TRAVEL: Israel’s Food Bank
An interview with the man who is saving Israel’s leftovers.
Funny how things happen: Forward Editor-inChief Jane Eisner sent me an email a while back, asking if I had any interest in covering an Israeli not-for-profit called Leket Israel, the country’s largest food bank and food-rescue network. She had gotten word that its founder, Joseph Gitler, was in town that week for a series of meetings.
I quickly shot back a reply saying that yes, I would love to. I explained that I happened to be friends with Gitler’s brother, Avi, who owns an art gallery in my neighorhood. As I told Jane, Joseph and Avi’s mom, Susie, made me mushroom-barley soup when I was sick last summer. I love this family — but I had never met Joseph.
That week, I had a long talk with Joseph Gitler. My interview is transcribed below.
Then the other day I got an email from Leket Israel with the subject line “Purim Sameach from Joseph Gitler.” The message read:
Dear Liza, A Mishloach Manot donation has been made to Leket Israel in your honor by: Joseph Gitler
Wishing you and your family a happy, healthy, and joyful holiday.
Chag Purim Sameach, Joseph.
The email explained that the contribution helped enable Leket Israel to continue providing rescued food to Israel’s needy.
What a good idea. Rather than running around with baskets of goodies for friends and family, why not spend a few minutes online, in effect sending food to those who need it most?
Read on to get to know Joseph Gitler and learn about the work of Leket Israel. LIZA SCHOENFEIN: You recently came out with the results of a study (with BDO Consulting Group) that found that $4.5 billion worth of food goes to waste in Israel. You have already been working on this problem for a long time. Is the problem getting worse? If so, why?
JOSEPH GITLER: Leket has grown, and some of the projects that we’re known for have gone well beyond what we expected them to be. But frankly, after this report we just commissioned I see that we are so much smaller as a piece of the puzzle than even I imagined.
I’m blown away by the numbers. I was well aware of the poverty numbers and of 35–40% of the food going to waste. But when we translated that into numbers? What’s the tonnage? What’s the economic impact of that? Now that we have those numbers, I don’t even know where to begin.
What are you doing differently or in
addition as a result of the findings?
So I think there are two parts to your question. Number one is in relation to poverty, and two is in relation to food and food waste. You can have one without the other. Unfortunately they’re generally not mutually exclusive. When it comes to poverty, the stats in Israel have remained fairly consistent. Maybe they’ve gone down a bit. The numbers are so large that it really doesn’t make any difference. Whether it’s 15% of the population or 20%, it’s a very big number. We’re not even getting close. How big do we need to be? The poverty statistic is pretty steady, but I don’t pay much attention to that. As much as we’re doing, it’s not coming close to what the need is. I’m just doing as much as I can.
When it comes to food waste, over the past few years as an issue it’s much more on people’s list. There’s so much more talk about food waste and its impact on the environment. And we’re seeing so many initiatives, worldwide, whether it was Davos, where two things came out: The Rockefeller Foundation is going to be getting into this more than they ever have in the past, and the big government thing, which made this pronouncement that they’re going to try to lower food waste by 50%.
We want the Israeli government to come forward with these kinds of bold pronouncements. If the federal government says
An Israeli ‘Banker’: Joseph Gitler is founder of Leket Israel, the country’s largest food bank and food-rescue network.