Food waste is a wide-ranging (often ignored) problem that enormously affects U.S. education, economics, and the environment. To amplify this crisis, Jasmine Crowe-Houston delivered the 2023 Terry Sanford Distinguished Lecture during Duke’s Family Weekend, highlighting the profound impact of food waste and hunger on communities and calling for collective action to bring about change.
Crowe-Houston is the founder and CEO of Goodr, a food waste company that aims to end food insecurity in underserved communities. This innovative initiative has been pivotal in addressing the pressing global food waste and hunger issues. She has earned international recognition with her unwavering commitment to creating sustainable solutions.
The author and entrepreneur returned to Durham as an alum of North Carolina Central University (NCCU). She has been a force in food waste and hunger solutions in the decades since. Her TEDx talk and interviews on NPR, NBC News, and other local and national outlets have highlighted her dedication to these critical challenges and inspired numerous individuals and organizations to follow her lead. Crowe-Houston was named by "Entrepreneur" magazine as one of the top 100 influential female founders in 2020, and in 2021 released her first children’s book, “Everybody Eats.” Under her leadership, Goodr has set an example for how individuals and organizations can drive positive change in their communities.
when business is personal
Crowe-Houston began her lecture by recounting the story of a friend who faced unexpected financial difficulties due to a change in her film production career. This friend, who had been a dedicated volunteer and an active advocate for the fight against hunger, found herself in a situation where she couldn't afford to buy food for her family. This revelation shocked Crowe-Houston, as her friend did not fit the stereotypical image of someone struggling with food insecurity.
“Being able to say that she didn't have access to food broke me to my core because she didn't look like the face of hunger,” said Crowe-Houston.
She explained further the reasons that food insecurity can hit anyone.
“These critical decisions happen every month, and they choose between paying for their bills like rent, utilities, and other household goods or paying for food. What we know is that food is the first to go.”
This personal experience served as a turning point for Crowe-Houston, motivating her to delve deeper into the issues of hunger and food waste. She presented alarming statistics: approximately 42 million people in the United States go to bed hungry each night, while an astonishing 72 billion pounds of perfectly good food are wasted annually, amounting to about 2% of the U.S. GDP or $218 billion.
making food disposal profitable
The lecture highlighted how businesses contributed to food waste, often due to misconceptions and fears of legal liabilities if they donated surplus food. Businesses' concerns about potential food poisoning lawsuits and the lack of awareness about incentives for food donations were identified as key reasons why they hesitated to participate in food donation programs.
“I always tell people that this food is hope. I've received emails, and I've received letters. I know what it's like not to know where your next meal is coming from, and Goodr has been able to stand in the gap and give them hope in their darkest hour. So we need more people to create and help us push policy forward if businesses are not so much forced but incentivized via tax deductions, but we can also mandate them kindly to do the right thing.”
Crowe-Houston highlighted some of those continued policy initiatives that work with state and local governments.
“We are working with states to enact different policies. I was inspired by the emergence of this policy in Italy and France, where it's illegal for businesses to waste perfectly good food. We want businesses, governments, and other municipalities to think about how they're solving hunger.”
The economic benefits of doing good
Crowe-Houston then detailed her journey in creating Goodr, a company that utilizes technology to solve hunger and food waste issues. She emphasized the importance of measuring and managing waste to make a real impact and reduce food waste's harmful environmental consequences. Goodr not only collects and donates edible food but also provides businesses with data on the impact of their donations, making it a win-win solution for all involved.
“Nobody ever thinks about their waste. It's a very mundane thing. However, businesses were wasting 40 billion dollars annually by not calculating and donating edible food. I wanted to calculate how many pounds of food they were keeping out of landfills and what that meant for the CO2 emissions they were helping to prevent. We could also donate a lot of inedible food, so we introduced organics recycling and started building relationships with animal farms and composting facilities.”
She shared the challenges faced during the development of the Goodr app, including difficulties in securing funding, overcoming myths surrounding the Good Samaritan Act, and dealing with a lack of widespread awareness about food waste and its consequences.
Policy in action for children and families
Crowe-Houston's lecture also highlighted the pivotal role of policy changes in addressing these issues. She encouraged students and future social entrepreneurs to join the fight against hunger and food waste by advocating for and supporting policy changes that incentivize food donations and reduce waste. One of these policies is already changing school-age children's and their families' lives.
“Goodr now has about 23 freestanding grocery stores inside Title I schools that are free for students. A brick-and-mortar, free model that allows students to take food home. We believe that no teacher can ever teach through hunger. We know from our research that students are not eating on the weekends, and they are not eating at night. They're coming to school hungry and unable to learn, so these have been transformative ways that we've been able to work across the lines and through different policies to bring food to families.”
Despite the challenges, Crowe-Houston emphasized that Goodr is making a significant impact, providing millions of meals and diverting millions of pounds of food from landfills. She called for more voices to join the movement, stressing the importance of collective action to bring about lasting and sustainable change.
Q & A Highlights
After her presentation, Crowe-Houston was joined on stage by Sanford faculty member Alexandra Zagbayou, herself also an advocate for social policy solutions and a champion for education reform. Zagbayou moderated a Q&A with audience members. Here are some highlights from those discussions.
On business' cost savings from food donations
“When it came to the costs of throwing food away, businesses were paying trillions. The waste industry is a trillion-dollar industry right now. They want trash to get picked up on a cadence. Businesses were already paying to throw away food. I had a better return on investment for them. On average, we are about 20% more cost-effective than a waste company for food disposal.”
On working with local non-profits
"We don't exist without nonprofits or grassroots organizations. We have almost 40,000 in our network, so they're a huge part of what we do.”
on challenges related to small businesses & food disposal
“I'm trying to enact a “food policy bond” where we can work with the city to invest the money to capture the tax deduction that the business would then claim so we pass off the tax deduction to the investors. We make it free for businesses to use the service because money for the food funds the margins.”
Jasmine Crowe-Houston Event Highlights
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