This blog post is brought to you by Madi Togrul, current president of FRN at Michigan, University of Michigan's chapter. Madi has been involved with FRN at Michigan since her freshman year and has been an active leader of the chapter for the past three years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This year was our fourth annual Food for Thought Dinner and the biggest so far! We had over 70 students come to hear panelists speak on issues of food waste and sustainability. Each year, we reach out to local businesses and ask if they would be interested in recovering food for us in the days leading up to the event. This year we had donations of recovered food from Amer’s Mediterranean Deli, Babo Market, Silvio’s Organic Ristorante and Pizzeria, Mezes Greek Grill, Afternoon Delight, and the student-run organization Student Food Co. We served recovered food to clearly demonstrate our mission of fighting waste while feeding people. In previous years, we have had facilitated group discussions about issues of hunger and waste. This year, we invited five community members involved in sustainability and food work to come to our campus and speak about what they do and how they contribute to the Ann Arbor community.
Our first panelist was Noelle Bowman, the Chairwoman of the Waste, Recycling, and Packaging Policy Action Team for the Washtenaw Food Policy Council and the Solid Waste Program Specialist of the Washtenaw County Office of the Water Resources Commissioner, Solid Waste Division. She spoke about the kinds of packaging waste generated in food service facilities, its negative impacts on the environment, and shared ways to reduce that kind of waste. The second panelist was Sebastian Wreford, the Manager of Food Donor Relations at Food Gatherers. Food Gatherers is our local community partner and the food bank that serves Washtenaw County. Sebastian spoke about the role FRN plays in Food Gatherers’ distributions and about how and where they serve the food we recover. He also thanked our organization for our continued involvement with Food Gatherers. The third panelist was Chef John Merucci, the head chef at U-M's South Quad’s dining hall. John spoke about Michigan Dining’s role in our recoveries and shared the ways that Michigan Dining is working to reduce waste in its kitchens and dining halls. The fourth panelist was Amanda Sweetman, the Program Manager for The Farm at St. Joe’s. She spoke about her work as a farmer at St. Joseph Mercy’s hospital farm, sharing her perspectives on environmental stewardship, education, and community building. She also spoke about the ways that the hospital utilizes the farm as a healing tool for patients. The fifth and final panelist to speak was Professor Joe Trumpey, a professor in the Stamps School of Art & Design at the University of Michigan. Trumpey spoke about his own personal farm and the creative work that he does both there and on campus that focuses on biodiversity, modern agriculture, and ecological sustainability.
This dinner is important for our community because it provides us the opportunity to share what we do with the greater student body at the university. This year we engaged the local community as well, bringing in active community members to speak about their involvement with sustainability efforts and food waste in Ann Arbor. We share our mission with both those who attend the event and those businesses that donate food by serving only food that would have otherwise been thrown away. We recover all the food we serve and the event is entirely zero-waste, thanks to compostable utensils and plates supplied by the University’s Student Sustainability Initiative.
At this year’s Food for Thought Dinner, I learned about a wide variety of ways that people in the Ann Arbor community are working to reduce food waste and promote sustainable and responsible practices regarding food. I also came to realize that students at our university are invested and interested in the greater Ann Arbor community and vice versa. Seeing so many people come together to speak about preventing waste and fighting hunger was truly inspiring.
I would tell other FRNds looking to host events like this to plan ahead! Organizing panelists, booking a location, and reaching out to potential food donors are the most important aspects of the event and require advanced planning. Advertising is also hugely important; we had such a great turnout because we advertised through a variety of mediums and we started advertising early and continued it all the way up to the event. Finally, I would urge FRNds looking to host events like this to sit down together and talk about what FRN’s mission means to them! The best part about hosting a large, involved event like this is sharing your mission with so many different people. Make sure you know what you want to say about FRN and the work that we do, as well as what kinds of advice and encouragement you want to offer to those who attend the event. The more passionate you are about the mission you’re communicating, the more people will see that and feel motivated to get involved.