Main Course: A Small Family Foundation is Making Food Waste a Big Priority

Food waste in the U.S. is still an emerging philanthropic issue, with not a lot of foundations making the worthy cause a top priority. One such funder is the small-but-scrappy family foundation of a Priceline co-founder. 

Jesse Fink’s claim to professional fame is that he was a co-founder and COO of Priceline, the longstanding travel website that’s kept William Shatner flush since the late 1990s. But if you’ve heard Fink’s name lately, it’s likely in relation to his work as a self-proclaimed evangelist for curbing food waste.

Fink has devoted himself lately to the Fink Family Foundation he runs with his wife Betsy and their kids, and MissionPoint Capital Partners, an impact investment firm he co-founded that supports clean energy and other environmental solutions. Both outfits have been heavily into the food waste issue lately, including taking lead roles in the launch of the new ReFED initiative. 

Food waste is a huge global problem that has drawn attention in recent years, particularly in Europe, where France became the first country to require supermarkets to give unsold food to charity. And while U.S. interest in sustainable food systems has exploded, the waste component hasn’t taken a starring role, despite the fact that 49 million Americans live in food-insecure households, and we waste an estimated 30 to 40 percent of our supply. That staggering waste isn't just sadly ironic, it has big environmental implications, given the major role of agriculture in producing greenhouse gas emissions and consuming fresh water supplies.

Related:Will Curbing Food Waste Catch on in U.S. Philanthropy? 

In short, there are good reasons that this issue is catching on with funders, with the Rockefeller Foundation recently bringing its $130 million YieldWise initiative stateside. A number of smaller funders have taken an interest, and the Fink Family Foundation is becoming a real champion of the cause. 

With assets around $18 million, and past giving just north of a million a year, Connecticut-based Fink isn’t a huge player. But it’s quite forward-thinking, having joined the philanthropic movement to divest from fossil fuels, and prioritizing impact investing. 

The family foundation has made food waste its lead priority, developing the program in 2013 and now backing programs like the Center for EcoTechnology in Massachusetts and Harlem Grown in New York. The funder has also supported the NRDC’s national food waste program, which works with consumers, businesses, and policymakers. 

But the biggest effort that Fink has played a major role in is ReFED, a research and education initiative seeking to reduce food waste by 50 percent before 2030. The program has several partners, but Fink Family Foundation was a seed funder, backing its creation of a Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste, the first report of its kind. Jesse Fink is on the steering committee of ReFED, and the investment firm he co-founded, MissionPoint Partners, was the project lead for the Roadmap.  

This issue is only going to pick up steam in coming years, and the 14 backers that have lined up behind ReFED are another indicator. Funders included the Walmart Foundation (not to be confused with the Walton Family Foundation), Packard Foundation, John Merck Fund, and the Overbrook Foundation.