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Mechanics of Impact and Nutrition Banking

Authored by Sam Pantazopoulos, Co-Founder and CEO

The charitable food services system provides food for over 40 million people in the United States each year. Leveraging buying power, network effect, and economy of scale, leading hunger relief organizations like Feeding America coordinate the sourcing and distribution of billions of pounds of food annually. These organizational networks rely on intricate logistics networks to fulfill the mission of eradicating hunger. Today, I'd like to shine a light on how that process works and why your exercise helps support and improve it.

Food Banking is a complex ecosystem addressing two alarming issues at once - food insecurity and food waste. People are often surprised to learn that we do not have a shortage of food in this country - if anything we have a surplus. We produce so much food that 40% is wasted each year. What we struggle with is equal access.

You may wonder - in one of the most financially and technologically advanced societies in human history, how have we not solved the hunger crisis? The answer is that hunger is not an issue of resource, it is an issue of distribution.

Then we must ask, how do we alleviate this challenge? Enter in the charitable food services system, which exists at the intersection of food insecurity and food waste. Food banks rescue food that would otherwise be thrown away and bring it to a central distribution point to be re-distributed to populations in need. This food is often sourced from undersold products from leading grocers, excess production from agricultural land, and subsidized crops. In 2020, Feeding America’s Quarterly Poundage Report demonstrated that for most food banks across the country, over half of inventory (about 55%) comes from donations and around a third (32%) from government commodities.

Rescuing this food accomplishes two feats - first, it decreases the environmental impact of wasted food, which is a major contributor to climate change and carbon emissions. Second, it compiles valuable resources that can be offered to populations who require increased access to food.

Once recovered and brought to the distribution center, is where the real supply chain work begins. First and foremost, the food must be sorted and kept fresh. This effort is largely fueled by staff, volunteers, and corporate or community groups who seek to advance the mission of ending hunger. Once sorted, this food is distributed via partnered community organizations to populations in need. The Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank for example, an independent food bank operating in San Diego, California, collaborates with over 500 community organizations to deliver the food into the hands of the people who need it most. This organized coalition of community organizations provides deep footholds in impacted communities and is able to facilitate the exchange of resources between the central food bank and the populations served. From one direction is the flow of accumulated resources, and in return there is a flow of information. Every community is different, facing its own unique challenges. These on-the-ground organizations help compile and share crucial information with the parent network to best serve their constituents.

But what about the other 13% of the food distributed? Where is that food coming from? The answer is food purchases. This is the segment we at Vizer are the most excited about because it offers the most agency to the food bank to prioritize health. When food is received by a food bank via donation or contribution, there are guidelines that are used to gauge nutritional quality. These guidelines are growing increasingly strict to ensure that food distributed is healthful and promotes long term health outcomes.

When a food bank is purchasing food, they have the most agency to decide a) the health profile of the foods acquired and b) the organizations from whom they purchase. This empowers the food bank to increase the healthful foods available for their network, while also supporting local communities. As described in the 2020 Feeding America Nutrition In Food Banking Toolkit, "purchased foods is a good place to start since food banks have control over their own purchasing decisions" and also "purchased foods enable food banks to shore up efforts to support local farmers and food suppliers and prioritize culturally relevant food options."

The first time we visited the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank, we were blown away by the sheer buying power of the organization. By purchasing food on the wholesale market and connections with food vendors, as a local, independent Food Bank, they are able to purchase a pound of fresh produce for just $0.13. At the national level, every dollar given can provide at least 10 meals to families in need through the Feeding America network of food banks.

At Vizer, our goal has always been to increase access to healthy food, while supporting the long-term goal of eradicating hunger in the United States. It is proven that increasing the amount of purchased food directly correlates to increasing the health profile of the foods served. Therefore, as we move to support the evolution of food banking into nutrition banking, we are primarily concerned with empowering the food bank with resources to acquire the most healthful food options available.

This spring we are launching a nutritional series detailing what foods are prioritized and why. This nutritional guide helps set a baseline of expectations of what nutrition banking means and how by increasing the health profile of the foods served, we empower impacted communities with a strong foundation upon which to build. Similar to the Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, to support an individual in pursuit of reaching their highest purpose and potential, these baseline needs must be met.

Vizer launched in January of 2019, and at the time operated exclusively in San Diego County. In the first 18 months of operation, the Vizer community converted 100,000 workouts into meal donations. In June of 2020 we expanded nationwide in support of the Feeding America network, which was actively combatting increased hunger amid a global pandemic. By route of this expansion, we scaled our support to 200 member Food Banks across the country. Since then, the Vizer community has surpassed 1 million workouts converted into 1 million meals to fight hunger.

As Vizer continues to grow and evolve, it is a primary focus of ours to build direct local relationships, similar to our partnership in San Diego with the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank, where we can learn about the unique needs of a community and how we can leverage our platform to best be of service.

It is my strongest foundational belief that a healthy meal is essential to living a healthy life. Every meal served and every workout completed raises the barometer of our collective health, and improves the health profile of our nation. This foundational security creates a garden from which opportunity can grow and thrive, and one that we are eager to build.

Download Vizer and convert your daily exercise into healthy meals today.

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