A scene from last week's Feeding the 5,000 in New York. It comes to Washington on Wednesday. (Erica Reade/Feedback)

How do you feed 5,000 people?

With a lot of help. And a lot of food -- food that would otherwise go to waste, as it turns out.

Feeding the 5,000 is taking place downtown on Wednesday, the most recent in a series of events first launched by environment organization Feedback in London's Trafalgar Square in 2009. Meals will be available for free at the Woodrow Wilson Plaza at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The goal is to get people to "understand the value of food," said Mike Curtin, chief executive of DC Central Kitchen, one of several dozen organizations participating in the event. "It's so cheap that people don't think about it, and it's disposable."

Curtin said 40 percent of the country's food supply is thrown away each year.

DC Central Kitchen collects 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of food a day from grocery stores, wholesalers, producers and farms (some donated, some bought at a discounted price) that would otherwise go to waste. That equates to 5,000 meals a day for the homeless, plus several thousand more that are made as part of its school meal program (school meals are made with purchased food). On a typical day, DC Central Kitchen produces 12,000 meals.

So what's another 5,000 for this event?

Extra hands will be pitching in for Feeding the 5,000, which will serve a curry showcasing recovered vegetables. There will be a volunteer "disco chop party" Tuesday night hosted by Campus Kitchens, DC Central Kitchen's national project that mirrors its model of food recovery and meal distribution on high school and college campuses across the country. Several local culinary luminaries will be on hand for the main event, including chefs José Andrés, Anthony Lombardo and Spike Mendelsohn, chair of the District's Food Policy Council.

Feeding the 5,000 will also feature cooking demos, and Lombardo, a member of the DC Central Kitchen board of directors, said he's planning on making a ragu with pig skin, beet greens and recovered beans. Creative use of products -- Lombardo tries to use whole animals and all parts of vegetables in his kitchen at the Hamilton -- is not only an ethical issue, but a business one in restaurants, the chef said. "You don't want to waste anything."

That's the kind of mentality Curtin hopes will sink in with attendees of Feeding the 5,000, which coincides with Path to Zero Waste: Organic Waste Summit, a gathering being put on by the city just inside the Ronald Reagan Building. (The Capital Area Food Bank will also host a screening of food waste documentary "Just Eat It" on Tuesday night at its urban demonstration garden.)

Advised Curtin: "Shop with a purpose. Eat with a purpose. Plan with a purpose."

Feeding the 5,000 takes place Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Woodrow Wilson Plaza at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center (1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW). feedbackglobal.org/events/feedingthe5000dc. Free.

Related items:

Why entrepreneurs are suddenly finding the beauty in ugly produce

One way to prevent food waste: Revive wilted produce.

Why perfect-looking produce may not be so perfect after all.

The move to fix grocery stores' problematic "sell-by" dates