Bridging the Gap between Hunger & Food Waste During a Pandemic

A cart filled with fresh, surplus produce donated to feed the hungry. Credit: Rescuing Leftover Cuisine

By Seema Sanghavi
NEW DELHI, Apr 14 2020 – On March 12, the first email came in. An email from a boutique hotel that said they needed to postpone their apron order. The hotel had decided to put a hold on all non-essential spending until everything was, according to them, back to normal.

This email was followed by a similar email, and then another. Within a few days, all our wholesale orders were either postponed or canceled.

At the time, I realized I needed to be extremely resilient as Covid-19 was going to take a hard hit on my business. As the virus took over the news and seemed to be impacting everyone on the planet, I realized a lot more was at stake.

I started ‘Cooks Who Feed’ because I wanted to bridge the gap between hunger and food waste. Not only was the virus impacting my ability to combat this problem, but it was making the problem worse on a global scale.

Hunger is not a new problem and definitely not one relegated to developing countries. In fact, most countries have some level of food insecurity. According to the World Food Programme (WFP), over 800 million people, that’s one in nine, go to bed hungry. On top of that, one in three suffer from some form of malnutrition.

The irony here is that in a world with so much hunger, so much food is wasted. The WFP states that hunger is not about a lack of food. Right now, the world produces enough food to nourish every man, woman, and child on the planet. However, about $1 trillion of food is lost or wasted each year.

This amount is roughly one-third of all food produced worldwide. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, reversing this trend would save enough food to feed 2 billion people .

I started my company to address this hunger and food waste paradox. At Cooks Who Feed, our mission is to empower food lovers to take action for a hunger-free world. Our company produces beautifully designed handcrafted aprons.

When someone buys an apron, food waste is rescued and used to provide 100 nutritious meals. To fulfill our 1 apron = 100 meals promise, we share the profits from every apron sold with our charity partners who rescue fresh, surplus food and distribute it to those in need of a meal.

Feeding India volunteers and Hunger Heroes serving meals to school children. Credit: Zomato Feeding India

We currently have a charity partner in Canada, the USA, and India. To increase our impact, we sell our apron via our website and create co-branded aprons for businesses focusing on sustainability.

So, what prompted me to start Cooks Who Feed? It was my passion for food.

I love to cook and believe that sharing a good meal not only feeds our body; it feeds our soul. Many of my fondest memories revolve around sharing a meal. But, as much as food gives me joy, I’ve always been bothered by the number of people who go hungry and do not get to experience food the way I do.

I struggle to live in a world of feast or famine. Why do so many go hungry when so much food is thrown out?

It was this question that led me to learn about nonprofit organizations that focused on redirecting food destined for the landfill. This is when I started connecting the dots and the idea for Cooks Who Feed was born.

The backbone of the company is our production team in India. All our aprons are handmade by a group of marginalized women. The ladies are provided with safe and fair work with the goal of getting them out of poverty.

Prior to March 12, if you would have asked me about my business, I would have told you that it was positioned for growth and things were going well. The virus changed that. Businesses that purchased my aprons were predominantly in the hospitality industry, an industry that was drastically impacted by the virus.

With many of these businesses reducing their operations or closing their doors during the pandemic, it’s no surprise that my business was hurt as well.

Although my business, and many others, are facing challenging times, the very issue I set out to address is being magnified at so many levels. Take food waste for example. Although there are many charities whose mission is to rescue food waste, these organizations rely heavily on donations.

Many charities are saying they fear collapse as COVID-19 wreaks economic havoc on their donors. Much like private sector businesses, charities have also had to lay off employees as grant programs are canceled and donations dwindle. To add to this, much of the work carried out by charities is done by volunteers. With social distancing in place and many worried about their health, finding volunteers has been very difficult.

Aside from these charities, the pandemic has shaken the food supply chain. As the hospitality sector shuts down and panic over the virus causes many to hoard food, food supply chains that rely on stability have been disrupted. This has led to a surge in food waste.

Unfortunately, hunger has also been negatively affected by the virus. In the western world, many families rely on school meals and meals donated by charities. The number of people dependent on such donations has also increased with the pandemic as many have lost their jobs. In developing countries, the toll on hunger is much greater. Look at India for example.

Migrants workers from rural areas who rely on their daily wages have now lost their jobs in the big cities. With the country on lockdown, unable to return to their village, these workers are now homeless and hungry.

Although humbled by the realization that many people are and will continue to suffer much more than I can ever imagine, I find myself even more compassionate as problems I care so deeply about become heightened. So I do what every true entrepreneur does….hang tight and focus on what one can control. This too shall pass – I know it will – and when it does, I’ll be ready.

Vietnam Winning New War Against Invisible Enemy

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Apr 14 2020 – Vietnam, just south of coastal China, is the 15th most populous country in the world with 97 million people.According to its Ministry of Health (MoH), as of 13 April, there were 262 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 144 recovering or discharged from hospitals, and no deaths.

Poor country, early action
With officials acting quickly to trace and test contacts, as well as quarantine and treat the infected, Vietnam contained the first wave of infections in January. Following a second wave of 41 new cases, Vietnam imposed a national isolation order on 31 March.The country has already conducted more than 121,000 tests, with more than 75,000 people in quarantine or isolation.

Anis Chowdhury

After more than a dozen people, linked to Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi, tested positive, authorities have been tracing contacts, advised more than 10,000 people who were at the hospital since March 12 to get tested, and locked down a nearby rural hamlet for 14 days.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute noted “Vietnam’s experience demonstrates how, by focusing on early risk assessment, effective communication and government-citizen cooperation, an under-resourced country with a precarious healthcare system can manage the pandemic. In facing an indefinite unknown, decisive leadership, accurate information and community solidarity empower people to protect themselves—and each other.”

The influential World Economic Forum,the Financial Times and others laud Vietnam as a low cost Covid-19 success story to be emulated by poor countries with limited resources.

Containing infection, Vietnam-style
While much more resource constrained, some key features of Vietnam’s responseare similar to othermuch lauded East Asian responses, with its infection rates significantly lower than even Taiwan’s. For many other developing countries struggling to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic, key aspects of its response are very relevant.

Early action
Having experiencedthe SARS1, avian flu and otherrecent epidemics, Vietnam acted early and pro-actively in response to the COVID-19 threat. When only 27 Covid-19 caseshad been detected in Wuhan City in mid-December 2019, Vietnam’s MoH issued prevention guidelines, including close monitoring of border areas and other steps to prevent infection of its population.

When China officially confirmed the first death due to the novel coronavirus on 11 January, Vietnam quickly tightened health checks at all borders and airports. Visitors’ body temperaturesare checked on arrival; anyone with symptoms,such as cough, fever, chest pain or breathing difficulties,isquickly isolated for testing, and strictly monitored at medical facilities, while recent contacts are traced for follow up action.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Other tough measures followed, including closing schools, rationing surgical masks, cancelling some flights, and restricting entry to most foreigners. They have been imposed unevenly, as needed, rather than as blanket, across-the-board measures. The government has asked all citizens to makeonline healthdeclarations, and regularly texts updates nationwide.

Selective quarantine
Vietnam was the first country after China to seal off a largeresidential area. After cases were traced to workers returning from Wuhan, it imposed a 21-day quarantine on 13 February in part of Vinh Phuc province, north of Hanoi, where more than 10,000 people live.

The government also ordered that all arrivals in the country be quarantined, while those who arrived after 8 March are required to undergo medical evaluation. Two communes were put under lockdown on 9 Marchafter a British tourist with the virus visited them.

Affordable effective testing
Vietnam developed a fast, efficient and affordable test kit within a month. Many countries have already shown interest in the kitwhich uses a WHO-approved technique. Rapid development of the kitfollowed extensive urgent consultations with a wide range of scientists coordinated by the Ministry of Science and Technology.

Rather than mass testing, key to wealthier South Korea’s response, Vietnam has focused on isolating the infected, and tracking down their ‘primary’ (direct) and ‘secondary’ (next-level indirect) contactsin order to trace and test thosemore likely to be infected.

Concerned about stigmatization, Vietnam refers to infected persons bytheir case numbers. Exceptionally, the communist party government published the identity and itinerary of a prominent figure who had tested positive. When local businesses were reportedly ostracizing foreigners, the prime minister spoke out against such discrimination.

Social mobilization
Medical students as well as retired doctors and nurses have been mobilized. According to Tran DacPhu, a senior adviser to Vietnam’s Emergency Operation Centre, “We have to mobilise all of society to the best of our capability to fight the outbreak together, and it’s important to find the cases early and isolate them”.

A fund-raising campaign to buy medical and protective equipment for doctors, nurses, police and soldiers in close contact with patients, and for those quarantined, was launched on 19 March.By 5 April, more than 2.1 millionappealshad been texted, with a considerable sumraisedforthe relatively poor society.

The MoH’s online portal immediately publicizes each new case to all major news outlets and the general public, with details including location, mode of infectionand action taken. Information is broadcast by television and via social media, including texts to all handphones.

Different ministries have jointlydeveloped an‘app’, reputedly very easy to use, allowingusers to: submit health and travel information to get tested; know‘hotspots’ where new cases have recently been detected; and get up-to-date information regarding ‘best practices’ in Vietnam and the world.

Vietnam’s response has earned a highlevel of trust among its citizens. About 62% of Vietnamese surveyed, in the single largest global public opinion study on COVID-19, think the Government is doing ‘right’, compared to the global average of around 40%.

While some rich countries act selfishly, Vietnam is following in the steps of Cuba and China in demonstrating humanitarian solidarity in the face of the Covid-19 threat to humanity.

It has shipped 450,000 protective suits to the US for healthcare professionals, and donated 550,000 masks to five European countries. Vietnam has also donated protective clothing, medical masks, testing equipment and kits – worth over US$300,000 – to Cambodia and Laos, and testing kits to Indonesia.

Emphasizing the importance of social solidarity, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has described Vietnam’s efforts to contain the virus as the “spring general offensive of 2020”, referring to the crucial 1968 Tet Offensive by ‘Viet Cong’ guerrillas during its lastwar.