Last week, Writer and Everybody Eats Volunteer, Angela Robinson, hopped on our food rescue van and followed our produce trail from supplier to plate.

Our Kiwi Harvest haul

We pull into the Kiwi Harvest warehouse in East Tamaki at our allotted pick-up time of 10.30am as the Love Soup van is leaving. Mark helps us load a waiting pallet laden with root vegetables, onions, broccoli, bok choi, spinach and canned goods into the van. Much of today’s crop has been freshly harvested by Kiwi growers, but was rejected by the Turners & Growers grading system due to blemishes or not being quite the right shape. I’m taken aback by its freshness and feel conflicted. If I could grow spuds half this good at home, I’d feel proud to the tips of my gumboots and would happily pop any of this produce into my supermarket trolley. I dream of a food economy where we’ve learnt to love wonky vegetables and bags of bargain, ugly potatoes are readily available…making potatoes cheaper for everyone. But my indignation is tempered, having witnessed first-hand the positive consequence of great quality food for our diners.

Food Unwanted vs Food Waste

It’s a startling revelation to see the volume of food that arrives at Kiwi Harvest due to some kind of mishap like damaged packaging, order cancellation, over ordering, as well as the anticipated produce that’s nearing the end of its life, but is still perfectly good to eat. Like the dented can that gets left on the shelf, the vast majority of this food is as nutritious as its prettier version but its perceived unattractiveness has deemed it ‘food waste’. Amplify this issue across thousands of supermarket product lines, and you begin to appreciate the scale of the problem.

“People have this impression that we’re dumpster divers, or are serving up reheated restaurant leftovers, which couldn’t be further from the truth!” says Restaurant Manager and van driver, Amanda Butland as we head back to Onehunga. “People need to know how good our food is”. The words ‘food waste’ too readily conjure up images of the leftovers we scrape from our plates when in reality, each and every dish is lovingly prepared from scratch by qualified chefs, assisted by a dedicated band of volunteers. Food Unwanted, not Food Waste, feels like a rebrand waiting to happen.

The Everybody Eats van collects twice-weekly from a number of other suppliers including New World and Farro and occasional offers of surplus farmers market or home-grown produce are rarely turned away. Their impressive supplier list sees diners regularly treated to premium ingredients that missed the boat due to changing consumer appetites, or unseasonal weather patterns that have shoppers reaching for sliced ham and salad instead of pork loin and broccoli.

“We’re not about donated food, we’re interceptors”, Amanda is keen to point out, which means offers that don’t meet the ‘feeding bellies not bins’ philosophy are regularly redirected. “Accepting such offers would be really easy to do, but it doesn’t address the problem we’re here to solve”.

From Rescue to Restaurant Menu

While today’s produce won’t win any beauty competitions, as resident chef Jamie Johnston confirms, “it’s restaurant quality”. Shortly after we return, he surveys the contents of the van. “This screams comfort food” he says, before writing up the evening menu of Moroccan Carrot Soup, Shepherd’s Pie with Steamed Broccoli and Apple and Kiwifruit Crumble on the kitchen whiteboard. Today’s ingredients are enough to feed 100 Onehunga diners and provide 150 meals for vulnerable South Auckland families through a partnership with charities, Blue Light and The Wright Foundation.

It’s noon and the day’s cavalry of kitchen prep volunteers arrive. Chefs, Jamie and Archana step things up a gear, as everyone is briefed on their jobs and a mountain of food prep begins. By 5pm the menu is almost cooked and the prep shift hang up their aprons as the food service and front of house volunteers arrive. Diners are assembling outside ahead of the 6pm opening. As they file in and are seated, a flurry of servers greet them warmly and courses begin to arrive. As hungry diners tuck in, our Shepherd’s Pie rescue is complete…and it feels as if some kind of natural order has seen it land on exactly the right plates.

About Kiwi Harvest

Kiwi Harvest, founded in 2015, collects good food before it goes to waste and distributes it to those in need. It has grown from a grass-roots organisation to a busy, commercial operation that has, to date, saved in excess of 4.5 million kilos of food from landfill. Over 300 charities and social agencies benefit from food that Kiwi Harvest collects from a range of wholesalers, supermarkets, food producers and outlets.

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