We get a lot of conventions in town, so you may not have noticed the pack of produce peeps roaming the Gaslamp much of last week. Nearly 5,000 attended the three-day United Fresh Produce Association meeting at the convention center. When the time came for them to take down their show booths and ship off their signage, what was left behind turned out to be a windfall for anti-hunger group Feeding America San Diego.

“It was 32,000 pounds of beautiful, pristine, amazing produce. To put it in context, this was the stuff the vendors were brining to the show,” said Jennifer Gilmore, executive director of Feeding America San Diego. “We had coconuts, gooseberries, pineapple, heirloom tomatoes, 10 kinds of cherries and strawberries. Not only did it increase the nutritional value of the food we distribute, but it gave the parents and kids [that we serve] an opportunity to try something new.”

Over the weekend, Feeding America San Diego distributed 27 pallets of food directly to families in need via the group’s mobile pantry. The remainder is going out this week. To put the size of this endeavor into context: The produce rescued from the show will be converted into approximately 25,600 produce-based meals for some of the region’s food insecure.

Why this event caught my attention isn’t simply that Feeding America San Diego and United Fresh used this high-quality food to feed local families and those in need — but that it is a very tangible example of how those on our food front lines are also actively working to reduce food waste.

Food waste is on the radar of everyone from the United Nations to environmental groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council, which estimates that 40 percent of the food our nation produces goes uneaten. Uneaten may sound vague, but it includes food tossed by grocery stores and retailers, and produce that may not be picture perfect and never leaves the farm.

Jonathan Bloom, author of “American Wasteland,” told me that we squander so much food in the U.S. that if collected and put in one place, it would fill the Rose Bowl to the brim daily. (Daily!) That’s more than 150 billion pounds of food a year, at a cost of $240 billion.

“Once people realize how much food is being wasted, it usually clicks. They start to look more closely at what they can do in their operation and their own kitchens. Nobody wants to waste food, especially when so many Americans suffer from caloric and/or nutrient hunger,” said Bloom. “Donating edible but unsellable food is a simple, popular way to do that.”

Popular, and tasty. And it’s heartening to see groups like Feeding America have the tools in place not to just handle a truckload of canned goods, but to be able to handle and distribute large quantities of perishable produce, keeping that bounty out of our local landfill.

Clare Leschin-Hoar

Clare Leschin-Hoar is a contributor to Voice of San Diego. Follow her on Twitter @c_leschin or email her

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