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Welcome to a world of travel, entertainment and culture, curated from a global collective of writers, photojournalists and artists. Each article of our award-winning magazine is sure to inspire, no matter which of our destinations you call home.
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Travel to San Francisco


Feeding Forward, San Francisco

21 October 2015

Words: Andrew Birbeck / Image: Julia Robbs

In 2012 Komal Ahmad had what could be described as an epiphany. Appalled by the homelessness and hunger she witnessed in and around Berkeley, where she was studying medicine with a view to joining the Navy, Komal had an idea. It sounds like simplicity itself, a glaringly obvious solution to a problem that really shouldn’t exist.

Ahmad noticed that thousands of tonnes of perfectly edible food was being thrown away each day. It led her to the question: what if that food could be re-directed to those who so desperately needed it? From tiny acorns giant oaks grow. Starting at UC Berkeley, Ahmad began to organise a food re-direction programme. It was both a runaway success and steep learning curve.

“The issue is not a lack of food, but rather an inequitable distribution of it,” she says. “The food recovery scheme we started on campus was called BareAbundance which, in a short time, became the not-for-profit organisation Feeding Forward.”

With willing on-site volunteers and the co-operation of the college, food that otherwise would have either been composted or binned was re-distributed locally. Komal describes her initial endeavours as “simple yet highly effective food recovery that essentially redistributed excess edible food from campus dining halls to nearby after-school programmes, homeless shelters and other human service agencies”.

The positive impact was immediate and the programme quickly spread throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. At face value all this sounds relatively easy and makes perfect sense. However, the logistics and organisation are simply mind-boggling. And that’s where can-do thinking, determination, innovation, a great team working together and technology come in.

“I realised the traditional method of coordinating food donations over the phone is fraught with inefficiencies,” explains Ahmad. “Often people end up with excess food and are unable to locate and contact the people who need it most when they need it most. Feeding Forward solves this issue by using the speed and accessibility of smart phones.” The technology, which is constantly being updated and enhanced, allows businesses and organisations to register a food surplus.

The only information needed is the type of food available, how much there is and when it should be collected. Feeding Forward does the rest. “Our platform detects the user’s location and immediately matches their excess food to nearby organisations in need,” explains Ahmad. “An on-demand driver picks up and delivers. The organisation will then send a thank-you message along with a picture and/or testimonials of the people the delivery fed. It allows the user to see the actual impact made in people’s lives.”

Across the planet food waste takes place on an unimaginable scale. The statistics are truly shocking. In the US alone an estimated 40 per cent of consumable food produced goes to waste. To put this in perspective, that equates to around 165 million kilos per day. It’s difficult to reconcile this fact with hunger being a stark reality for a significant portion of the American population and, of course, around the globe.

Bizarrely too there are huge fiscal and environmental costs attached to disposing of this excess with more than a billion dollars per annum being spent in the US to get rid of food. Much of it ends up in landfill too with inherent environmental implications. Re-distribution seems to be the answer and there’s no reason for the initiative not to spread far beyond American borders.


Local Knowledge

For the real San Francisco…
head for Mission. It’s a great district with real local flavour and the excellent Tartine Bakery. For terrific city views hang out in Dolores Park.

If you just have a day in the city I’d recommend…
hiring a bike in Golden Gate Park, cycling to the bridge and grabbing brunch or lunch at North Beach.

The best coffee in town…
I love Philz Coffee. There are a few around but you’ll find the original on 24 Street in Mission.

The best advice I can give is…
take time to figure out your calling and when you do, follow through, no matter what. Own your dream.



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