Pittsburgh Nonprofit Director Shares Food Waste Prevention Journey

By Danielle Pajek

A local person is working to cut down food waste and feed those in need.

People waste 1.3 billion tons of food annually, leaving one in eight people hungry every day. A majority of this food waste comes from wholesale stores, restaurants, and distributors.

412 Food Rescue, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit, works to limit the waste that stems from these businesses.

Director of Distribution Initiatives for 412 Food Rescue, Greg Austin, said, “We are a nonprofit that functions as a logistics company to transfer food that would otherwise go to landfills from front-basing business partners such as distributors, grocery stores, restaurants, things like that.”

Austin, though not necessarily a Pittsburgh native, has lived in the area for 13 years. “I’m from DuBois, Pa., about two hours northeast of Pittsburgh. Culturally, it’s very much related to, if not a direct part of the Greater Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area. I’ve been in Pittsburgh for 13 years now and have worked in hospitality/restaurants the entire time,” Austin said.

Austin explained how he got involved with 412 Food Rescue. The Pittsburgh transplant said, “As a chef, I had always been troubled by the amount of food waste the industry produces. In 2016 or 2017, I had the opportunity to utilize 412 Food Rescue to put some of that unused food to use, a deep respect for their mission took hold.”

Just a few years later, in 2020, the chef said the opportunity to work with the nonprofit crossed his path and he just “had to get involved.”

Before earning his current position, Austin worked as a chef for the newly implemented Good Foods Program.

“The project was implemented about a year before my taking over. It took a little over a year of planning before that. The original impetus was to create a deepened involvement with the rescued food that rendered it more accessible to our nonprofit partners with less infrastructure, i.e.: those who couldn’t break down or prepare bulk rescued foods themselves,” Austin said. “While I didn’t help start it, I like to think I brought it to its fullest realization over the last three years.”

The proud employee said, “The kitchen’s weekly production in 2022 averaged about 1,000 meals a week. Since the inception of the program, we’ve distributed 82,000 meals.”

Austin said that in the last year alone, the Good Food project put out 38,000 meals.

“Our site, where I work, between the grocery bagging program and the kitchen, diverted over 157,000 pounds of perfectly good food away from landfills and into people’s hands,” Austin said. “Twenty-six thousand pounds of fresh food went directly into home-cooked meals.

“The most special thing about our project, the Good Food Project, is because of our position within the organization we were gathering what would’ve been food waste from other organizations and other companies, we operate at what is essentially a net zero waste,” the Director of Distribution Initiatives said.

“We compost any food scraps, any reusables, and that makes up about almost 80 percent of everything we receive. What actually goes into the trash that would be headed to a landfill is about .003 percent of everything we see,” Austin said.

Austin shared the impact 412 Food Rescue has had on him. The selfless chef said, “Being able to work in proximity to all of these other modes of work has afforded me the luxury of expanding my skill set greatly beyond what a commercial kitchen would offer … and even more importantly, having a direct hand in impacting lives for the better is a feeling I wish all workers could experience.”

Austin spoke to a group of La Roche University students on April 18th.

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