Students, Hunger, and Making Change Happen
FRN is excited to share a special guest blog post from Tommy Tobin. Tommy graduated with distinction from Stanford University, where he led the Stanford Project on Hunger to recover over 100,000 meals for his community. He is currently studying in Ireland via the George J. Mitchell Scholarship, where he is researching food waste. This article is adapted from a piece entitled “Sustainability in University Dining Halls,” published in the Fall 2010 issue of the national student periodical BusinessToday.
You can change the world today. Today. When you let your hands and heart follow your stomach, you can pursue social change where you eat: university dining facilities. With organizations like the Food Recovery Network, students like you are creating meaningful social change at campuses across the country.
While buffet-style dining facilities provide food for thousands of students nationwide, they also create substantial levels of excess food. Food waste is often budgeted into the operational costs of college and university dining facilities because the exact number of individuals at any given meal cannot be accurately forecasted prior to mealtimes. All too often this excess food just goes into the trash. Fortunately, food recovery organizations distribute tons upon tons of this unused food for their communities.
Food waste is a real issue. The United States wastes 40% of the food it produces every year, wasting $165 billion annually. Not only does food waste create economic problems, this waste creates environmental harms, especially as food waste decomposition emits methane. Methane is over twenty-times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2 and food waste accounts for 25% of all US methane emissions, according to a recent NRDC report. Meanwhile, the daily risk of hunger is a reality for millions of Americans.
Students can make a real, measurable impact on food waste. As diners, students select what they want to eat, the size of their portions, and the amount of food they leave on their plate. Talking to your dining facility staff and operators in an organized way can change the type and amount of food that gets served. Changing the size of plates or serving spoons can systemically change the perception of a portion, causing less waste on your plate. Many campuses have gone trayless, significantly decreasing their water use and saving food. Pushing for Real Food and sustainable, local sourcing can also bring tasty food onto campus with a more limited environmental impact.
Programs like the Food Recovery Network keep good food from the landfill and feed communities. While efforts to raise awareness, pursue source reduction, and motivate sustainable sourcing are worthwhile, Douglas Casson Coutts, a UN World Programme official, highlighted service-learning and food recovery as two of the most powerful student interventions. Coutts sees student action at university dining systems as a way “for students to give their time – their most scarce resource – to meet the community and fight hunger.”
The Food Recovery Network is a great model for student action on the issue of food waste. Students at Brown, Pomona, U.C. Berkeley, the University of Maryland and other campuses have already salvaged over 80,000 meals for their local communities.
On an individual level, wasting less means more money in our pockets. Expert and author Jonathan Bloom recommends 15 simple steps that can save us money as shoppers, such as labeling items and uncluttering your fridge. Following this easy recipe for reducing our food waste can also cut our personal carbon footprints.
Hunger and environmental degradation are two problems waiting for solutions. Fortunately, social change does not require an enormous commitment of time or effort. Small actions can aggregate to large change to benefit individuals, to serve communities, and, even, to change the world.
Students can act as agents of change, recovering food for the hungry and advocating for sustainable dining practices. Students around the world are working to create change through action on their own campuses. As students and as diners, we can make this change happen. Let’s start today.
Tommy Tobin graduated with distinction from Stanford University, where he led the Stanford Project on Hunger to recover over 100,000 meals for his community. He is currently studying in Ireland via the George J. Mitchell Scholarship, where he is researching food waste. This article is adapted from a piece entitled “Sustainability in University Dining Halls,” published in the Fall 2010 issue of the national student periodical BusinessToday.