Introducing the Student and Alumni Advisory Board

 

We are very excited to announce that FRN has selected 13 passionate and dedicated leaders from a diverse array of backgrounds and locations for its inaugural Student and Alumni Advisory Board (SAAB). This new board was assembled as a response to students’ requests to be more involved with FRN, both during and after their college experiences.

“The creation of our student board is a significant step in the growth and evolution of Food Recovery Network. I’m confident that creating this wellspring for chapters to collectively communicate and address their needs will increase leadership development and engagement across the network, ultimately leading to more food being recovered nationwide,” stated Regina Northouse, FRN Executive Director.

The 13 members of SAAB are: Allison Blakely (Alumni, Rochester Institute of Technology), Jennifer Campbell (University of Tampa), Brian Chueh (Alumni, Villanova University), Catherine Crombez (Alumni, Madonna University), Meryl Davis (Knox College), Yash Desai (Alumni, University of Houston), Heather Fucini (Alumni, University of Hawaii at Manoa), Kirsty Hessing (Wagner College), Susan Pagano (Alumni, Monmouth University), Jamie Renman (University of Delaware), Amanda Rivas (Oxford College of Emory University), Maria Rodriguez (Alumni, Whittier College), Lianna Tilton (Alumni, University of California in Davis). The board was created with the intent of involving a broad range of perspectives to strengthen and diversify the food recovery conversation across the country. Learn more about these amazing individuals and their hard work!

SAAB will provide invaluable input on what happens on the ground of the food recovery movement to the national team, and work to engage alumni who were part of FRN during their undergraduate careers. Kirsty Hessing, a senior at Wagner College in New York City said, “I’m going to be a senior this year, so it was kind of daunting to think that my food recovery experience was coming to an end. Being able to stay involved and connected to chapters even after graduation through SAAB is really exciting to me.” As the food recovery movement expands to more parts of the country, the board will push the movement to be as sustainable and inclusive as possible.

President of FRN’s Board of Directors, Ernie Minor, will be involved in leading SAAB. He sees this new board as the missing link in the conversation between the FRN National office and the students on the ground. “The thing that attracted me to FRN right off the bat was the students who were willing to get things completed to make an impact for people who are in need,” he explained. “Having SAAB to represent all that’s happening throughout the network is incredibly exciting.”

In the first year, SAAB will outline bylaws and formalize its mission and vision. Members will provide feedback on resource development and campaign initiatives to support FRN National’s strategic plan. SAAB will focus on engaging leaders across the network to strengthen the student-led movement and will work to engage FRN alumni and keep them involved in the growing food recovery movement off campus. They will have the opportunity to pilot new technologies and services. SAAB members will also play a role in the second annual National Food Recovery Dialogue on November 4 and 5, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

“Our first-ever student and alumni board will offer another opportunity for folks to share their strategies to strengthen the movement, and spread the word about food waste. I'm looking forward to thought-partnering with those selected to serve on the advisory board.”  said Hannah Cather, FRN Program Manager.

Click here to see the official press release.

Interview with Jessica Felix-Romero: The Road to Zero Waste

I recently sat down with Jessica Felix Romero, PhD, an FRN board member and the Communications Director at Farmworker Justice. After talking about her research using sustainable agriculture as a peacebuilding tool, and her current work combating racism in agricultural systems I asked her about her month participating in the Zero Waste Challenge, a month-long challenge to reduce waste and raise awareness and money to support FRN’s mission of fighting waste and feeding people.

What follows is an edited transcript of our discussion, where Jessica talks sustainable steps for personal waste reduction, self-forgiveness, and the life-changing power of a single mozzarella stick.

TW: What inspired you to take part in the zero waste challenge?  

JFR: A fellow FRN board member, Claire Cummings (aka the Waste Ace) really spearheaded this challenge in June, 2017, committing to eliminating ALL waste from her life and raising over $1000 for Food Recovery Network . I sat with Claire at a board dinner in January and throughout the meal, she kept pulling out all these different pieces of reusable gear: a stainless steel straw, a cloth napkin, a hard plastic reusable to-go containers...each item sparked a new conversation at our table and at other tables around us. Every time I used one of these  items afterwards, I thought of Claire and I started noticing lots of  disposable plastics in my life.  I admired her dedication to going zero waste and continued to talk to her about all the extra waste I was noticing in my life. As her challenge drew to a close, I knew that it was my turn to take a stand against waste.

TW: How did you adapt the Zero Waste Challenge to make it your own?

JFR: I’ve always seen myself as being on the progressive side of waste and environmental awareness, but as I started taking an inventory of all the disposables I use, I realized I was nowhere near ready for an entire month with ZERO waste. Instead, I chose to go “waste-less."  Each week in June, I chose a different type of disposable waste and eliminate-- I donated $1 to FRN for every “cheat” (ie. when I used the forbidden item), and extended my challenge by 1 week for every external donation of $15 or more. The items I eliminated in June were: straws, napkins and paper towels, plastic cutlery, to-go containers, and food scraps.

TW: As you started accumulating reusable gear like Claire’s, did you notice that you were sparking some of the same conversations that Claire did for you at that dinner?

JFR: Yes!  I was on vacation for the first week of my challenge and I found myself  having to rely on the kindness of strangers to do things like rinse my reusables so I didn’t have to carry dirty straws and forks around on my adventures for the rest of the day. People would ask about the steel straws and it was actually a really great catalyst to talk about the great work that FRN is doing to fight waste and feed people.

TW: What was the most surprising part of your zero waste journey?

JFR: During the challenge, I found out that the root of most of my waste was consumerism. Having to think twice about whether a food purchase would create additional waste made me think about every transaction. One day, I went to grab a quick lunch a grocery store’s food bar--I had chosen a beautiful salad and was headed to the checkout line  when a tray of mozzarella sticks caught my eye! I haven’t had a mozzarella stick in years and they looked so good! So, I decided to add one mozzarella stick to my lunch. It was the same price per pound as the rest of my meal, so I was certain it would be fine to just pop it on top of my salad (let’s be honest, I was going to eat it right away anyway!). But before the fried gooey goodness even touched my salad, I was stopped by an employee who informed me that since the mozzarella sticks are coded differently (hot food vs the cold salad bar),I would need to take an additional plastic container for a SINGLE mozzarella stick! We went back and forth for a while, and I ultimately decided that I couldn’t bring myself to create that much additional waste to satisfy a single craving. That was definitely a turning point in my journey to become zero waste.

TW: Oh, I’ve totally felt that pressure--did you discover any ways of avoiding feeling overwhelmed or too guilty about waste you do inevitably produce?

JFR: I get satisfaction from living a life of value--I work in the nonprofit world where it’s very easy to experience fatigue about our many causes. But I’ve found that it’s so important to be forgiving of yourself and acknowledge that lifestyle changes are not effective unless they are sustainable and consistent. I avoided fatigue by choosing an anchor--before I started, I took a personal waste inventory and identified areas I thought I could make the biggest impact. For me, that was: straws, napkins and paper towels, plastic cutlery, to-go containers, and food scraps.  Start with one thing and you will see how one small but consistent act can shift your whole perspective!

TW: Do you have any tips for waste warriors who are just getting started?

JFR: Definitely! First, you should start small--choose one waste item and build on from there. Second, planning is a must. Check out my blog post on the contents of my preparedness pouch-- this made it so much easier to make decisions on the go. Third, don’t be afraid to ask for help! There are plenty of resources out there to help in your journey. For me, this challenge started with a plastic straw at a board dinner, but giving up that plastic straw became a gateway to becoming a more mindful global citizen. 

Finale Friday

“Straws are a gateway plastic... giving up plastic straws makes it easier for people to give up other types of plastic and to ultimately think about the impact plastic has on the environment, especially the oceans.”
— Dune Ives, executive director of Lonely Whale

Well, I have made to the end of my waste-less challenge but in essence, I am only just at the beginning of my less-waste lifestyle. As Claire highlighted in her challenge, the majority of us can’t literally go zero-waste. Waste is created along all aspects of our food production to food consumption. But we can make enormous strides creating a system and living in a way that minimizes our waste footprint.  

How do you celebrate the end of challenge? With a new cocktail length copper straw of course!  

How do you celebrate the end of challenge? With a new cocktail length copper straw of course!  

These past two weeks I have given up food containers and food waste proper.  The food containers were a big commitment and I found out that the root of most of my waste is consumerism. Having to think twice about whether a food purchase would create additional waste made me think about every transaction.  I don’t drink coffee every day but I wanted a cup mid-week and went to get it. I had my coffee collar in my to-go pouch but not a cup. I didn’t have time to pack lunch mid-week and ended up at a hot bar/salad bar and even though the container was made out of a friendlier plastic, I was disappointed I was going to have to use a plastic container.  Lowering your plastic use isn’t convenient at first but it is worth the effort.  I need to leave the house with my lunch  if I do not want to create plastic waste during my work day. I need to create a go-to list of places that have better carry out containers or the option to eat off washable plates if I eat at the location. Nourishing my body doesn’t have to be at the cost of harming the planet.  I frankly didn’t make the connection between my everyday “living” choices and my plastic consumption as clearly before.  

This challenge has made me mindful of my daily decisions and the importance of setting an intention when it comes to how I want to interact with the food system and the literal earth around me. So in essence, straws were a gateway plastic. Giving up a plastic straw became a gateway to becoming a more mindful global citizen. Sounds a bit woo-woo doesn’t it?  But  it DID. I want to encourage you to choose one type of plastic to give up and do it for 30 days. You will see how one small but consistent act can shift your perspective.  Imagine if we all just gave up straws? What momentum could that build for other changes to care for ourselves, communities, and planet?  

Change starts with me. I hope to see many more non-plastic straws when I go out.  And  I promise if I see you trying to eat spaghetti with a spork, I will lend you my trusty fork. We have to stick together!  I will be updating my waste-less journey so continue to follow Food Recovery Network and help our organization fight food waste and end local hunger. Thank you for being alongside me for this adventure!

Keeping Food Out of Landfills: Policy Solutions for State & Local Governments

                                                           

                                                           

This June, four members of FRN National’s staff attended a dynamic workshop that focused on policy areas for food recovery. The day-long event was hosted by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CFN) and the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic. and was packed full of valuable information and discussions with individuals and organizations approaching food recovery from all angles. Speakers included Mark Winne (CFN), Ona Balkus (Councilwoman Mary M. Cheh, Council of the District of Columbia), David Manthos (West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition), Brenda Platt (Institute for Local Self-Reliance), Cheryl Kollin (Community Food Rescue), and Sameer Siddiqi (CFL). Research, law, and policy professionals answered questions about regulations and protections for food donation, and listened to stakeholder feedback in order to inform new recommendations and proposals. We left with reinvigorated ideas and community connections. Read on for an overview of the key policy areas for food recovery!

The following list briefly details the primary policy areas and recommended strategies discussed by the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic for keeping food out of the landfill:

  1. Date Labeling

    With the exception of infant formula, there are no federal laws that regulate “Best By” or “Use By” dates on food sold in the US. Therefore, standards are currently at the discretion of states and manufacturers and vary widely. Lack of standardization leads to confusion amongst consumers, who can’t discern if a date label determines a food’s threshold for safety or quality, and throw it out prematurely. Policies at the state and local level that could help ameliorate this issue are: clarifying that “Best if used by” dates indicate a food’s quality, requiring “Use by” dates for foods that pose safety risks if consumed past date, allowing for the sale and donation of food past the quality date, and increasing consumer education about label standardization.
  2. Liability Protections

    Although the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act protects food donors and nonprofits from liability when donating food without gross negligence, these protections do not currently extend to food businesses that donate food directly to final recipients (bypassing a nonprofit meal service). To incentivize new and creative donation models, state and local governments should also extend these protections to organizations that sell donated food, and to businesses that donate directly to recipients rather than to a nonprofit middleman. States and local governments should also publish guidance to clarify these standards.  
  3. Tax Incentives

    Many businesses and farms that could potentially donate food do not because of the associated high costs. The Enhanced Federal Tax Incentive for Food Donation is an economical and cost-effective way to encourage these parties to donate unsold food by allowing them to recoup some of the cost of their donations; eleven states have passed additional incentives beyond the Federal Tax Incentive. Furthermore, states and local governments should structure the incentive as a tax credit, not a deduction, and extend the incentive to nonprofits that sell donated foods.
  4. School Food Waste

    Primary and secondary schools produce over 360,000 tons of food waste a year, yet few schools employ waste reduction or recovery strategies on their campuses. This is a missed opportunity for youth to learn about food waste issues and engage directly with solutions. School districts can use food waste as a learning opportunity by including students in food waste audits and creating post-consumer composting programs. Research suggests that school districts can also reduce food waste on their campuses by encourages practices such as: trayless dining, extended lunch and breakfast periods, scheduling lunch after recess, and more. The School Lunch Act explicitly allows school districts to donate leftover food, however most do not. Local governments and school districts should establish share tables, pop-up pantries, and donation programs, as well as provide funding for such programs and guidance for implementation.   
  5. Food Safety

    Food safety can act as a barrier to donation due to its sensitive nature and confusion over regulatory requirements on the part of nonprofits and business. Some of this confusion is due to the fact that the safety of food products is regulated at the state level, not the federal. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has established a Food Code that all states have adopted that details guidance and recommendations to prevent foodborne illness, but this code is not legally binding and does not provide guidance on safety concerns food donation. States can encourage donations while maintaining high standards for safety by incorporating specific rules for food donation into state regulations, educating health inspectors about food donation, and developing more resources to educate food donors.  
  6. Organic Waste Bans

    Almost all food waste ends up in landfills, consequently filling up a large percentage of the landfills themselves. This is problematic because landfills are very expensive, many are reaching capacity, and they produce the potent greenhouse gas methane as they decompose organic material. Five states have enacted organic waste bans or recycling programs to prevent food from reaching landfills. Local and state governments enacting these policies should provide funding for alternative processing programs, such as organics curbside collection, composting, anaerobic digestion, donation, and livestock feed, as well guidance for compliance.  
  7. Livestock

    Within the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy, feeding food scraps to livestock  falls between recovery and composting. There are multiple federal laws that regulate the types of food that can be fed to animals; most prohibitions involve meat and animals by-products that have not been heat-treated in licensed facilities. State-specific regulations vary greatly in their restrictions. State and local governments should encourage livestock-feeding programs through public education and funding.

Want to learn more? Check out the Facebook Live screenings of the workshop here.

FRN Takes On the Summer Fancy Food Show

Imagine the largest grocery store you’ve ever been in. Now multiply that by five. I feel confident saying the Summer Fancy Food Show (FFS) is bigger than whatever you’re imagining. The FFS is the “largest specialty food industry trade event in North America,” according to Specialty Food Association’s website. Thousands of vendors put their foods on display, hoping to connect with the next home for their products, while thousands of industry folk walk the aisles of the expo, sampling foods, contemplating what to bring into their kitchens or stores. I’d say it was like a kid in a candy store, but that’s pretty much where I was - except exchange lollipops for olives and chocolate bars, for, well, fancier chocolate bars.

FRN's Executive Director, Regina Northouse, left, and Program Manager, Hannah Cather, right

FRN's Executive Director, Regina Northouse, left, and Program Manager, Hannah Cather, right

Thanks to our partners at the Specialty Food Foundation, Regina Northouse (FRN’s Executive Director) and I were able to experience a foodie’s dream come true. Want to sample some smoked cheddar or smooth brie? Sure, you can find it behind the giant wall of (plastic) cheese wheels. Feeling sluggish after hours of processing all the stimuli? No problem, there are at least fifteen coffee companies throughout the expo. Everywhere you looked, there was food and beverage for the tasting.

Though the expo is an international affair, Regina and I spent most of our time exploring the national brands. We met Andrew Cates, Co-founder of RayZyn, a snack company from Napa Valley. He asked if we liked wine - we do. If asked if we like raisins - we do. Then he handed us each a raisin that tasted like Cabernet. It was delicious, not alcoholic and apparently full of antioxidants, like 90 mg more than pomegranates. Who knew.

As we passed Mike’s Hot Honey stand, an enthusiastic man started raving about the honey. He asked for samples like it was all he needed in the world to be happy. Regina and I laughed, before deciding we too wanted a sample. Turns out, Enthusiastic Man was a friend of the company’s, but he wasn’t wrong about how delicious the chili pepper-infused honey was.

Those were just two of the highlights of the many, many people we got to meet together. Regina saw the FFS all the way through to the end, where she witnessed hundreds of City Harvest volunteers go through the expo and collect perishable and nonperishable food from the vendors. Because of this massive recovery, the FFS was Food Recovery Verified. “It was so inspiring to see all of these small and medium sized companies from literally all over the world who wanted to ensure their amazing products weren’t tossed out at the end of the event--but given to those in need. The recovery process was something to behold!”

We’re looking forward to the Winter Fancy Food Show, discussing food recovery with vendors and seeing the tasty things we tried in our local stores.