Rethink Food’s journey began with a simple yet powerful idea: to transform excess food from restaurants and grocery stores into delicious and nutritious meals for underprivileged communities. The organization has grown exponentially since its inception, expanding its operations to meet the rising demand for food assistance.
The need for such services is more acute than ever. In cities like New York and Miami, the gap between the abundance of food and the prevalence of hunger is an ongoing issue. Rethink Food has stepped in to bridge this gap, not just by providing meals, but by also offering a beacon of hope.
Every week, Rethink Food’s dedicated commissary kitchen team — along with an army of volunteers — embarks on the monumental task of preparing and distributing 10,000 meals. The process chugs along like a well-oiled machine. All surplus ingredients go through its commissary kitchen in New York. Rethink Food’s restaurant partners then cook and deliver the food to local organizations.
Serving New York City’s five boroughs, the organization’s commitment to not just feeding, but nourishing, is evident in the quality of the meals prepared. Each repast is a carefully crafted blend of nutrition and taste, ensuring that those who receive them get a culturally fulfilling dining experience.
Sharing Is Caring: The Secret Ingredient of Rethink Food’s Cuisine
According to the research paper “Food for Love: The Role of Food Offering in Empathic Emotion Regulation,” offering food to someone has a positive effect on both the recipient and the provider. “We further propose that the sharing of food resources as well as the use of food as a support behavior increases interpersonal closeness,” the paper reads.
You don’t have to be a psychologist to see that play out in real life. “For us, a meal is not just a meal — it’s a conscious culinary experience meant to serve our neighbors with dignity and respect,” Ken Baker, Rethink Food’s culinary director, said.
Community-based organization Agape Food Rescue has distributed over 76,000 meals as a result of its partnership with Rethink Food and small local restaurants. Lex and Jeannette Lugo are proud to be making a difference in feeding people while promoting environmental sustainability simultaneously.
“We have 42 different housing projects that we’re part of,” Jeanette Lugo said in a video featured on Rethink Food’s Facebook page. “We’ve been able to bring out over 1,000 meals a week. Today, we got a lot of compliments about some coconut rice with some beautiful broccoli and a nice piece of salmon.”
Lex Lugo added that while culturally relevant is a term that often gets tossed around, Rethink Food and its partners take it seriously.
“It’s got to be something that tastes good. It’s got to be something that comes with love. Most importantly, you’ve got folks who are used to having home-cooked meals. And that’s a big part of their food esteem. So it’s got to be cooked by people who have that understanding.”
Jeanette Lugo emphasized that anyone can get something to eat, but they’re going the distance to make a difference. After spending 16 years in the Marine Corps, she says giving back has become an essential part of her life.
“When you get something that tastes good, and you can enjoy, everything else around you feels better, hence the word ‘comfort food,’” Lugo stated. “People are trying to figure out how to pay their rent or just get the basic essentials. We are very pleased to be hooked up with a great group of people like Rethink Food who understand that being able to give somebody a meal with dignity is everything.
“When you can give a meal and it’s hope that tomorrow is a better day, that’s how you create community. You do it with one kindness at a time, and that’s what Rethink Food has allowed us to do.”
The impact of Rethink Food’s work goes beyond physical nourishment provided. For many recipients, these meals represent a lifeline, a sign that they’re not forgotten by society. The psychological impact of this cannot be overstated, especially in a world where the marginalized often feel invisible.
Notes the “Food for Love” paper, “Food is a fundamental human need that influences both physiological and emotional states. As such, the search for, and consumption of, food has shaped human and animal behavior. People feel strongly about their individual food preferences and the food culture they were raised in.
“Eating behavior goes beyond nutrition and alleviating hunger; family, friends, and cultural heritage shape individual food preferences. Food offering can be used to show affection to loved ones, to show hospitality to strangers, or to adhere to or express religious beliefs.”
Moreover, Rethink Food’s model of repurposing excess food tackles another critical issue: food waste. By diverting food that would otherwise end up in landfills, the organization is not only feeding hungry folks but also contributing to environmental sustainability.
In its 2023 year-end impact report, Rethink Food shared that it rescued more than 661,800 pounds of food, saved 15,222,000 gallons of water, and diverted 1,650,000 pounds of carbon dioxide.
How Rethink Food Is Sparking National Change
Rethink Food was honored May 2023 by New York City Mayor Eric Adams, New York City Council Speaker Adrienne E. Adams, and Kate MacKenzie, the executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy, for its tireless work in the city that never sleeps. Rethink Food was awarded a proclamation for its own day.
The nonprofit organization also had a presence at the White House for The Communities in Action: Building a Better New York event in December.
Rethink Food’s community partnerships are a core part of its success. Restaurants, grocery stores, and corporate sponsors have played a crucial role in providing the resources necessary to sustain and scale up the meal programs. Equally important is the community’s involvement. Volunteers, donors, and advocates have been the backbone of Rethink Food’s operations, contributing time, funds, and voice to the cause.
The organization is continually open to volunteers to work at its commissary kitchen and is eager to pair with more restaurants and brands interested in donating excess food.