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Tech Company Free Meals Beget a Lot of Leftovers. Meet the Man on a Mission to Rescue Them.

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Marisa Endicott

I meet Les Tso on a corner in San Francisco’s SoMa district on a wet Thursday afternoon. He pulls his silver Isuzu SUV into an alley. “Today because it’s the first rain, people are going to be driving cluelessly—there are a lot of Uber and Lyft drivers that come from out of the area,” Tso warns me. “Makes it more exciting, I guess.”

Ride along with Les Tso on the latest episode of Bite podcast:

Tso works as a driver for Food Runners, a nonprofit that picks up leftover food from grocery stores, companies, events, and restaurants and brings it to organizations working to feed the hungry. For four hours every weekday, Tso braves the worst of Bay Area traffic to makes his 80 to 90 pickups (an average of 16 a day), primarily from tech companies—including Google, Juul, and LinkdIn—that have become an omnipresent force in the city.

Tso loads his car with Tetris-like precision.

Marisa Endicott

Food Runners was founded in 1987 by a small group of friends who started picking up food from a few businesses to bring to local shelters and food programs. Today, they rescue over 17 tons of food, enough to serve more than 20,000 meals, every week. The organization is made up of just a few employees and a network of about 250 volunteers who make more than 700 food runs weekly.

Even with Food Runners’ small army, there’s still more leftover food than anyone knows what to do with. “I think everyone who does this is incredulous about how much there is. It’s just crazy. And I’m only seeing the tip of the iceberg,” Tso tell me. Food Runners even launched an app to keep up after donations surged as the tech boom took hold; in 2014, the organization saw a 50 percent increase in donations.

The increasing pressure on businesses—especially in the tech sector—to offer employees free meals as a perk creates a challenge when it comes to food waste. “If you’re telling your people you’re going to feed them at work, and you run out, that’s really bad, right,” Tso says. “So, if you can’t run out, you have to over-project.”

But it’s not just tech company cafeterias generating this overabundance. In the United States, we waste about 40 percent of our food supply. That’s 400 pounds of food per person every year, collectively costing us up to $218 billion annually (or 1.3 percent of the GDP). “We’ve gotten to a place where our culture expects food now and expects........

© Mother Jones