I first visited the Alameda County Community Food Bank in 2016, shortly after the spectacular launch of the Impossible™ Burger at Momofuku Nishi in New York City. During that first meeting, food bank leaders taught me about the “protein gap” -- a severe shortage of quality protein at food banks nationwide. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
Back in 2016, Impossible Burger was a nichy fascination with upscale culinary trendsetters -- a scarce resource that generated lines around the block in Manhattan. But our mission was (and is) to be everywhere -- and we knew that, as we grew, we could meaningfully help close the protein gap.
So four years ago, we committed to donating Impossible Burger to the Alameda County Community Food Bank to help an estimated 1 in 5 local residents who experience food insecurity. In short order, we expanded our food bank program to include Second Harvest (across the San Francisco Bay in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties) and additional food banks close to the sites where Impossible Burger is produced, in both California and the Midwest.
Then COVID-19 changed the world -- with devastating consequences for millions of Americans. The pandemic greatly exacerbated the already tenuous situation food banks face -- a perfect storm of trouble, one that will likely persist long after shelter-in-place orders are relaxed.
As unemployment reaches levels not seen since the Great Depression, food banks are seeing lines that stretch more than a mile long. In addition, with stockpiling of grocery store ingredients and greater demand from people cooking at home, retailers don’t have as many shelf-stable or frozen foods to donate.
Even worse: One of the first and hardest industries hit by COVID-19 was the restaurant sector -- which had to lay off hundreds of thousands of workers, including those who could have ordinarily counted on free or subsidized meals from employers. As schools closed down to comply with shelter-in-place orders, children couldn’t rely as much on free or subsidized breakfast and lunch programs. And as fears of COVID-19 transmission spread, food banks saw their largely volunteer workforces shrink.
Food banks flexed their entrepreneurial muscle and, like many for-profit companies, pivoted to new business models. Alameda County Community Food Bank launched a “contactless” drive-through distribution center meant to serve 30 households; within a week, it was feeding more than 700 households. The San Francisco Bay Area -- already one of the worst places in America for food insecurity due to its gaping wealth gap and extreme housing prices -- saw food bank demand hit unprecedented levels.
In March, Impossible Foods initiated a campaign called #ImpossibleCommunity, with an initial donation of 83,000 pounds of Impossible Burger to Alameda County Community Food Bank. Almost immediately, we began getting calls from other food banks, as well as from long-standing partners, including chefs and restaurateurs who wanted to send Impossible Burgers to the frontlines -- to hospitals and medical workers in hard-hit places including New York City, Seattle and Florida.
Our management team quickly and unanimously agreed we needed to expand our food bank program -- and fast. In addition to increasing our food bank donations, we agreed to provide Impossible Burgers to people feeding the frontlines when possible, given the logistics constraints and staffing shortages that many companies face.
We made a pledge: Every week for the next two months, Impossible Foods is donating 10,000 pounds of Impossible Burger to food banks and other organizations feeding the frontlines and nourishing America’s most at-risk communities.
Impossible Foods’ mission is to make the global food system sustainable. If successful, we will reverse the clock on climate change, restore biodiversity and expand natural ecosystems -- results that will literally transform the way earth looks from space. Yet as an essential business in an unprecedented challenging time, we also exist to serve the most basic and immediate needs of our community -- including the food insecurity crisis plaguing both our hometown region of the San Francisco Bay Area and communities throughout America.
Since the start of the pandemic, our cross-functional “social good” team has gotten Impossible Burger to the following organizations and causes:
Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen #ChefsForAmerica campaign
“I LOVE YOU Care Packages," an initiative of Jaden Smith powered by Will & Jada Smith Family Foundation
Bareburger, organizing donations to NYC hospitals
Slutty Vegan, working with the city of Atlanta and the Mayor to organize donations to health care providers, service workers, and residents at local senior living facilities.
Feed The Frontlines NYC, an initiative founded by former Impossible operator Tarallucci e Vino. Through this program, NYC restaurants are bringing employees back to work, and delivering meals to frontline workers in NY.
Forbici Modern Italian, in Tampa, FL- working with Tampa Bay Lightning to help distribute and deliver meals to first responders.
Support + Feed, an initiative founded by Maggy May Baird to help LA and NYC’s plant-based restaurants while providing meal support to first-responders, hospitals, and senior centers.
LA Mission, working with Jaden Smith's I LOVE YOU Restaurant to provide food to low-income communities.
DaVita Dialysis, working with registered dietitian nutritionist Amy Gorin. Amy is the founder of project #ShareFoodNotCOVID, which she created to connect food/wellness companies with healthcare facilities accepting donations. DaVita is a network of kidney dialysis centers that will be donating patties directly to their staff.
If you want to join the growing list of organizations in our ecosystem, please let us know by filling out this form. Given the constraints and staffing shortages facing logistics companies, Impossible Foods can only donate bulk foodservice product -- and keep in mind that Impossible Foods makes plant-based meat, not finished meals. (We get quite a few requests to serve cooked Impossible Burger; unfortunately, we aren’t a catering company.)
While no company alone can get food to everyone in need, we are doing our part to help the amazing people feeding the frontlines and caring for our communities’ most vulnerable members.
We sincerely thank you for all you are doing every day! You are the true heroes, and you inspire us to do better.