Food Hubs, The Solution to Prevent Food Waste in Cities?

A lot of expectation surrounded the first edition of the Earthshot Prize 2021 in London. On Sunday, October 17, the prizes were awarded in five different categories, one of them being to build a waste-free world, which went to the city of Milan for its Food Waste Hubs system. These centers recover and redistribute food and meals prepared or sold at restaurants, supermarkets and companies’ canteens that are about to be discarded to feed citizens with low income1. It is not the first time that such a model is applied to avoid food waste, however, the innovation in this particular case is the scale of the project since it encompasses an entire metropolis and functions within a zero-waste public policy2.

But what are food hubs? The literature dealing with this model is very new, quite limited and still requires clarification. At the same time, this is an opportunity since this concept does not need to fit a specific definition and actors can adjust this model to their individual needs. In the first place, a food hub addresses issues in the local or regional distribution of food and provides solutions3. Second, this model organizes the food supply chain management in all or parts of its phases (production and supply, storage, processing, distribution and retail). Last, this alternative is suitable for urban, peri-urban and rural areas4.

As previously mentioned, never before has such an initiative been put the test at a large city level, like Milan, and the genius of its approach, to prevent waste and loss of perfectly edible food, is truly exemplary. The results can be translated into the recovery of 130 tons of food per year, the equivalent of 350 kg per day or seen in a different way, 260,000 meals. Furthermore, the Milan Food Waste Hubs model has required the cooperation of public and private organizations, higher education institutions, NGOs, food banks and charity organizations, which in return strengthens the social fabric5. Nonetheless, can the model be replicated in Latin America? It is encouraging to know that yes, initiatives have been put into place and they have been adapted to the local contexts.

The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) created the Plan for Food Security, Nutrition and Hunger Eradication to face the challenges of undernutrition and malnutrition, hunger and food accessibility. Within this framework, the SACIAR Foundation is established in Colombia as the first food bank in the city of Medellín. The foundation manages two programs, and they are: the REAGRO Program that “recovers and redistributes healthy and nutritious food for human consumption through food banks6”, and the NUTRIAMOR® Program, which adds value to identified banana residues from the banana export supply chain, obtaining a nutritional supplement in the form of a powder7.

The impact and benefits of the implementation of the food hubs’ model in Milan and Medellín are numerous: the food needs of vulnerable populations are being met, the consumption of local food products is promoted (especially those of agricultural origin), the disposal of perfectly edible food that allegedly “does not meet” aesthetic requirements for retail is being avoided, the amount of trash is been reduced, there is the opportunity to reuse food residues to obtain new added-value products, the ties between rural areas and cities strengthen due to the adaptation of food hubs as food collection centers, where producers and consumers exchange goods without intermediaries, and more advantages are available.

Join us in our next blog post, where we will be exploring more models to prevent food waste and loss, and how these residues can be reused once they escaped their fate in the trash.            

1 The Earthshot Prize.The City of Milan Food Waste Hubs., Access on 13.11.2021
2 Euronews. Milan food waste scheme among first winners of Prince William’s Earthshot Prize., Access on 12.11.2021
3 Palacios-Argüello L. Morganti E. Gonzalez-Feliu J., 2017. Food hub: Una alternativa para alimentar las ciudades de manera sostenible. Revista Transporte y Territorio, p.12
4 Ibid. Palacios-Argüello L. Morganti E. Gonzalez-Feliu J. pp.15-17
5 Ibid. The Earthshot Prize.
6 Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GIZ. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. RUAF Foundation. 2016. City Region Food Systems and Food Waste Management. GIZ Editorial. Bonn and Eschborn. p.18
7 Ibid. GIZ. FAO. RUAF Foundation. pp.18-19