The Curious Capitalist – Melissa Spiesman (Food Rescue US)

On this episode of The Curious Capitalist, I am joined by Conscious Capitalism Board Member David Reitz, who is also the US advisor to Matelexas we speak to CEO Melissa Spiesman from Food Rescue US who is dedicated to eliminating hunger and food waste and keeping food out of landfills and reducing greenhouse gasses.

Food Rescue US Website

Conscious Capitalism Connecticut Website


Welcome to the latest installment of The Curious Capitalist, brought to you by the Board of Conscious Capitalism in Connecticut. The Curious Capitalist is a series of podcasts where we take the opportunity to not only speak to board members from conscious capitalism, Connecticut. But also to business owners, startups, and entrepreneurs.

The Curious Capitalist is available on all of the world's biggest podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, and Spotify. Never miss an episode again and subscribe today wherever you get your podcast. Welcome along to the latest episode of The Curious Capitalist. Now I'm excited about today's podcast, today's show.

I am joined by David Wrights. He is a conscious Capitalism Connecticut Board member. Easy for me to say, but he is also the US advisor to Matelex. Now, Matelex specialized in leak detection for refrigeration installations, but our special guest today is the one and only Melissa Spizman, the Chief Operating Officer.

So guys, welcome, welcome along to the show. I am really excited to find out more about what both of you guys are up to. Melissa, let's start with you. If I may, tell me a little bit about yourself and tell me how you have got to this lofty height of the Chief Operating Officer of Food Rescue US.

Great. Thanks Claire. Thank you for having us and I'm looking forward to this conversation. I wish that my story was a little bit more exciting than what I'm about to tell you, but I started out in the hospitality business. I had a long career in the hospitality business. Stayed home to raise my kids, kind of at the.

When they were ready and off to school, I started pursuing a career in nutrition and I was really inspired by eating healthy and eating well and all the new sciences that were coming out. And I took a trip to India and I got to see firsthand that people who. Had a four by four plot of land were growing and preparing the most incredible food you could ever imagine.

And they were living in basic huts. And I realized that in America, our people, our society didn't value people in need and we weren't taking care of people in need and we weren't teaching them all of the nutrition. Education that the rest of the country was getting. And I came home and I really thought about that long and hard.

And one night I was reading a food blog and I learned about this organization, community plates, and community plates was using technology. To enable communities to organize volunteers to pick up food where it would be wasted and deliver it to agencies that serve people in need. And this was a light bulb moment for me.

It was like, I have to do this. And I hounded the executive director at that point, and every night I would email him and say, I just wanna come in. I just wanna volunteer. I just wanna do something. And I didn't realize that the organization was brand new at the. And he finally said, okay, come in. We'll find something for you to do.

And this. About 11 years ago, and I have stayed with the organization and watched us grow, watched us go through our rebranding in our name change from Community Plates to Food Rescue Us. I've seen us grow from one to three to 12 to now 40 locations in 20 states and the District of Columbia. And Wow. Um, I've just slowly risen in the ranks.

We had one paid employee. Three volunteer employees and now we have 13 employees. And for a small organization like ours, that's pretty incredible. That is truly incredible. Now, you've been with Food Rescue US now for nearly 10 years. I think this will be coming into a 10th year, is that correct? Yep. Tell me a little bit about the stats.

Gimme the facts and figures if you don't mind. Geek me out. Yes. No, no. I, I def Iceage. Yep, I can definitely do that. So amazing. Since 2011, for Food Rescue US alone, we've provided over 109 million meals. To people in need. We've prevented 138 million pounds of food from going into landfill. We've collaborated with 2,800 food donors, over 18,000 volunteer food rescuers have been engaged with our platform serving 2,800 social service agencies, and that's.

The contribution that we've made then on the food waste side of it, just to think about what the stats really, really mean in the larger scale. About 80.6 million tons of surplus food was generated in the US in 2019. That includes not only uneaten food, but it's also fresh water use that's gone into growing the food.

It's crop land. Use the land that's been used to grow all of this produce and 24% of all landfall inputs, which is pretty incredible statistics when you really look at how that is impacting the way we. And the air that we're breathing. So Project Drawdown does a lot of studies on climate, climate change, climate impacts, and they recently reported that 6% of global emissions is coming from food waste.

So pretty staggering statistics when you really break it down into what's going on. And we're thinking about electric vehicles and all types of other wind energy and solar energy, but really thinking about the food that we're eating and wasting. And food waste is happening, you know, at the consumer level, but it's happening on farms, it's happening at events.

It's happening in markets. So really thinking about all the places that food waste is happen. Yeah, it's a real eyeopener when you start to think about it. See, I, as you know, I'm not from these fair shores, you know, we are given by our local towns a plastic bucket mm-hmm. Which we collect food scraps, right?

So when the garbage people collect your garbage every week, they'll collect your glass. Your trash, your recycling, and your food scraps, and it's becoming more common. There's still a little bit of pushback about it, you know, having this little brown box set on your kitchen work surface. Yeah. However, you know, it's also the bigger scale things.

You know, it's the, I get really angry, I have to be honest about supermarkets throwing out food that is, is. Usually the day it runs out of date or a couple of days out of date. Right. And that food is perfectly good to eat. And a number of countries around the world have implemented new laws about how this can't happen anymore.

Or at a restaurant, they have to offer you the opportunity to take extra food home. Yeah. To, eliminate this waste. You know, it's like, it's in the news. It's becoming, I guess, a little bit higher up the agenda when it comes to climate change and climate impact. But there's still a long way to go looking at those.

Yes, and I think that the European countries are far. Of where we are in the US and we're just starting to realize that date laws are not really, or the date labeling does not really have anything to do with the quality of food, really is probably a marketing and manufacturing thing. Sorry Glen, but more of what the producers really want the turnover of the product to be and has nothing to do with the quality of the food.

So, grocery prices are just, So the longer we Absolutely. Food and the less we're wasting. Yeah. Completely. Completely. I think Mr. Wrights might have, uh, something to say about this element of food waste. You know, you are the US advisor for Mathex. David, tell me a little bit about how you got involved with the company.

What do Mathex do and how does it kind of fit in with this, the Food Rescue US kind of approach to? Yeah, thanks Claire at the heart. What Matelex does, it's creating a better world for the future and for today. Through very smart, connected, algorithmic learning, and refrigerant management. So for the future, actually, project drawdown, which Melissa just mentioned, they do a drawdown review.

They put out hundreds of solutions for eliminating greenhouse emissions in, in order to get to a stable and decline. Amount of emissions that will stabilize the world and the number one solution, and they rank a hundred in this report. The number one solution is refrigerant management. Be before solar, before all these.

Other things that are very popular, but the number one solution is refrigerant management. Because refrigerants have a high global warming potential, a thousand to 4,000 times more potent than co2. They are a super polluter, and many facilities are emitting a lot of it. So for the future, what Matt X does is detects leaks in very smart algorithmic learning.

And reduces the amount of leaks to the atmosphere. And then for today, it's impact on what those businesses do. So it's pharmaceuticals that go to people. It's food that people are consuming. And amongst that group, Are the food insecure, which food rescue services and the food insecure. As I've learned working with food rescue, it is a large portion of the US 30 million plus people and up to.

I hear up to 40 million now with the prices of energy increasing and the inflation of food. So we're working with them and if we can help protect, the food supply, it helps them accomplish their mission, which is a wonderful mission and it's a great example of why we're here in doing the business that we do.

Very much so. You know, it's so difficult whenever we talk about anything sort of related to climate change. We start throwing around these huge numbers and. It's so difficult sometimes to comprehend the enormity of the task ahead and the mess we've made, quite frankly as human beings, it's up to us to try and find a solution for this and not kind of chuck it down to future generations.

But one of the things that kind of struck me when you were talking then David, is, is about a higher purpose, you know, which ties in with the tenants of conscious capitalism, you know, cuz to get into this. Industry, it's not chasing a dollar bill. This is about firing your belly. It's just like what Melissa was saying about her desire to get involved with, was it community plates?

Was like, I've got to do this. You know, this is, you know, my calling. It's something that I've got passion for. How do we convey the enormity of the problem and reach people to help sort of, I guess, bolster the ranks of people to be able to support us on this mission and, and how do. Define your career purpose, your driving force when you are running the business.

Yeah. I think it's really, for us, what we've really found, and this ties into some of the things that we'll talk about with David, but it comes down to connecting people in their own communities. To what the problem is and how simple some of the solutions are. So for us, we think about, you know, children who are going to school and you know, You'll send your kid with a sandwich and they'll come home and they'll be like, I'm really hungry, mom, but I had But you had your sandwich.

Well, Joe didn't have his sandwich. Joe doesn't come to school with lunch. So our kids are getting to see that. It's knowing that the food insecure are not just, you know, People out of work who are, you know, not taking care of themselves, of their families. Some of that is just situational, right? During the pandemic, so many people were laid off and so many people all of a sudden found themselves in a position where They had to make choices between food and their, you know, electric bill, food, and their rent.

And sometimes that becomes really difficult. So I think connecting people to the situations that are happening right in their communities, and I know you spoke about the enormity of the problem. So with enormous problems, you have to start somewhere and you have to really own the fact that every little.

Helps. And to your point again about the recycling buckets and the composting buckets, it's really understanding that when you go to the supermarket, you know, buy a little bit less, don't just consume because we can. Just really become conscious and I think that's a lot of what we're talking about is bringing this down to the level where people really understand it.

Claire, I, can I add something? Because I'm a food rescuer, so I'm volunteering for the organization by being a volunteer. What a couple things that I've learned. So my. Neighbor who has a beautiful home is an homeowner, but is a pensioner and, and, and doesn't have a lot of income. I was talking to her the other day and she's like, yeah, I was at the food pantry and you know, I have some extra potatoes and carrots.

Would you like some? And I would never have thought this person had this food in. But because she's on a very limited pension, there's just not enough funds for buying the necessities. The other thing I really wanted to mention is, so I do a lot of volunteer and I have a, a little three and a half year old, and I wanted her to see what.

Volunteering is and what it meant. And so we did, we've got done a couple food rescues as a family and the first time she wasn't able to like, move the boxes, you know, the big boxes of food that we move into the car and we, we take them, we were at a Trader Joe's and we were, we took them to a, a food pantry in Stanford.

So the second time we were going, she's like, I want little boxes I can carry and I wanna help. And she's, I wanna help people, I want to help feed people. And so we got there and I'm gonna show you this picture. Some of this will be a podcast, some I, I guess we'll see it on video, but this is her helping out that day and very, oh gosh.

You know, being able to, So that's her volunteering, that's her carrying. It's a small box of pine berries. The food actually, trader Joe's. What was interesting, it's fresh foods, just some that might be, they have too much on order and they don't wanna waste it, or they like to stock everything on their shelves and if it can't fit on the shelf, they give it to the food pantry.

And this particular. Trader Joe's had, I think it was around 2 million over a year that they had contributed to the food pantry. So it's significant. So I wanted to add that. And just kudos for Food Rescue us because I, it's all app-based, very easy, and we're enjoying it as a family. The Curious Capitalist Podcast on behalf of Conscious Capitalism, Connecticut.

Is created and produced by Red Rock Branding. If you are enjoying this episode, please subscribe to and share this podcast today. That's amazing. And how can people get involved? That's what I was gonna say is like if people hear this and they're like, I wanna do that, you know, I wanna educate my generation and my future generations, this is a great thing to get involved with.

How can they do that, Melissa? So they can visit our website, which is food rescue dot. And they'll be able to click through, learn a little bit more, click through to our web-based app to see if we're servicing their community. If somebody's interested in getting started in their community, it's very easy to get started.

So again, our website, food Tons of ways to get involved. If we're not in your community and you're so driven, you have an opportunity to contribute to our work and we're always looking for new communities to grow into. And I just wanna build on something that David said and he was talking about the fresh food that he's getting.

And we find this. In every market, every place that we're picking up, we pick up at farmer's markets. So at the end of their day where they're, they don't want to bring the food back to the farm and pack it up, they realize that this food could be doing really good work in their communities. But oftentimes, you know, as consumers, you look at the box of say, strawberries, and there's.

Browning strawberry or it looks a little bit soft and we put that box down and we're not gonna purchase that to a family who doesn't usually get strawberries. They get that box, take out the one strawberry, and they have a beautiful box of strawberries. And you know, it's even for us to learn as consumers.

And a big part of. Food recovery movement is all this imperfect produce, right. Produce that, yes. Doesn't look the way we want it to. That's, yeah. You know, not up to the standards of, and those standards have everything to do with aesthetics and nothing to do with nutritional value. And it's just really important to understand that even from a farm perspective, we're not creating all of this food in the laboratory, and that's nature.

So it's just really important to understand that the food that we're picking up is not spoiled food. It's food that's healthy, fresh, you know, ready to go. Probably in a lot of cases it's food that we would've all bought in the morning. And that afternoon to David's point, it's overstock. There's excess.

We're able to rescue it and to bring it to families. It's interesting, isn't there cuz it's such a, a huge part of everyday life. We have got food waste at the point of source at the, at the point of growing it, you know, like you were talking about misshapen fruits and vegetables, et cetera. You've then got stores who, you know, overstock, there's issues or whatever reason.

There's a lot of wastage there. There's restaurants, again, wasting food. I guess what could be. At a higher level, I guess, at a state level or a federal level that's holding you back, Melissa, from saving the world from itself essentially. But get on your soapbox. Tell me what, what irks you, what riles you?

There's a lot of things that irk me in all of this, and so a couple of things in that are, you know, to David's point about his neighbor who lives in a nice home, she collects a pension week to week. She might not just not have enough. To buy the food that that would be most health supportive for her, right?

But by government standards, she doesn't qualify for assistance. So a lot of our country falls into that area where there are people in need. But the income levels don't match what the governments are saying qualifies for assistance. So absolutely, we have to really look at that and really understand that that's not arbitrary, but this number that they've come up with is not realistic for the people in need because people in need, you know, come in every different shape and size, and they're in the situation that they're in.

A variety of reasons. So there's that part of it. Then there's the culturally appropriate food, you know, just being able to understand. We really try to work deep within communities to really understand what is the need, right? So if it's mostly a Caribbean population, They're not gonna really understand what American fruits and vegetables are and how do we understand what they really need and not really just delivering just because we have it.

So understanding what's culturally appropriate in each of our communities is really important to us. We're still working, the country is still working on liability protection and really having potential food donors understand that there are certain protections in place. Protect them from any liability being brought on by anybody who would say, I got sick, or something happened to me because of this food.

And then the last thing that I would mention is that there are traditional charitable food distribution channels that are the monopoly. In providing food to the food insecure. And oftentimes they're not working deep within these communities, like I mentioned, and they're not really listening to the needs of people.

And I think that there has to kind of be an opening up to the fact that this is all charitable work and it's not competitive. Like there is in business and we're all looking to do good and everybody can operate side by side because if one group was solving the problem, we wouldn't have the amount of food waste we have.

We wouldn't have the impact on the environment and we wouldn't have as hun as many hungry people. So I think the food donors and the other charitable feeding programs need to really look at what else can be done because there are still so many more solutions. And be almost more collaborative. Yes. It's really interesting, something you said there, and it's something that I have heard before about the liability of, I'm assuming that's out of date food essentially, or the made up dates that they put on foods.

There is protection in place for manufacturers and retailers who are donating that food to good cause. I think that is in itself something really worth shouting about, isn't it? I think that's something I've heard before, which is, well, why don't all these supermarkets, why don't they donate extra stuff that they're gonna throw in the trash?

And if they knew that there was the protection there, I dunno, maybe that would change minds and hearts. So there's the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act, which has protected since 1976, has protected any food donor from any type of LI liability. And this year they just passed the Food Donation Improvement Act that will further do work around date labeling to further ensure that those expiration dates are not the date that the food is held Upon, that it's no longer.

That's fascinating. That's really good to know. I've done some work with a local food pantry and it's really interesting listening to you talk about culturally appropriate food, because the foods that I see often donated, I'm often like, wow. It can become very samey, it can become very cereal, pasta, rice soup, cereal, pasta, rice soup.

You know, and it's kind of interesting that you are open to the diversity of our population, therefore the diversity of our, our, of our diets and our dietary needs, you know? So that's been eyeopening. How do you get this food into people's hands? What's the system? I mean, that for me sounds like a logistical nightmare.

How does that. It was a logistical nightmare when there were groups using pen and paper and probably even Excel spreadsheets. So when food rescue, oh, I'm old. I use all of those. Melissa, I I, what does that mean? When Community Plates was first founded, one of the gentlemen that was one of our founders was in the tech business and he knew he wanted to do something at, for all the food waste that he was seeing, and he.

This is a great idea to use technology, build an app to connect volunteers with opportunities to pick up food from where it would be wasted and deliver it to agencies that serve people in need. So from the beginning we were always technology enabled and our site directors, so those are our leaders in each of our communities, go out in the communities.

They, they're speaking to food donors. They're identifying receiving agencies. They're recruiting and inspiring volunteers to get involved, and as David can tell you, our apps very, very easy to use. You log in, you look for something, a food rescue that's available, that works in, you know, a date that you're available, a time that you're available, distances that you're available.

Most of our rescues are no more than 20 to 30 minutes. Point A to point B volunteers sign up, that's their rescue. They go, they do it. They pick it up at the food donor, deliver it directly to the agency who's serving people in need so there's no lag time in handling the food. And then they can go back in and tell us exactly what they've rescued so that we can learn more about the food that is being wasted and understand how to better serve the communities as well as report on our impact.

That is fabulous. David, tell me about your experience. How did you first hear about Food Rescue Us and what was your experience? Did you literally download the app and follow the instructions? Tell me about that experience. So we met at the Nest Sustainability Summit in New York City. And because we had similar purposes and we were both in Connecticut, we decided to get together in Connecticut.

And I met Jennifer. Who, who is their strategic partnership manager and, and she said, well, let's meet, but I want to meet you by doing a, a food rescue. First time I met was driving up in my car and loading boxes in and saying hi to, to Food Rescue us, and then delivering it to a. So that was my first entree into learning about Food Rescue us and it was such a great experience at that time.

I said, I'd like to do this with my family. I'd like to have my daughter involved in, in volunteering. So I think I was even in the car and I, you know, ca you know, in between like picking up the food and dropping it off and calling my wife and saying, Hey, we gotta do food, rescue us. And downloading the app and, and then there's a couple days where they get you on your system.

And then we've done several food rescues already as a family and it's easy. We look for a time that that works for us. It says what size vehicle, how far away is the delivery? And we'll, we'll sign up for the delivery and friendly people meet you at the store. Friendly people meet you at the delivery site.

So it's a, it's been a really good experience and we've been doing something in the area. The one time we did like a hike, the other time we went out, had dinner. It's been a, a very positive experience. And then after doing the food rescue, what was really heartening for me to see was. My daughter Eve talking to her school and saying, I'm doing a food rescue.

I'm helping people. I was on a call with my dad, we're on the driving in the car in the back, and she was saying, you know, we are helping people by delivering food. And for her as a three and a half year old, to have that emotional experience and to feel tied to death of doing something felt really great and.

I was educational for me and beautiful to see for my daughter. This is fabulous. So if people wanna get involved and they want to be a part of the solution, That's the first point, Nicole is download the app, is that correct? Just to clarify on that, we are a web-based app, so not necessarily in the App store or Google Play, but you can do it right on your computer and or on your phone.

Just go to Food and there'll be a link there to get the web-based app and all the information will be there and the app is mobile phone optimized, so everything you can. On your phone, you can also do on a desktop computer, and it's that easy to get started and someone will contact you.

They'll get in touch, they'll walk you through the steps. If you need help, they'll send somebody to go with you, but it's very, very, Easy and basic and allows you to do it in your own time and you can commit on your own time. So a lot of volunteer opportunities you are, you have to show up every Tuesday from 10 to 12 and you know, sit in an office.

With this, you can choose to do your 20 minutes every Tuesday and what we call adopt a Rescue, or you can do it when you find yourself with any free. You know, oh, my afternoon meetings got canceled. Let me see if Food Rescue Us has any rescues available. I love that. So it's essentially hit the website, click become a volunteer.

Yes, website is Food, that's Food Hit Become a volunteer. Follow the steps on there. And you could be a part of this big solution, which I'm really jazzed about. I've gotta be honest, and I think more people should know about it. And what a wonderful idea, David. Of getting the family involved first and foremost, but secondly, to be able to plan your rescue around perhaps a new activity or a, you know, a day out with the family.

It doesn't get much better than that guys. It really doesn't. Thank you so much, both of you. It's been a real eye-opener for me and I think that to spread the word about food rescue. Dot us and Mad X is is something that's really important, not just for this generation, but for the next generation. So do check out the websites.

I will put all the information that we've talked about in this show, in the show notes of this podcast as well. But all that's left to be said for me is David. Melissa, thank you so much for being a part of today's episode of The Curious Capitalist. Claire, thank you so much for having us. It was great to see you.

And great to see you, David. Yeah, Claire, thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you for taking the time to listen to this episode of The Curious Capitalist. If you would like to find out more about Conscious Capitalism or if you would like to join the local chapter, visit the website, Connecticut dot conscious

The Curious Capitalist is available on all podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, and Spotify. If you have enjoyed listening to this episode, subscribe to and share this podcast today. This podcast was created and produced by Red Rock Branding. Red Rock