Guest column by Alyssa Dickinson, Joyce Kim, Conor Nickel and Yamini Nabar | Hungry for impact




Penn is full of noteworthy initiatives. But we would like to highlight one in particular: Penn Dining and Bon Appetit’s efforts to work with students to implement a food recovery program.

Starting this fall, our dining services providers, Penn Dining and Bon Appetit, will establish a program that transfers food unable to be consumed at dining halls to a local hunger relief agency. Despite Bon Appetit’s efforts to cook in small batches, some excess food is inevitable. The last person to dine must have as many options as the first person, and this generates varying amounts of unconsumed food, which is often tossed or composted at the day’s end. Though difficult to quantify how much food is wasted at this stage, three Bon Appetit cafes on other campuses (significantly smaller than those at Penn) donated over 3,000 pounds of food in seven months. Given the size of Penn’s dining operations, our university should not have any problems finding food to donate.

Although many types of programs exist, Penn hopes to establish Feeding America’s food recovery program, implemented by Bon Appetit at many of its other cafes. Created by the nation’s largest hunger relief agency, Feeding America, the program involves Bon Appetit staff packaging the food and members of the hunger relief agency retrieving it. Started in 2012, it has proven immensely successful: it has generated national press coverage for other universities and been implemented by chains like Panera and Hilton. By not depending on students to package and deliver food, it avoids many of the continuity-related issues faced by student-run food recovery programs (students have a tendency to be too busy in the weekends for food recovery, leave for breaks, etc).

This is not to mention the food recovery program’s other positive aspects. By implementing food recovery, Penn will join peer institutions Harvard, Stanford, and Brown in tackling hunger and food waste. It will set the precedent for neighboring schools and gain an opportunity to showcase its leadership on issues related to food waste at the first national conference on the subject, to be held this December at Penn. It will also divert food from landfills and reduce the CO2 emissions from rotting food, which align with Penn’s commitments to reduce waste through the Climate Action Plan and engage globally through the Penn Compact.

Perhaps most importantly, establishing food recovery will enhance Penn’s ability to locally engage in addressing hunger , one of the most pressing problems in our vicinity. With 25 percent of its residents at risk for hunger, Philadelphia is the hungriest city in America. Congress' recent decision to cut SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps) will only exacerbate the situation, eliminating 68.8 million meals in Pennsylvania. Though the Hillel soup kitchen and the Urban Nutrition Initiative’s efforts are a good start, they neither keep pace with the spread of hunger nor address the related issue of food waste (40 percent of food in America goes to waste). More is needed to combat both issues, and the time to act is now.

The Penn Community has received this message. When we suggested bringing Feeding America’s program to Penn last semester as part of a research project for Mary Summers and Jane Kauer’s "Politics of Food" class, we received overwhelming support from forty-plus classmates and the Undergraduate Assembly (now headed by group member Joyce Kim). We gathered the backing of faculty members like law professor Theodore Ruger and Professor Steve Finn of Organizational Dynamics, whose students had previously organized a food waste awareness campaign.

We also received the support of Penn Dining and Bon Appetit, who graciously agreed to read and listen to us present our project. They are now in the process of working with Feeding America and its local affiliates to find a partner that will receive Penn’s food donations.

Food recovery takes a high level of coordination, organization and willpower. We commend Penn Dining and Bon Appetit for their responsiveness to student initiatives and their continued efforts to bring Feeding America’s program to Penn. We look forward to turning food recovery into a reality by fall 2014 and continuing to work together to engage locally, nationally, and globally. 

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