PORTLAND, Maine — Two tons of food that would have gone unconsumed was saved in Maine this week. Perfectly fine kale, carrots, beets and more slated for compost or the plow made their way to the Fork Food Lab, where chefs and volunteers are turning this would-be wasted bounty into a hearty stew that will feed thousands Friday in Monument Square.
The event, called Feeding the 5000, is meant to shed light on waste in the food system, and will offer a free meal for anyone who wants it in Portland — enough for as many as 5,000 people.
“Everyone and anyone should come and get a free meal,” said Mary Alice Scott, community engagement manager for the Portland Food Co-op, who is coordinating up to 200 volunteers to help prepare and serve meals in downtown Portland. At the same time, the University of Southern Maine, Yarmouth Public Schools, Preble Street and Wayside will be cooking the same meal with the same ingredients as partner sites to the event.
For more than 208,000 Mainers — or 16 percent of the state’s total population — struggling with food insecurity, a warm, hearty free meal can seem out of reach.
Story continues below advertisement.
“We need to be talking about the surplus food in Maine and why there are many important reasons to take action now to avoid sending food to the landfill,” said Hannah Semler, gleaning coordinator for Healthy Acadia, co-host of Feeding the 5000, a global event shedding light on waste in the food system.
Friday marks the first time the movement, run by UK-based organization Feedback, will have an event in New England.
“It will feel like a festival, people signing pledges to reduce their own food waste,” said Scott. “There will be education on things like sell by, best by, use by dates, and a taste-test challenge.”
Farmers like Penny Jordan of Jordan’s Farm in Cape Elizabeth and chefs such as Ilma Lopez of Piccolo have donated time and energy to a cause that’s on many people’s minds in a state ranked first in New England for food insecurity, according to the USDA.
“People think that 90 percent of food that comes out of fields is perfect and that is just not true,” said Jordan, who sells seconds on her farm stand. She has donated cabbage, kale, collards and tomatoes, both gleaned and culled as seconds, to the campaign.
“Get outside the box and think what you can do with all this food,” said Jordan. “We do this with the belief that food should be on the plates of everyone in our state. It’s about feeding everyone.”
With more than a dozen nonprofit organizations involved, “it’s already changing the paradigm of the food system by developing community concepts, bringing together local farmers, volunteers and pantries,” said Scott. “These are connections we need to reduce food waste in the future.”
Feeding the 5000 takes place in Monument Square from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday. All are welcome.