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[November Free Report] Feed People, Not Landfills — An Interview of Mr. Padmanaban Gopalan, Founder of No Food Waste

by Deeksha Ravi | 01-12-2023 02:52 recommendations 1

If you’ve ever been to an Indian wedding you’ll have seen the heaping quantities of rich food made to please the hundreds of invited guests. But, do any of us wonder about what happens to the excess, after all have been served?

It is estimated that if even 25% of the annual global food waste was saved, we would be able to feed 870 million people.

Padmanabhan Gopalan, a youth hailing from South India, has devised an omnipotent solution to eliminate food waste and fill hungry stomachs at the same time. By collecting surplus food from public functions and ensuring it reaches those who most need it, his brainchild organization, No Food Waste (NFW), has brought smiles (and food!) to millions of hungry mouths. This is the summary of an interview of Mr. Gopalan.

Mr. Gopalan receiving the Commonwealth Youth Award for Asia Region

What prompted you to begin ‘No Food Waste’?

I was involved in awareness-raising prior to the creation of NFW. On one of these campaigns, I was approached by a child who asked me where excess food could be donated. I realized then that hunger could be solved by matching the existing supply of surplus food with the demand of millions of needy people across the nation, and henceforth I moved from awareness to action.

Briefly explain the process of procuring food and ensuring it reaches those who most need it.

We have a helpline number and various social media handles where people can reach us, detailing the quantity of excess food they have. If they have more than 50 plates, we’ll send our vehicles to collect and distribute it. When there are fewer than 50 plates, we ask providers to deliver the food themselves at the city’s nearest hunger spot. A geotagging application where we’ve mapped areas with hunger and homelessness issues, is put to use here.

Describe any technological innovations you’ve used to combat food waste.

We use AI tech to identify and distinguish which foods are wasted in the greatest quantities. It works best for grocery stores, where the classification of foods is easier, compared to restaurants. Indian cuisine has such variety, even AI can’t deliver a one-size-fits-all solution to its wastage! We also use air quality monitoring systems to detect when food grains in storage begin to spoil. The fungi growing upon grains, causing the rotting, give off a distinctive odor that the monitors identify. We are alerted soon after.

Name some of the milestones NFW has reached.

We have now expanded to chapters in 15 cities across South India. We’ve been recognized by the UN, ReFED, FAO, The Guardian, The JSPL Foundation, and many other organizations. We worked with the Government of India to create a change in corporate food waste policy. Now we also have official UN recognition and permission to submit discussion statements for General Assemblies. I have been invited to the UN headquarters in New York and have spoken at an Assembly.

What kind of impact did you believe you could create when NFW was initiated and what plans do you have for the future now?

All we thought of back then was preventing food waste, and reaching the hungry by doing so. No clear goals or mission statement. By now we’ve recovered 9 million plates of food, but none of us were thinking “Wow, we’ll be able to feed so many” when we began. Now we care most about policy change and involving more people in the cause. Also, incentivizing the prevention of food wastage for corporations. I want India’s 83 NGOs in hunger resolution to multiply in number, such that we have an established model of ‘the surplus food collection organization’ for future changemakers.

What advice would you give aspiring youth activists and trailblazers in our country?

Sadly, I feel that there aren’t enough aspiring youth in today’s world. Youth need to step out of the confining bubbles present-day digital lifestyles have created and observe first-hand the pressing issues of modern societies. When they’ve done that, well, the Internet has solutions to everything. Youth need to capitalize on the easy access to 21st-century resources already in their possession.

I greatly enjoyed my conversation with Mr. Gopalan and hope his work inspires many more young people to change the world in their unique ways. Thanks for reading!



  • India E-gen Ambassador Deeksha Ravi
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SangHyeon Park

  • SangHyeon Park says :
    You are right. I also think that we already have potential to change the world. Thank you for this report!
    Posted 02-12-2023 16:39

Melissa Menlah Adu

  • Melissa Menlah Adu says :
    An inspiring initiative by Mr. Padmanaban Gopalan and No Food Waste, turning surplus food into a lifeline for the hungry. Their innovative use of technology, from AI for food classification to air quality monitoring, showcases a comprehensive approach to combating food waste. With 15 chapters across South India and international recognition, NFW exemplifies the impact of grassroots efforts. Let's feed people, not landfills. 🌍🍽️ #NoFoodWaste #Sustainability 👏👏👏👏
    Posted 02-12-2023 11:24

Seeun Mentor

  • Seeun Mentor says :
    Hello, this is mentor Seeun.
    I've always thought about how much food is wasted, and how many people are starving in the world. It's great that people are working towards a solution!
    Thank you for your report.
    Posted 01-12-2023 14:59

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