Arts & Entertainment

Waste not, want not as LA Food Fest tries to reach zero food waste

The 6th Annual L.A. Food Fest, held in 2015.
The 6th Annual L.A. Food Fest, held in 2015.
The 6th Annual L.A. Food Fest, held in 2015.
A bowl of deliciousness at the 2016 LA Food Fest.
Brian Feinzimer
The 6th Annual L.A. Food Fest, held in 2015.
Chef Jon Shook prepares food during the 2016 South Beach Wine & Food Festival.
Dylan Rives/Getty Images for SOBEWFF®
The 6th Annual L.A. Food Fest, held in 2015.
Volunteers with L.A. Kitchen capture unused foodstuffs at the end of the 2017 LA Food Fest.
Brian Feinzimer / LA Kitchen


More than 100 food and drink vendors will dish out crawfish, churros, fried chicken, falafel, barbecue, ice cream and more at the 8th annual L.A. Food Fest, happening Saturday at the L.A. Coliseum.

But amid the gluttony of a food festival comes the waste. Tons and tons of it.

"Every city now has so many food events. And the sad reality is that while all of us are enjoying in those festivities, there are a number of people in our cities who are hungry," L.A. Food Fest founder Shawna Dawson tells KPCC.

That's why she launched an initiative last year to make the festival the world's first zero-waste tasting event.

Did it succeed? No. But Dawson says she made major inroads toward that goal, reducing food waste by 60 to 70 percent.

This year, she's aiming to do better.

"One of the biggest hurdles for us was education," Dawson says. "You're talking about multiple staff members with every vendor. What you may have communicated to one person may not trickle down. And when you get to the end of the night, people just want to cut and run."

To eliminate "oops, it went in the trash" moments, a volunteer team will make sure each vendor has receptacles and help them capture their food waste. "The easier you make it for people, the more likely they're going to do it," Dawson says.

The festival has also partnered with L.A. Kitchen, a local food recovery and job training organization, and Imperfect Produce, a company that offers a subscription service for "ugly" fruits and veggies.

Half a dozen top chefs are coming from Mexico. In addition to collaborating on a series of nose-to-tail dishes, they'll make 100 free meals that L.A. Kitchen will deliver to the homebound elderly. 

Other food events are taking note. L.A. Food Bowl, a month-long series of food events that happened up in May, focused on food waste.

Late this week, Dawson was still looking for an organization that could take the whole animal carcasses being used at the festival and turn them into stock.

But she remained optimistic: "I don't see why we wouldn't get to 100 percent."