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Food is Never Just Food

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Gidi Kroch, CEO Leket Israel

Food is a cultural and emotional issue. It is an international language. We express love through the food we take the time to prepare for our friends and families, we take comfort in food and we indulge in it. Events are held around busy tables, good hosts are judged by the quantity and quality of the meals they serve and during our hardest times, friends will support us with casseroles in hand. We were all educated that food is never just food. A person’s sense of security and general happiness may be influenced by the answers to the questions – am I hungry? Where is my next meal coming from? Is the food tasty? Will I be eating alone or with someone else?

According to the 2018 National Insurance Institute report, about one fifth of Israel’s population lives in food insecurity. This means that they do not know when their next meal will be and do not have the ability to maintain a healthy and nutritious diet. When Joseph Gitler, Founder and Chairman of Leket Israel, was first exposed to this quandary  16 years ago, he began to rescue food from event halls and distribute them to those in need. This one-man initiative would become the largest food rescue organization in Israel.

Today, Leket Israel rescues over 17,000 tons of food and through 200 partner agencies redistributes large amounts of surplus food to 175,000 people in need each week. There is a substantial population of elderly people receiving this surplus food. Older folks, who have worked hard all their lives and have no pension once they reach retirement age, turn to government housing and shelters in search of a roof over their head and food.

Recently, a study conducted by Mashav – a social research firm commissioned by Leket Israel, examined the impact of hot meal delivery to the elderly population. They found that the hot meals not only gave them much needed sustenance, but also contributed to their emotional wellbeing. The seniors testified that sharing the meals with others encouraged them to form new friendships, helped alleviate their loneliness, and took away some of the monotony in their daily lives.

One senior from a nursing home noted: “food doesn’t just give me a taste in my mouth; it gives me a taste for life.” A caregiver from the same nursing home added: “the greatest thing about Leket Israel is that it provides an amazing sense of community… eating together in a communal setting is the first and best solution to loneliness. They sit in the lobby waiting for the meal and they’re already talking and laughing enjoying each other’s company, everyone who comes down to eat has improved.”

Rescuing food is not just a donation for those in need; it also has benefits far beyond the value of the food. Food rescue reduces the nutritional insecurity gaps and allows the population receiving the rescued surplus food to spend their money on other needs. It allows for a dignified existence, a sense of security and calm, and improved physical and mental health.

Extensive budgets are not required to finance food rescue and achieve all the good is does. Rescuing surplus food turns food that has zero or even negative value for the manufacturer into an economic and nutritional product passed on to those in need. Most of the resources have already been invested in food production and the only resource required in food rescue is logistics – transportation.

Efficiency, social, economic, budgetary and environmental – are all reasons why the next government should adopt food rescue as a significant solution to closing economic and social disparities and closing the food insecurity gap. Rescuing food presents a solution that the next government should implement immediately and in doing so will receive public credit and a great social and fiscal ROI on its initiative.

The solution to living with dignity, security, peace and calm for one fifth of the country’s population exists. Food, it is never just food, and yet so little can make so many people happy, satiated and allowed a better life.

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