Digital startup founder calls attention to food waste and access issues in Venice

By Audrey Cleo Yap

Our food gives life and takes life, but Americans waste up to 40% of it

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, as much as 40% of food in the United States is thrown away by consumers. All that nutrition — and all the energy that went into producing it — just ends up being wasted.

At the same time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that in 2017 almost 12% of American households —15 million families — could be considered “food insecure,” meaning they were unable to meet the nutritional needs of every member of the household.

Statistics like these do not sit well with Terence Latimer, founder of the El Segundo-based digital restaurant platform Food Tribe.

“Whether we’re consuming too much of our resources or just not being responsible in terms of getting them to the right place, we’re not being respectful of our planet — of what we have and of people who are suffering,” said Latimer, 32.

To help raise awareness of food access and waste issues on the Westside, Latimer teamed with local restaurants and cultural influencers to hold the inaugural Food Tribe Radi(call) Holiday Restaurant Takeover and Crawl on Dec. 15 in Venice.

Twenty-six attendees gathered for a panel discussion about food waste and sustainability at the Venice location of co-living space Outsite before embarking on a walking tour of local restaurants and bars, including Boca de Agua, La Tostaderia, The Brig and The Otheroom. The crawl’s first stop was Tom’s Roasting Company, where attendees had the opportunity to paint with used coffee grounds while enjoying tea, coffee and vegan cookies.

Venice seemed a particularly appropriate backdrop for the event, said Latimer, because of its thriving tech industry.

“We have overnight millionaires. And then if you walk down a street, what’s the problem that we see? Homelessness,” said Latimer, who previously worked in digital advertising and blogged about food before starting Food Tribe in 2015. “It’s like a problem we don’t want to see, which doesn’t make sense to me. How can we have all these resources in this community and this population of people that are hurting?”

The event benefited Love My Neighbor Foundation, a nonprofit that gathers and distributes food to those in need in South Los Angeles. Founder Athena Hayley started the organization after experiencing periods of homelessness herself, usually after the end of a relationship.

“I always saved money, but not enough to have my own place. Some days I would not have any kind of food,” said Hayley, who estimates that Love My Neighbor feeds between 120 and 140 people each week. Hayley personally drives to retailers, such as Panera Bread, to collect donations and purchase food from food banks.

Venice-based food and travel influencer Tinger Hseih said that minimizing food waste from eating out is one way consumers can make a difference.

“Because I work with so many restaurants, I believe that food waste is a huge problem,” said Hseih, a panelist at the event. “People probably order more food than they can eat. Our eyes are bigger than our stomachs. There are people who can benefit from your leftovers, especially if you don’t want to eat them later on.”

For Santa Monica resident Lauren Taylor, the restaurant crawl was an easy way to sample Venice’s local flavor without getting overwhelmed. “Anytime there’s food and drink it’s always exciting. A crawl seems like a safer way to try out the different restaurants,” she said.

Taylor added that while she wasn’t surprised by the statistics around food waste and access, she was heartened that local organizations were doing something to raise awareness about them. “It really can make a difference — not just on a micro-level, but on a macro-level if we start influencing the way that people think,” she said.

Latimer knows well that decisions about food consumption can be intensely personal.

“Looking back, food has always been something that was super interesting for me. At one point I weighed 406 lbs. I lost all that weight through diet and exercise,” he said. “I’ve certainly had to recognize my own culpability in being wasteful, over-indulging. I would say that the empathy aspect certainly developed. Like, how can I tell someone I’m not willing to help when you’re hungry, and I’ve eaten too much?”

He hopes that other food enthusiasts will do the same, even if it means taking a moment to acknowledge how their food got to their plate in the
first place — and to appreciate that process.

“If you’re going to get that cheeseburger, well, think about it for a second. How did that cheeseburger get to your plate? It didn’t start at the waiter. It started weeks before that,” said Latimer. “I want people to see that the bite you eat, it’s way more than that. It’s this beautiful piece of art. It took a lot to get here. Someone worked really hard on it. Respect it.”