The first Great GoogaMooga disaster struck the Brooklyn food and music festival last summer: Too long lines, too little water, too many disgruntled hipsters. There was significant damage to the grass at Prospect Park too, another issue that made for a problematic debut for the event.
But what happened yesterday, when organizers shut down the third day of the supposedly “rain-or-shine” event due to, well, rain, made the challenges of last year’s festival seem almost petty. Sure, there were festival-goers who were left hungry, but participating vendors, who were expecting tens of thousands of GoogaMooga-ers, were left with an astonishing amount of prepped food to deal with.
The Brindle Room says it’s out $15,000 due to the cancellations—other vendors say they lost as much at $19,000. Andrew Carmellini, chef-owner of The Library, Tweeted that he had 3,000 portions of ribs to offload (he donated them to City Harvest). Instagram photos from the park showed bins brimming with perfectly good food destined to become compost—and plenty more that ended up on the ground, going completely to waste.
Anyone want to pick up 3000 portions of ribs? Cheap!!!! #googamooga
— Andrew Carmellini (@andrecarmellini) May 19, 2013
This is by no means a GoogaMooga-specific problem; food waste is endemic in the United States and much of the developing world. The Natural Resources Defense Council reports that an astonishing 40 percent of the food produced in America ends up being thrown away—to the tune of $165 billion per year. It’s a problem that touches every aspect of the food chain, from farm to fridge, so instances like this are more symptomatic of the broader issue than one-off instances of potential mass waste.
“This is a more dramatic illustration of something that all restaurants deal with on a daily basis,” says Dana Gunders, who wrote the 2012 NRDC report on food waste. While Superfly, the production company behind the event, has said it’s aiming “for as little wasted food as possible,” Gunders points out that there’s more to it than just dropping the food off at a soup kitchen or food bank. “Prepared foods have different rules around donating them,” she says, and if a food bank or soup kitchen isn’t serving a meal immediately or doesn’t have adequate freezer space, it might not be able to accept everything.
And while some foods are well suited to being frozen, Gunders points out that some of the most expensive, most perishable ingredients that restaurants work with can’t simply be thrown in the freezer: “You couldn’t do that with oysters.”
There’s certainly nothing wrong with the fact that homeless shelters will be making meals from a lot of restaurant-quality ingredients in the coming days. But the chasm between critically acclaimed fare and soup-kitchen donation seems to beg for a middle ground, one that could account for the thin margins of the restaurant business and the landfill fate of items that food banks can’t accept—and that can get food to the people who need it.
New technology developments like apps that facilitate real-time inventory and distribution have made food recovery organizations far more nimble and better suited to responding to the inconsistencies in the ebb and flow of donations. But Gunders wonders how technology might similarly help in a situation like this. “What else could they have done if the right tools were out there for them to do it? Could they have done a flash sale? Could they do some sort of real-time offer to a secondary market?”
Googa is officially CANCELLED to protect the lawn. Fellow vendors, time for the ultimate food swap! Free car bombs at our place!
— robicellis (@robicellis) May 19, 2013
We aren’t there just yet, so vendors and organizers are, according to Eater, working to donate as much food as possible to the Bowery Mission and The Food Bank for New York City.
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Willy Blackmore is the food editor at TakePart. He has also written about food, art, and agriculture for such publications as TastingTable, Los Angeles Magazine, The Awl, GOOD, LA Weekly, The New Inquiry, and BlackBook. Email Willy | TakePart.com