about the products each donor pledges to give. Donors are also called to regularly donate such products and quantify the donations, and contributions must meet rigorous standards. “We have nutrition and food safety guidelines. We don’t just accept any donation of food – they have to be valuable, they have to be safe, they have to be of high quality in nutrition,” he said. “We have a threshold of sugar and sodium.”
On the food bank’s shelves, which are made from stacks of wooden produce crates, products of note include vegetable noodles, healthy seasonings, and fortified bread, which are close to standard Filipino staples while being a bit more nutritious. Jomar notes that Filipinos in particular aren’t quite fond of vegetables, so incorporating them into forms that are more palatable is a good way of making up for that lack.
Moreover, each item is specifically formulated to address the dietary requirements of each community’s target beneficiaries. The barangay identifies households in the community who have lactating women, seniors, PWDs, and other people at risk so they can be prioritized for distribution according to their needs. Such members are then given questionnaires to evaluate their nutritional needs, and are free to take rations from the bank as needed.
Family size and household members are also taken into account so that relatives can come in and claim the food on the member’s behalf. Good Food Grocer also makes the most out of unclaimed food by turning them into filling meals, which can be claimed on a first-come-first-served basis during the bank’s after hours.
Providing sustenance to those who need it, however, isn’t enough to stave off hunger in the long run. Rise Against Hunger PH also employs other strategic partnerships and services to make sure that these efforts are sustainable.
What members get from Good Food Grocer are then regulated per day to discourage hoarding and the food waste that can be generated from it. To keep the operations self-sufficient, stocks are sourced locally from community gardens, and mothers and interested participants are taught how to cook dishes using leftover ingredients. Moreover, Rise Against Hunger works with LGUs to ensure that the operations are consistent, as well as to help lobby for ordinances or policies that can further the fight against widespread hunger.
This may seem like a lot to do for one food bank, but every decision and initiative made is calculated. Much of their work supplements what Rise Against Hunger has already been doing in these areas. The key is in the “Food Recovery Hierarchy” that Rise Against Hunger follows, which emphasizes source reduction first – or limiting sources of food waste – then feeding those suffering from hunger. If there is food left after the first two blocks, the rest of the food can be used to feed animals, for industrial purposes, or turned into compost. Only then is the waste put into the landfill or incinerated, with emphasis on it as a last resort.
The Good Food Grocer opened its doors in May 2018 and currently feeds 150-300 children from daycare centers around Taguig. More food banks are needed to reach more of the hungry, and so while RAH plans to open pilot stores in Payatas, Pasay, Mandaue, Bacolod, and Cebu by the end of the year, they also hope to inspire other people to think about what they can do to help stop food wastage.