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Food Waste Photo Essay Software

There's a lot of talk about the combined problems of food waste, obesity and, paradoxically, unprecedented hunger, but nobody has been able to put food politics into perspective as succinctly as Oxfam America. With an aim to raise awareness of issues of poverty and injustice throughout the globe, Oxfam staff snapped up photos of seven different families from as far afield as Azerbaijan and Zimbabwe and the food that each family will consume in one week. Browse through our gallery of Oxfam's images and compare your weekly food consumption with each of these families.

Photo: Tom Pietrasik/Oxfam

The images include families from seven different countries, including Azerbaijan, Sri Lanka, Armenia, the United Kingdom, Tajikistan and Zimbabwe. Some of the families own their own land and others don’t, and they each have a different number of dependents. Naturally each family has access to different crops depending on their location, but as Oxfam puts it, the series is strung together by one central fact: we all have to eat.

Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Oxfam

Perhaps most shocking is the image from the United Kingdom. The only photo in the series to depict a family from the developed western world highlights the prevalence of processed foods. While all of the other families eat food in its original state—harvested straight from the ground or tree depending on what it is—the family from London sits in front of a pile of processed food provided by a local food bank.

+ Oxfam International

As a senior studying international health and global development at the University of California, Berkeley, Komal Ahmad noticed that just feet from her school’s dining hall—where leftover food was discarded daily—homeless people were scrounging for their next meal. “I call hunger the [developed] world’s dumbest problem, because with so much talent and innovation, so much abundance, it shouldn’t exist,” she says. Ahmad thought that if the technology industry applied its ingenuity to the issue, food waste could be eradicated. In 2012, she launched Copia, a Bay Area nonprofit turned benefit corporation, to test her theory.

The Problem

According to the Department of Agriculture, roughly 30% to 40% of food available in the United States—some 133 billion pounds—ends up in landfills each year. A significant portion of it comes from grocery stores, but restaurants and food-service companies are also major contributors. And donating leftovers isn’t easy: Many charities have specific requirements about the kind of food they can accept.

The Epiphany

After helping Berkeley become the first university to avoid food waste by donating to local organizations, Ahmad realized there had to be a more efficient way to match charities with donors that meet their specifications. If startups in the Bay Area can use algorithms to set up car pickups or meal deliveries, she wondered, why not apply that approach to food redistribution?

The Execution

After graduation, Ahmad hired software engineers to build a sleek app that seamlessly pairs aid organizations with local businesses that have surplus food, from restaurant groups and sports organizations to office cafeterias and caterers. Once a connection is made, the app dispatches one of Copia’s drivers (some of whom are vets or formerly homeless) to pick up the donation and deliver it to its next stop. To keep the enterprise sustainable, Copia recently became for-profit, charging donors a volume-based fee and taking 20% to 30% of the resulting tax deduction. In return, donors receive detailed reports on their leftovers to help avoid over-ordering food in the future.

The Result

Over the past four years, Ahmad and her team of eight full-time employees (plus 200 part-time drivers) have recovered more than 830,000 pounds of food from 150 clients across some three dozen California cities. They’ve helped to feed nearly 700,000 people and facilitated $4.9 million in tax deductions and other savings. The company is now looking to expand to a half dozen U.S. cities, including Boston, New York, and Chicago, in the next year. Officials as far away as Germany and Austria are also interested in the technology as a way to feed migrants and refugees. That has inspired Ahmad to think about applying the Copia method to other essentials, such as medical supplies, books, and clothing. “One thing that’s beautiful about our business model is that when we win, no one loses,” she says.