Seven years ago, Rochelle Pierce, director of Food Services at the Kaiser Permanente Fremont Medical Center, was troubled seeing nearly 200 unused hospital meals being disposed of every week.
“I felt like it was a tragic waste,” said Pierce, who began researching options to recover and redistribute the food. “It was good, nutritious, edible food that we just didn’t have a need for.”
Pierce learned the Kaiser Permanente San Jose Medical Center was donating its unused food to a nonprofit and she arranged to do the same. She embarked on a partnership with Daily Bowl, a Union City-based food recovery organization that began supplying the hospital’s unused meals to people in need.
“It’s heartwarming knowing that we’re providing these meals and the community is benefiting,” Pierce said. “Managing food waste is one of the major things we can do as a global society to slow climate change as well as improve the lives of millions of humans.”
Starting in 2024, SB 1383 will require all California businesses that generate edible food (including health facilities, restaurants, hotels, and schools) to donate unused food that would otherwise go to compost or landfills to food-recovery organizations. Food in landfills produces methane — a greenhouse gas even more potent than carbon dioxide. Nearly all Kaiser Permanente Northern California medical facilities are participating in food recovery programs.
Kaiser Permanente Fremont has led in this effort, ranking first among Kaiser Permanente Northern California medical centers for waste diversion achieved mostly through hospital food donations to local community organizations. Since 2016, the medical center has donated about 10,000 pounds of food a year to Daily Bowl alone.
Kaiser Permanente’s food donation program seeks to improve health outcomes and fight climate change by prioritizing environmental sustainability.
“Our medical centers have been donating excess, healthy hospital meals to local nonprofits for years as part of our commitment to improving community health,” said Yvette Radford, Kaiser Permanente Northern California vice president for External and Community Affairs. “We’re proud of this work to reduce our environmental footprint and address hunger in our communities.”
Ready to eat and nutritious
The meals are popular because of their variety and the individual, compostable packaging. Breakfast entrees include omelets and French toast; lunch fare includes sandwiches and quinoa salad; dinner favorites are lemon chicken and meatloaf. There are vegetarian and vegan options, and seafood is the biggest crowd pleaser.
“The meals don’t involve elaborate preparations. It’s ready to eat, nutritious food, and it gets consumed,” said Paddy Iyer, executive director of Daily Bowl. “The people who receive the meals are happy.”
Daily Bowl volunteers pick up fresh meals from Kaiser Permanente Fremont 3 days a week and drop them off at local agencies such as Bay Area Community Services, which provides housing and health support services. This past spring, Daily Bowl ran a successful pilot program offering free meals to students at Ohlone College in Fremont. If it resumes this fall, it will increase pick-ups and help further alleviate food waste.
Program is a model for hospitals
Last year, Kaiser Permanente awarded Daily Bowl a $25,000 grant to support its ongoing program. Other medical facilities are trying to model the Kaiser Permanente Fremont and Daily Bowl partnership and are reaching out to Iyer for guidance.
Daily Bowl, which also works with restaurant distributors, farmers markets, and wholesalers, has a program with Kaiser Permanente San Leandro and is seeking to expand to other Kaiser Permanente locations in Alameda County.
Kaiser Permanente’s Rochelle Pierce said she couldn’t ask for a better partner than Daily Bowl. “I love being able to share what we’ve done together in hopes that it will help other people do the same.”