Doug Rauch had a great idea that might help feed the hungry and help solve the growing food-waste issue at the same time: a healthy grocery store stocked with food that otherwise might go to waste.
Everything in the Daily Table grocery store, opened last spring in Dorchester, is healthy. There’s no candy, soda, fruit juice, or junk food. The food is produce left over from farmers markets or gleaned from 60 area farms, or from manufacturers donating their excess. Prices can be deeply discounted. Stonyfield Farm Greek Yogurt was recently selling for 25 cents a container. A dozen eggs may sell for $1.
The new, nonprofit retail store is specifically located in an economically disadvantaged area, though anyone from surrounding Boston cities or towns can shop there and take advantage of the affordable prices.
Mr. Rauch, a former president of Trader Joe’s and the executive responsible for expanding the company to the East Coast, will be telling the story of this new grocery store next Wednesday, July 27, on Martha’s Vineyard. The event, called “Food and Waste,” is sponsored by Farm. Field. Sea. and will include Mr. Rauch and moderator Mindy Todd of WCAI radio, which is doing a series on food waste. Tickets to the event include wine, beverages, and bites, with an optional choice for a dinner at the Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard afterward.
“The idea of this popup event is to bring in influential food folks who are changing the way we are thinking about food,” Nevette Previd of Farm. Field. Sea. said. “I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate to do than food and waste. This is a huge problem.”
“Thirty to 40 percent of all the food grown and produced in America is going to waste,” Mr. Rauch said. He experienced the industry firsthand, as president of Trader Joe’s East from 1995 to 2006, and the whole company from 2006 to 2008.
Following his retirement in 2008, Mr. Rauch began investigating issues of hunger and obesity in America during a fellowship at Harvard University, and learned that 1 in 7 — some 48 million Americans — are “food-insecure.” Mr. Rauch said he learned the real issue is not so much a shortage of food in general, but a shortage of wholesome food. Economically disadvantaged people eat more junk food, “empty” calories, which lead to weight gain.
“I started off trying to solve the wrong problem,” Mr. Rauch said. “The majority of the 1 in 7 can’t afford to be eating the foods they should be eating. It’s all the wrong calories. I realized that hunger isn’t what I thought it was.”
Mr. Rauch’s question became, “How on earth are we going to get nutrients to 48 million people, like fruit and vegetables and clean protein?”
“Our food system is based on cheap calories and expensive nutrients,” Mr. Rauch said. “It’s no one’s fault. Not retailers, not farmers — it’s just the way the system was designed, from the very beginning, dating back to the Depression.”
Mr. Rauch found that the current mode of helping the food-insecure through charity is not exactly working. “The charitable feeding of the poor fills gaps, but doesn’t really solve the problem,” Mr. Rauch said. Instead, he asked, “Is there any way to do this in a sustainable manner not contingent on massive charitable donations?”
Such questions led Mr. Rauch to the grocery store concept, which offers healthier options for the same price or less than most junk food outlets. The Daily Table was born in June last year. The 3,500-square-foot space sells groceries, produce, and takeout from entrées and soups to smoothies and flatbreads — all based on specific, self-imposed nutritional guidelines. “Forty percent of sales are grab-and-go meals,” Mr. Rauch said.
“The community response has been phenomenally positive,” Mr. Rauch said. “We’re still losing money, but we’re moving in the right direction, and sales are growing.”
A retail store in an economically distressed area also changes the dynamic from charity — where people often feel a stigma — to letting people choose their own food, paying reasonable prices. “The store has to earn your patronage,” Mr. Rauch said. “It flips the power dynamic.”
Mr. Rauch said they are currently the only grocery store in America where people can come in, use their SNAP money or food stamps, and have money left in their pocket at the end of the month.
As president of the Daily Table, Mr. Rauch said he is in the store about three times a week. The rest of the time he travels around the country, talking about the interconnectedness of these issues and potential solutions. He has spoken at the SXSW festival and conferences on hunger and obesity, as well as in the capital at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He has invited many, including U.S. officials, to visit the store to see for themselves.
“I like his grassroots approach,” said Ms. Previd, who is tuned into Island food issues through her work with Farm. Field. Sea. and Living Local. She said Wednesday’s event ties into work that several local individuals and groups are currently doing. This year, Sophie Abrams received a Vision Fellowship to look at ways the Island can reduce its food waste, and the Vineyard Conservation Society continues its work to enhance recycling capabilities, including for food waste, in all towns.
Doug Rauch, “Food and Waste”: Wednesday, July 27, 5:30 pm. Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard, Vineyard Haven. Tickets are $75 for conversation, $200 for conversation and dinner. For tickets and more information, visit farmfieldsea.com.