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Arlan Preblud stands beside one of the trucks used to recover and distribute food. —Photo by Lucy Beaugard

Preventing Food Waste in the Denver Metro Area

How one organization is working to lower the percentage of food wasted in Denver by recovering and redistributing it to local nonprofits in need. 

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Have you ever thought about the amount of food you dispose of in one day—or a week, or a year? For those who have never struggled with food insecurity, it’s an issue that’s often overlooked. That’s not the case for the people at Denver-based We Don’t Waste, who took it upon themselves to change the way we view food while providing much-needed nutrition for the less fortunate.

Founded in 2009 by Arlan Preblud, We Don’t Waste recovers food from area caterers, event venues, and other establishments, and distributes it to more than 50 nonprofits across the state. The organization has grown immensely over the years, from serving about 250,000 meals in its first three months to 1.2 million last month alone. After practicing law for what Preblud describes as “too many years,” he recognized a gap with how we were feeding the food insecure, and what he thought we should be able to provide. He began as a one-man band working under an existing 501(c)(3) umbrella through the Denver City Parish. He would raise the money and find the food to be redistributed, and they would do his office work. In April 2011, Preblud filed for his own 501(c)(3), which was granted just a month later.

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While recovering and redistributing food is We Don’t Waste’s main focus, another priority is educating the public and decreasing the amount of food going into our landfills. “Twenty-three percent of methane gas is generated out of landfills as the result of food,” Preblud explains. And unused methane gas is a leading contributor of climatic changes to our atmosphere.

A normal day at We Don’t Waste consists of multiple recoveries and distributions to local organizations, such as The Delores Project, Volunteers of America, Food Bank of the Rockies, Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, Father Woody’s Haven of Hope, and many others. Some of the state’s leading catering companies and most of the Mile High City’s sports venues provide food on a daily or weekly basis. For example, in one venue that contains 141 suites, We Don’t Waste can recover close to 7,000 servings of food in one evening. That alone saves the organizations receiving the food somewhere between 15 to 20 percent of their budgets each and every month, allowing them to shift those funds into other programs.

“About one in seven children in Colorado are food insecure,” Preblud says. “Meaning that over a course of a year they [or their parents] have difficulty finding food to eat.” On any given night, more than 6,000 people in Denver are experiencing homelessness. In order to impact these numbers, Preblud talks about society’s warped ideals of the “perfect” produce and how we view food as a whole. As consumers, he says we are fixated on the idea that our produce needs to look a certain way in order to be purchased and/or consumed. If produce doesn’t fit these guidelines, grocery stores and restaurants are quick to waste them—or they never even make it to the shelves.

“Overall, in the country 40 percent of the food we produce is wasted. It doesn’t even make it to the shelves of grocery stores. It’s thrown away,” says Preblud. The quality is there, he says, but if a banana doesn’t match a certain curvature, it’s immediately discarded before it can even leave the fields.

So how do we change this? As consumers, our biggest task is to be more conscious of how we view food. If we can change our expectations of the perfectly round or beautifully colored produce, maybe we can change the amount of waste we produce. Finding compassion for those who are struggling with food insecurity may trigger change, as well. “You have to have compassion for the people who are less fortunate and reach out to them in whatever way that is meaningful to you, so as to help these people,” Preblud says. “There’s plenty of food out there, but at the same time the demand keeps increasing.”

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To learn more about this issue, attend the screening of “Just Eat it. A Food Waste Story,” a documentary about food waste and rescue, on October 20 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Exdo Event Center. The event will benefit We Don’t Waste. “The film really hits home and demonstrates to the public just how much food is wasted and why it’s wasted and what we need to address these issues,” says Preblud. Tickets are $15 for adults or $10 for students. You can purchase tickets online or at the door.

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