I will be spending this weekend on the University of Maine at Orono campus with college and university students from around Maine at the second Maine Hunger Dialogue. This event grew from the UMaine Extension “Maine Harvest for Hunger” program. It’s been an excellent experience connecting with Tom Gallant, a member of the organizing team, and encouraging the University of Maine at Farmington Sustainable Campus Coalition (UMF SCC) students to participate. Focusing on campuses and communities around the state, this opportunity will provide for students to return to their campuses and make a real difference in reducing hunger. When noting food insecurity stems from inequitable distribution of resources, the task to reduce hunger can seem unsurmountable. However, I see this event as one step to reduce food insecurity at the community level. Students will explore what efforts to reduce food insecurity are working or not working on Maine campuses, share projects, apply for grants and bring back inspired conversation to their campus.
I’m excited UMF SCC students will be participating in this year’s Maine Hunger Dialogue. With the leadership of SCC coordinator, Luke Kellett, these students come together to work on environmental planning, transportation, local food, composting and recycling while connecting their efforts with the greater Farmington community. As a member of this organization, I am constantly inspired by their enthusiasm to improve the environment, particularly, of course, as it relates to food. It’s all interconnected, so really, talking food covers everything. Stemming from projects relating to food access and growing sustainable local food, this year they put an emphasis on food insecurity. They have made great strides to combat food waste (when you waste food, who goes hungry?) and explore food recovery.
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview UMF SCC member, Catherine Dufault. As she sat across from me in the UMF library café, she shared choosing UMF as her university, because it is friendly and she appreciates UMF’s environmental policy planning. She is a bright, passionate woman with a genuine interest in food recovery. She sees it as a viable program to reduce food insecurity. Her interest in food insecurity started with exploring sustainable, local food. Her research led to connecting with foodrecoverynetwork.org. This organization inspired her to form a campus food recovery program. Food recovery is the collection of surplus, edible food and the several forms it takes — gleaning, rescuing perishable and non-perishable food, and even prepared food, such as may be available in the campus cafeteria. From an outside perspective, it seems like a simple task to collect unused food and connect it with those who are hungry. As she snacked on sushi and I sipped my coffee, Catherine shared that the idea is simple, but implementation has its challenges. We talked about her efforts on the UMF campus.
Catherine’s eyes lit with passion as she leaned in and answered my questions. Her efforts have been to rescue edible, unused, campus cafeteria food to be distributed to the hungry through the Farmington Care and Chare Closet and Western Maine Homeless Outreach. She expressed concern of the challenges coordinating communication and is sometimes frustrated with unreturned phone calls and unanswered emails. Another challenge is to collect baseline data. She recognized the need for flexibility and is encouraged by the support of the Food Recovery Network and the coordination efforts of Aramark’s Chef Manager to change the view of food waste. Aramark is the UMF food service provider. To be fair, this is a multi-pronged effort and as every change agent knows, efforts often require great patience and perseverance. It was clear from our conversation Catherine is not one to give up and will see this food recovery effort is successful.
What can we do to reduce food waste and recover edible food? We can volunteer, donate edible, surplus food, and participate in gleaning programs. We can make use of apps such as “Flashfood”, which connects businesses, organizations, and volunteers to recover food or “Food Keeper”, which we can use to scan, track and prepare our home food storage.
We can’t reduce waste to zero, but we can reduce a great deal. To quote Catherine Dufault, “The first thing you can do about hunger is to have a conversation”. That brings us back to the Maine Hunger Dialogue. I can hardly wait to observe and participate in conversations addressing food insecurity, particularly, as it relates to food waste and food recovery.