How FRN Helped Me Discover the Value of Direct Action

This past semester, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with some incredibly driven and talented people at Food Recovery Network’s headquarters in College Park, MD. This experience was made possible by American University’s community service learning program. Through this program, I was able to receive academic credit in exchange for committing time to help a local organization that works with communities across the country. The goal of this program was to anchor what I was learning at an academic level in school to the issues people face in our communities. I focused my search on food insecurity and food waste prevention organizations. In a happy coincidence, a friend of my professor recommended Food Recovery Network (FRN). Once I reviewed their mission statement and saw the great work they were doing, I knew working for them would fit perfectly with my goals. So, I sent an email asking to have the opportunity to work with them and was quickly put in touch with Hannah Cather the Program Manager, or hc as she is known. 


Together, she and I began to map out how I could help her team in their mission to promote food recovery and fight food waste. Very quickly, I learned that my expectations of what working in a non-profit office would be like weren’t accurate. Instead of negotiating with large food firms and lobbying for food reform, FRN focuses on ensuring that each individual chapter or chapter in progress (CHIP) is flourishing in their unique communities. My first job was to look over a slideshow presentation they had developed to explain FRN’s mission and their successes. Seeing the staggering amounts of food that had been collected, 3.8 million pounds in total, and the amount of meals that had been secured, 3.1 million, was quite impressive. It felt empowering to know that the work I was about to do would help ensure that food would go to hungry folks and not be left to rot in landfills. 

After this assignment, I began to develop infographics for chapters who were struggling to convince their school’s dining provider to work with them. By partnering with these groups, CHIPs and chapters access the largest amount of food on campus and are able to increase their impact on campus food waste. Additionally, I worked on creating infographics which sought to convince students with particular interests, like environmentalism and social justice, to look into FRN and join a local chapter or possibly to start one themselves. 


The work wasn’t always fun, especially on days where much of my time was eaten up fixing formatting errors; my commute was an hour and a half there and back and was tiring. At times, I felt unsure if the work I was doing really helped forward the cause. But, whenever I felt off or frustrated about what I was doing, the same thought would return to me. I would pause to reflect on how the work I was doing went directly towards helping people. I would remember how it felt to be working with a group of kind and dedicated people on an issue that they all cared about deeply. The energy I saw from the Program Team as they supported others was motivating and therapeutic. I looked forward to going to work and experiencing that energy.

So far, my education at American University’s International Studies program has involved absorbing as much information as possible about the nature of the world’s issues and their scope. Studying genocides, the effects of climate change, and reading testimonies from victims of war, has, at times, caused me to feel a pit of existential despair grow within me. These past semesters, I have talked with some of my professors about how they manage to cope with this feeling, and none have ever given me an answer that felt complete. By far the most rewarding thing about working with  Food Recovery Network is the lesson that the solution to these feelings is to narrow in on one issue and do what you can to end it. When I read about the projections for the climate if drastic measures aren’t taken to remedy the damage we’ve done, I ease my dread by saying to myself, “While this issue is daunting and you don’t have the power to fix it, you are trying to help reduce our food waste, which fights emissions, and bring food to the hungry.”

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Having an anchor to ground one’s self is a truly invaluable tool, especially today where all the world's calamities are a few clicks or swipes away. An anchor isn’t just liking pages on social media. It requires tangible effort and targets a specific issue. Volunteering to feed the homeless, actively opposing bigoted policies through protest or organizing, and speaking up when the rights of your coworkers, friends, or even strangers are threatened, are all forms of direct action that push society towards a better future. The students in all the CHIPs and chapters of FRN know this, and through working at their organization, I have gained this knowledge too. And with it, I know that the despair that once weighed me down can not withstand the healing energy of direct and purposeful action. So thank you FRN, and keep up the good fight!

Kentucky Hunger Free Day

Food insecurity is a significant problem people face in the state of Kentucky. One in six Kentuckians identify as food insecure and one in five Kentucky children struggle with hunger. A food insecure household does not always have food on hand or enough money to go out and purchase food. People who are food insecure often do not know where their next meal will come from. These startling statistics led the Kentucky Association of Food Banks (now Feeding Kentucky) to organize an annual event known as Kentucky Hunger Free Day several years ago. A group from Bellarmine University consisting of Food Recovery Network members, leaders of the on-campus food pantry planning committee, and other concerned students and faculty attended this year’s Kentucky Hunger Free Day. The February 20th gathering marked the sixth year of this event and the first time that a group of Bellarmine University students, faculty, and staff attended the event. I attended as the president of Bellarmine’s Food Recovery Network (FRN) chapter and as a representative from the food pantry planning committee.


We traveled to the state capitol building in Frankfort, Kentucky from Louisville for the event. The day was jam-packed with a variety of different ways people could get involved fighting the issue of food insecurity in Kentucky. Over the course of the day, our group attended meetings with Kentucky State Representatives, like Julie Raque Adams, and listened to addresses from government officials, like Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. We also listened to speeches from leaders of organizations working to end hunger in the Bluegrass state. We attended a state Senate session in order to get a better understanding of the workings of our state government. 

It was very enlightening to network with new people and organizations and to explore the political side of food security issues. Our Food Recovery Network chapter deals mostly with local issues like food waste on campus and food insecurity in our immediate community, so it was also very helpful to see what is happening in the rest of our state. Kentucky is growing its number of FRN chapters, with the recent additions of the University of Louisville and Western Kentucky University, but we still have room to grow.


This experience provided our FRN chapter with an incredible opportunity to network with other organizations that share our cause. It also provided us the chance to meet some of the people affected by food insecurity in Kentucky. We met with people from Dare to Care, who donate food to our on-campus food pantry. They talked about how excited they were for a college group to be there, which made our attendance all the more meaningful. One of the major policy issues we helped advocate for was removing the sales tax requirements being forced on Kentucky nonprofits, which pull money away from providing more food and resources to the people they serve.

One of the most special moments for me was when we heard Pastor Rob Beckett talk about how food insecurity affects the majority of his congregation. His church does all it can, but sometimes they need help from other groups. He explained that Kentucky Hunger Free Day offers a chance for him to network with other groups and share his story. He talked about the importance of the Farms to Food Banks program that Kentucky has, which incentivizes local farmers to donate fresh produce to food banks, thus benefiting all involved. Pastor Beckett said people’s faces light up when they get fresh food, and I thought this was so relevant to hear. I think it’s so important to provide people not just with food, but with fresh and healthy foods, and I was so happy to hear about this program. 


Overall, this trip was an eye-opening experience that allowed our FRN chapter to branch out and learn more about the extent of the food security issue in our state and different political and economic avenues we could take to solve it. We definitely recommend taking advantage of an opportunity like this if you have one available in your state. If not, we encourage you to start a gathering of food security organizations in your state so you can share information, resources, and support, creating a stronger base for solving this issue. Kentucky Hunger Free Day is an example of a big step in the right direction towards fighting food insecurity.

Bringing Food Recovery to the Football Field

In the fall of 2018, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s (UL) Office of Sustainability created a “Zero Waste” initiative as part of UL’s overall Sustainability Strategic Plan. This Zero Waste initiative started with the school’s home football games, where trash from inside the stadium would be diverted from the landfill. One focus of this project centered around recovering surplus food from football concessions. Large amounts of food from concessions end up in a landfill after each game instead of feeding many in need throughout the Lafayette community.


Coordination, Partnering, Planning  

The first thing the team did was identify all key players for the food recovery within the stadium. We then made a food recovery plan that would be easily integrated within the existing stadium concession operations. We got the Head of Sodexo Stadium Operations on board, who contacted those in charge of the six concessions stands within the stadium. The Head of Catering let the workers and servers in the three press box levels and first floor catered food area in the stadium know about the food recovery. Lastly, Second Harvest Food Bank, our hunger-fighting nonprofit partner agency, who receives all of our donated food, was brought in so they could arrange a driver to pick up the food from the stadium after the football games ended.


After all parties were engaged, the plan was to start collection as soon as the football game let out. Several steps were taken to set up the food recovery. The Second Harvest driver was scheduled to come collect the food about an hour after the game ended. Two to three other student volunteers and I (the president of the FRN chapter at UL) were designated to collect all of the food from the concessions. We planned to collect from the press boxes and catering first, since they were the first to pack up and leave. Once everything was packed up from catering, we went to the stadium gate to meet the Second Harvest driver. There we set up a station where we could load the recovered food onto the truck as we collected it. The other concession stands were instructed to package the prepared food, using their own packaging, and leave the food in the front of the concession stands for us to come around and collect. This made the collection run more efficiently because concessions had time to finish their closing procedures, while we collected from the press boxes.

Like most new and larger food recovery operations, we did not have everything completely ironed out at first. We really didn’t have this plan completely figured out until about the third football game. Thankfully, after working through the first three games, this recovery procedure began to really work for the food recovery team and stadium workers. We are now beginning to apply this food recovery plan to future athletic events.

Outcome and Impact

The impact of recovering food from UL’s football games was something completely unexpected. From the six home football games, we recovered a total of 2,072 pounds of prepared food, which went on to make 1,727 meals for local people in need. We averaged 345 pounds of recovered food per game. The most food the team recovered in one game was a total of 522 pounds. What started out as an initiative within the Office of Sustainability turned into an eye-opener for the faculty, staff, students, and Lafayette community attending these games. No one really understood the amount of food being wasted until it was physically seen being wheeled away from concession stands to the donation vehicle. This project made everyone aware of the environmental and community impact of food recovery. Because of the success of this initiative, we now have other university offices asking us about recovering food from more  athletic events and other events on campus, throughout the year. Being involved with this initiative is an amazing experience, and we hope this motivates other FRN chapters to plan something similar on their own campuses.

Chef Hero: A Restaurant's Guide to Going Green

My love for food has brought about many incredible opportunities throughout my life, but most recently it has led me to work at The Dabney, one of the best restaurants in Washington, DC, and for Food Recovery Network as a Food Recovery Verified Fellow. I truly enjoy trying new types of cuisine and experiencing different flavors, but I usually feel deterred from eating out because of my hyper-sensitivity to food waste. While The Dabney boasts highly sustainable practices, this is not the norm in the restaurant industry. If more food establishments took measures to reduce waste and operate sustainably, it would certainly quell my guilty conscious and boost the frequency with which I dine out.

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In an ideal world, every food establishment would adhere to a zero waste policy, but I know it’s not that simple. With no uniform system of operation and the pressure to simply keep a food business up and running, I’m sure it’s difficult for restaurateurs to think about sustainability. That’s why I am excited to share an amazing (and FREE!) guide produced by ChefHero to help food-service professionals run their establishments more successfully and sustainably! Not only is this guide approachable, but it also provides tangible solutions that can be implemented quickly and easily.

My favorite section is Chapter 9, which focuses on sustainability and offers a step-by-step guide to running an eco-conscious restaurant. Written by Hiba Amin, Marketing Specialist at ChefHero, this chapter covers a wealth of topics surrounding environmental stewardship including ways to reduce your restaurant’s footprint, food safe ways to reuse materials, and tips to improve your recycling program.


Amin touches on water and plastic usage, energy consumption, and recycling programs, but the topic that stood out to me most was food waste. Food waste occurs at every stage of our food system, but in the restaurant industry in particular, there is much improvement to be made. What I love most about this chapter is her ability to take a complex problem like food waste and present a handful of simple recommendations that, when implemented, will lead to long-term financial and environmental benefits for both the business and society as a whole.

In addition to eco-consciousness, this guide covers every facet of building a food business, spanning from pre-launch to running an establishment. Readers will walk away with the tools and information needed to build a successful food venture. I must add, though, that the benefits of reading this guide aren’t exclusive to current or aspiring business owners. If you are a person who likes to dine out, this guide will help you understand the challenges of running a restaurant and equip you with the knowledge to approach your favorite food establishments about small changes that can be made to benefit our food system. I highly encourage everyone to give it a read, check out the free guide here!


Finally, if you are a business owner or a concerned patron interested in implementing a food recovery program for a food establishment, the Food Recovery Verified (FRV) team is here to support you. Through the FRV program, our team recognizes and rewards food businesses that work to fight food waste and feed people through food recovery. FRV serves as a third party which verifies that food businesses are donating surplus food at least once per month to  a hunger fighting non-profit organization. In doing so, we provide resources to food-insecure Americans by increasing national awareness and participation in food recovery programs, and presenting food recovery as a solution to food waste and food insecurity across the country. If you’re interested to learn more about how to start a food recovery program or how to become verified, please contact us at

Sharing Food Recovery Network with Congress

This winter, our Food Recovery Network (FRN) chapter here, at University of California, Davis (UC Davis), was honored to give a presentation about our organization to U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree of Maine. Pingree, who represents Maine’s first district in Congress, is on the forefront of tackling food waste issues. She recently visited UC Davis to give a joint lecture with UC Davis Professor Ned Spang. When Professor Spang invited us to present to Pingree, we were excited to share about our chapter’s recent growth.

FRN at UC Davis began in 2013 as a modest initiative that relied on two interns with serious bike-riding coordination. Since then, we’ve been able to expand with the help of a small electric cart and access to campus vans. We started “Free Farm Fare” last summer, a program where we recover produce from our city’s Saturday farmers markets and deliver the recovered produce to a student family apartment complex. In our six years, we’ve recovered more than 52,000 pounds, nearly 20,000 of which was recovered last quarter alone.


Spang invited Pingree to UC Davis for a lecture titled “From Farm to Table and Back Again: Innovations to Feed More With Less.” It was part of a new series entitled “Savor: Lectures on Food and Wine.” Pingree’s schedule for the day was full: she visited the Student Farm, lunched with administrative leadership, met with UC Davis’ Food Loss and Waste Collaborative, and heard from us.

Upon arrival, we listened to the end of Pingree’s discussion with the Food Loss and Waste Collaborative. The Collaborative is an initiative Spang leads and is designed to be “the gateway between the general public and UC Davis coalitions, organizations, and initiatives addressing food waste and food loss.” The collaborative consists of researchers and UC Davis faculty who work on food issues.

Collaborative members and Pingree discussed the often complicated relationship between industry, consumer, and government in causing food waste, including the impact of consumer habits. We listened as Collaborative members brought up interesting issues and questions, and Pingree explained her own experience on the policy side with her Food Recovery Act and the Farm Bill, as well as the misconception that food is not an important political topic.  


Following this discussion with Food Loss and Waste Collaborative, our six officers were ready to present. We presented to Pingree, Spang, and Jenni Porter, the sustainability manager of student housing, and also presenting with us was Ernst Bertone Oehninger. Oehninger is a UC Davis graduate student and the founder of Freedge, a local and now international food-sharing initiative that we wanted to showcase as another strategy for food recovery.

In our presentation, we covered a brief history of our chapter before going into how we do our work, including recovery and partner agency coordination, the relaunch of our internship program, our education and outreach strategies, and how excited we are about new projects like Free Farm Fare. After our part of the presentation, Oehninger presented about Freedge, particularly the legal problems he has faced and his hopes for food-sharing law changes. All too soon, the presentation was over. There was not time for Pingree to ask us questions, but she did give us a couple of kind comments before we left.  

Evan Dumas from our club was able to talk with Pingree more at a dinner that night. She thanked Dumas for FRN’s work and expressed how impressed she was with the presentation. They talked about how food waste legislation is typically a bipartisan issue; however, not everyone is aware of the issue’s severity.


At our next study hall, we got a chance to reflect on our time with Pingree. Many officers talked about how encouraging the experience had been. We got to see that other people do care, including lawmakers in Congress like Pingree who are working on solving these food issues. FRN is not alone — researchers, professors, and lawmakers also think about food waste and recovery. It was gratifying to meet with those who are addressing the same food issues we do just from different angles.Additionally, practicing the act of articulating and describing what we do was a valuable experience. We bonded as a team as we gained more awareness of each person’s work.


Overall, we are incredibly grateful that we got a chance to meet Representative Pingree. We’re also thankful Professor Spang was able to make all of this happen and for inviting us to present. Lastly, we’d like to thank our interns, volunteers, partner organizations, and supporters, as well as all the lawmakers, researchers, and innovators who are tackling food waste and insecurity problems along with us.

We wish Pingree the best of luck in her food recovery legislation efforts, including: sponsoring the Food Recovery Act and co-sponsoring the Food Donation Act of 2017 and the Green New Deal. She’s accomplished so much already, but she seems to just be getting started. We at UC Davis and FRN support Pingree’s work as we model what food recovery can look like with the right policies to facilitate it.