Food Maven – A Force for Good, or a Curse?

The Dollar store equivalent for used and excess food – Food Maven warehouse in Colorado Springs

Hello Tamara, 

Contrary to the positive theme of your Colorado Sun article, Food Maven is not a new innovative way to reduce food waste. They have simply diverted the value in excess food into their own bank account, leaving the hungry still hungry and local/regional food producers without a fair market. Business models like Food Maven, as with Dollar stores, are a direct threat to local and national food security as well as our food sovereignty. 

The IRS allows highly profitable big-box Food Maven suppliers a profit after taxes (Big Hunger) on food donations. This creates an increased demand for the highly subsidized, chemical-intensive, industrially produced food that is destroying our environment, decimating our rural communities, and blocking market access for the most ideal regenerative farmers and ranchers. The Food Maven model rewards overproduction. Allowing for-profit companies to make money on their excess food only incentivizes poor inventory management and increases waste overall.

To hear the Colorado College/Bon Appetit Sous chef, Matt Butler, say it’s his “moral” responsibility to feed students cheap industrially produced food waste is outrageous. Colorado College students pay a high price for their meal plan that once promised to include real food — “Real food that truly nourishes producers, consumers, communities, and the earth.” They now eat Food Maven’s second-hand, below-cost-of-production food from whichever retailer had extra the week before. It’s nothing short of bait and switch

Colorado College’s food management company, Bon Appetit, once purchased nearly $600,000 per year in local food from my company, Ranch Foods Direct. Today the number is zero. You mentioned Regis University, a Bon Appetit managed account, is buying beef from Food Maven. Regis is and has been, a long-time valued customer of Ranch Foods Direct. Beef is what we do best.

Recently, I spent a few days with Nicholas Shaxson, the author of a new book, The Finance Curse: How Global Finance is Making Us All Poorer. Food Maven exemplifies that same “curse” with their slick techy intrusion into, and wealth extraction from, our nation’s farming and food industries. In the end, we all lose when the economy is driven by a mindset of no-rules, price-shopping-consumerism, profit-over-people, and when the biggest cheater is allowed to win. 

“It was easier just to take the stuff home and feed it to my pigs. I got more value that way,” stated Arkansas Valley Organic Growers (AVOG) founding member, Doug Wiley, about Food Maven. AVOG announced its dissolution on Thanksgiving Day. Doug, and the other AVOG farmers and I were part of the team that convinced Colorado College more than ten years ago to replace Sodexo with the purportedly more locally focused and sustainable Bon Appetit.

Probably forty years ago, I met a farmer from New York state that said, “It only takes one box of lettuce in excess of demand to destroy the price for lettuce.” He was right. Except now instead of a box of lettuce, with companies like Food Maven we have corporate-sponsored food policy that intentionally produces truckloads of excess food, which depresses the prices farmers receive and drives them out of business. That farmer’s practice for his perishable products was to plant as close to the expected demand as possible and regenerate the soil with the excess, not let it bankrupt him. People need to know how they can support a food system that feeds all of us – one that supports food workers, and a food system that regenerates our rural communities by providing a livable income for the family farmers and ranchers who provide good care for our animals and our environment. Food Maven isn’t it!

Also see: In fight against food waste, FoodMaven could do more harm than good

Mike Callicrate

Colorado Springs, Colorado