A tale of true passion!
As a kid, whenever I saw people hungry it saddened me. Growing in an East Indian culture, “hospitality” to the guests especially serving food to them is a virtue that was developed right at a young age in my family. “Serving Food to the Hungry” brought smiles to my heart. We had a lot of workers working for my grandfather who ran a transport business. Often, we will have festivals where we would feed all the workers in our house. I would be the first to take the food around and serve those workers. I served many such workers and one of those workers whenever I go back to India to visit my family would still run up to me and remind me as to how he cannot forget me for feeding him and that really touched me. I was remembered by a soul for giving food!
Even though I did an engineering degree and an MBA, I was always wondering about the purpose of life and questioned whether life is a daily routine of things to be accomplished. I always asked the questions like “Who am I?”, “Why are we here?” and “How are we making the world a better place?” This made me start a non-profit organization Darshan2Divinity in 2010 where the motto was to help people find their purpose and do service to the world. Our organization partnered with 25 other organizations in the bay area focused on providing food (Salvation Army, Second Harvest Food Bank, Sacred Heart), protecting nature (Almost Eden Garden, Full Circle Farm), healthcare (Medshare, Ravenswood Health Center), animal care (Hidden Villa) and serving community (CSA, Sunday Friends, JW House). Every month we would go to one of these organizations and volunteer for them. Slowly people joined our organization from every walk of life and we were touched by the service rendered to the community with such a small group.
Once I was in a store trying to buy some fruits and a kid who happens to be the store owner’s grandson was asking for a banana to eat. But the grandfather was busy selling the fruits to me and was not listening to the kid. I went up to the kid and asked him how many bananas he needed and bought him what he needed from the store. The grandfather was initially thinking I was buying the fruit for myself, only later to find that it was for his grandson. Is this story relevant? It is. Because on one end, I saw piles of food, and on another end, a kid whose grandfather owns that food had no access to them. All I needed to do was to be the bridge between excess food and needy people who didn’t have access to them.
When I saw the 4-year drought in California from 2011-2014 where restaurants won’t serve water to conserve it, I was wondering will we be seeing a day where the same restaurants might say sorry we don’t have vegetables to serve with food. Because we waste so much of resources today that it might not be surprising if we end in a “Produce Drought” in the future since we don’t realize resources like water affect produce cultivation as well.
In the company that I work for, I saw a lot of food wasted in a year in our cafeterias and that made me think that I should do something about it, because I was solving a lot of technical pathfinding problems and here we have Food Waste, a fundamental problem that was staring at us to be solved.
These images, stories stuck with me deeply. I found food waste is impacting all the areas of our life, right from our house, to our neighborhood, to the community, to our workplace. I saw a need for awareness about food waste and ways to address it. I slowly unraveled the purpose of my life and found focus in that. I knew service to people is my higher purpose, but serving food seems to bring ultimate satisfaction to me & at the same time fulfilling my purpose. What I found is to serve food, I don’t need to create food, rather prevent food from being wasted and divert that wasted food to the needy.
Things started happening from that point one leading to another. In 2017 I went to a food conference in San Francisco where we got these staggering statistics. In the U.S., nearly half of all food produced is wasted with one in six people in the U.S. experiencing food insecurity and up to 40% of our food is wasted either on the farm, in the grocery store, or in our own homes. Also, we found that farms were throwing away produce just because of its odd looks even though they were nutritious when so many families and children go to bed hungry each night. This huge level of inefficiency has economic, social, and environmental impacts and seemed like a moral crisis.
I felt even a small change can make a significant impact. For example, 40 million Americans go hungry every year and recovering just 30% of the food that our country wastes each year would be enough to feed this population of Americans, according to the NRDC. I joined hands with a few friends to start “Outside2Inside” focusing on just Food Waste Reduction in June 2017. Our mantra was Reduce Food Waste through Prevention, Recovery, and Recycling.
We started Food Waste Awareness with schools first with a Farm2School Program. The first event itself was a success and we were able to create awareness to 500 people and recover ~1000 pounds of oddly shaped produce which we called “Wonky Produce”. This addressed the community aspect.
Next, we targeted the workplace. In 2018, we got the Intel 50th year anniversary Winners of Wonder Grant of $5k for the Farm2School program with which we conducted another Farm2School program in a bay area school which was a huge success as well.
We then partnered with UC Berkeley FEED undergraduate students to do research on Food Waste and how O2I can help reduce it. Till date, we were able to do research on Food Waste recovery, recycling and come up with sustainable methods, programs to address them. Our partnership grew to such a level, that we forged a long-standing alliance with UC Berkeley.
From this, we have expanded our Programs to Self-Awareness, Kids Food Waste Awareness, Corporate Awareness, Farm2Restaurant, Composting Programs and many more and conducted programs in organizations like Sacred Heart, JW House, Advantest, LAM Research, Santa Clara Central Park, etc. Our accomplishments include a 155k pounds of produce recovered, 5500 people fed with food, 7000 people made self-aware about food waste reduction and close to 110k volunteer hours.
Food is our basic need without which we cannot live. But we have food-waste in humongous amounts that go unnoticed. Working in the world of technology, I solved many path-breaking technological problems, but what I saw around me was a simple, fundamental issue that remained unsolved. The emissions from food production alone, if left unchecked to 2050, would be enough to increase global temperatures by 2 degrees C. Therefore, it is important for future generations to find solutions now, particularly to help feed nine billion people in 2050 without undue environmental implications for water, land resources, etc. We hope to contribute our part towards that goal through Outside2Inside. Outside2Inside’s mission is to address the problem of food waste, because as a society we are at the crossroads of hunger and food waste at the same time, which didn’t make sense to me. So come join hands with Outside2Inside to solve “Our” problem that we created because together we stand, we can solve anything.
Vijay Gurusamy, Founder of Outside2Inside