How FoodCycle LA and Thrive Market are Feeding People, Not Landfills

Last Update: December 1, 2022

More than 100 billion pounds of food is wasted in the United States every year. It ends up in landfills, where it’s a major contributor to climate change. Meanwhile, 45 million people in the U.S.—particularly single parents and the BIPOC community—lack access to healthy food. What if you could begin to solve both problems at once?

By diverting wasted produce from landfills and redirecting it to communities in need, FoodCycle LA is working to do exactly that. They share Thrive Market’s vision for a more just and sustainable food future in America, making them a perfect partner to help us raise $10 million in healthy groceries by 2025.

Meet Nancy Beyda, Founder of FoodCycle LA

Nancy Beyda’s career path is a unique one, but when she tells you her story, the pieces quickly fall into place. Her journey to nonprofit director started with her yoga practice, which inspired her to go into birthwork, which then led her to start FoodCycle LA two decades ago. 

Though her background is varied, all of Beyda’s life-defining experiences are rooted in service—to others, and to the planet. “My midwifery practice and [FoodCycle LA] are in alignment and come back to these values,” she shares. “The same values, expressed in different ways.”

Since founding, the organization has been able to broaden its reach by linking up with like-minded groups in the local community. Starting in February, Thrive Market will partner with FoodCycle LA to provide healthy pantry staples to families in need throughout Los Angeles. We kicked off our partnership earlier this month with a pop-up event in Watts (a neighborhood in which 40% of residents live below the poverty line), where volunteers from Thrive Market distributed 500 boxes of healthy groceries to the community along with FoodCycle LA’s fresh produce offerings. 

Values to Live By

“Whenever there’s a question or a decision to be made I try to come back to those core values and say, how do we focus on community building? How do we allow people to serve and make a positive difference in the world?” Beyda reflects. “I truly believe many people want to do that.”

We talked to Beyda about the importance of getting fresh, healthy food to people in need; the crucial connection between food equality and sustainability; and how FoodCycle LA used technology to rise to the challenges of the pandemic.

Thrive Market: Your background is so interesting. How did you go from working as a midwife to founding FoodCycle LA?

Nancy Beyda, Founder and Director, FoodCycle LA: Both my midwifery practice and FoodCycle grew out of my yoga practice. Seva, which is “selfless service,” is part of yoga. It’s a core belief: we’re here for a purpose, which is to help make the world a better place.

As part of that, I’ve always loved feeding people. I really believe in the power of food to be a healing force. At the studio where I used to practice yoga, someone had started picking up food from a grocery store and taking it to a women’s shelter in Downtown Los Angeles. I remember her talking about it and thinking, I want to do that. It really drew me in. So I started picking up food with them and did that for about 10 years before I decided to try to turn it into a nonprofit. 

I believe food has this power and value beyond just being fuel. When you provide food to people there is an element of caring. It has the potential to do so much good. As we shift our way of seeing food, we have the opportunity as a culture to reexamine some of the ways we tell people we care about them.

TM: What’s the connection between food equality and sustainability, and what inspired you to try to address both at once?
NB: As a midwife, I feel a need to do things to make the world a better place in the future. I can’t bring babies into the world and not feel the need to address some of these really pressing issues that are going to impact their lives, and all of our lives. We have all this extra food we’re throwing into landfills that’s contributing to climate change, and yet we have all these hungry people. It’s a problem that has to be solvable.

[FoodCycle LA] started out picking up food and taking it somewhere. But we started to realize there were these bigger systemic issues that needed to be addressed. So as an organization we evolved to say, we want to be able to bring food to people, but we also want to look at the barriers making it possible that all this food is getting thrown away and we still have all these hungry people. How do we start to transform this system? For me, the answers come back to those core values. We do it by working together. 

TM: How was FoodCycle able to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic?

NB: One of the real blessings has been connecting with all these amazing people all over the city. The work they do can be so different, everything from working with people experiencing homelessness to veterans to college students to working-class families. 

Because we had been working on establishing this network, we were really able to expand in response [to the pandemic]. Looking at the areas most impacted by systemic racism and food inequality, those areas also ended up being the ones that were most impacted by the pandemic. We worked with this amazing group called Hack for LA that was doing all this research and creating a map so people could find food throughout the city. We realized we could use that map to find organizations in these areas that are feeding people and connect with them, because together we could direct food to where it’s most needed. 

That network building and connection is key to being able to move food around effectively. The food we recover has to be used quickly. If [a grocery store] has a bunch of food on Tuesday and I send it to a food bank that is going to serve on Saturday, they’re going to end up wasting a lot of that. Having a network in place ahead of time means I can move [food] where it can be used.

TM: What have been some of the highlights of your experience running FoodCycle?

NB: I saw what a positive difference this food made in the lives of the women [at the shelter in Downtown Los Angeles] from the beginning. The women really loved the food we brought. You could see the difference that healthy food starts to make. 

We work with an organization called Grace Diner in Culver City. When I spoke to the woman who runs it, she said, I see people changing when we give them this healthy food. I can see these people on the streets getting better. There are people who have certain dietary needs. She said there was one woman who was living on the streets, and she was vegan, and she was so happy to be treated like she had the right to eat the way she wanted. 

One story I remember well was [about] an elderly Black woman who was so excited because I brought fresh blueberries. She had never tasted a blueberry before. This woman was in her 80s which…led me to understand more about social justice and food insecurity and food deserts. There are places where it’s really hard for people to find fresh, healthy food—which makes even less sense [because] the food that’s getting thrown out is mostly healthy, perishable food. 

TM: Obviously, alignment of values is essential to you. What values do Thrive Market and FoodCycle LA share, and what do you think makes this a good partnership?

NB: The partnership [with Thrive Market] complements what we’re typically able to provide, and allows us to focus on some of the faces of food insecurity throughout our community and the country. I think it really helps to destigmatize hunger when you can tell people, you’re actually doing a good thing when you take this food, this is not a handout, you’re an important part of the system and you’re helping us create a better system in which food doesn’t go to waste. 

Highlighting those positive values about sustainability and the environment and understanding the link between food and climate change; those are things we share with Thrive. The more we help people think about it, the more we start to really change the system and our culture around food. 

Through partnerships with organizations like Baby2Baby and FoodCorps, Thrive Market has raised more than $6 million for food equality and supported more than 30,000 families in need. To support FoodCycle LA’s efforts to feed people instead of landfills and help us reach our $10 million goal, you can make a donation at checkout.

This article is related to:

Food Charities, Food System, Thrive Gives

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Kirby Stirland

Kirby Stirland is a writer, editor, and New York transplant living in Los Angeles.

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