Food Recovery Network
A Close Look at a Multi-Campus Effort to Fight Food Waste and Feed the Hungry
How often do you think about the food you choose not to eat at your cafeteria? It is customary to teach children from a young age to always finish their plates and never throw away good food. Yet, before I joined Food Recovery Network (FRN) in 2012, I never considered where the food in my dining hall went after the students left and the doors closed.
75% of American colleges have no type of food recovery program. As a result, campuses across the nation waste an estimated 22 million meals each year. Food Recovery Network, established at the University of Maryland in 2011, was founded with the goal of recovering food on college campuses and distributing those meals to those in need. Since its founding, Food Recovery Network has established chapters in 39 Universities throughout the US, including the campus I call home, Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
The process of food recovery is simple. Each afternoon and evening when dining halls and cafeterias shut their doors, FRN student volunteers are waiting. FRN volunteers package and pick-up baked goods like bagels, muffins, cookies and bread. At Brown, these pick-ups occur in 7 locations, including a café unaffiliated with Brown University Dining Services. After picking up the food, each group of student volunteers brings the food to a central location where the group weighs, records, and stores the goods. Later that evening, when all the food has been collected, FRN volunteers walk, drive, or bike the food to a local food bank or shelter. Following this protocol, Brown has recovered and distributed 21,263 pounds of food in just 2 years.
I contacted one of FRN at Brown’s campus coordinators, Renata Robles (’15), to speak about her experience with FRN at Brown. Renata highlighted one of the unique features of FRN that makes it so accessible and successful on college campuses:
“Solutions to food insecurity or inaccessibility always seem larger than something a student can address while simultaneously taking a full course load.” Renata explained that FRN provides an opportunity for students who are busy with academics, athletics, and other organizations to help out in an effective, yet low-commitment way.
Of course, FRN cannot solve world hunger. In my discussion with Renata, she pinpointed the major downside to FRN:
“It is only a Band-Aid on large-scale structural issues, like access to affordable housing and nutritious foods. We take advantage of a symptom resulting from many different types of inequality; in other words, we rely on the unequal distribution of resources and a problematic obsession with excess in an attempt to help those with limited resources on the back end. I think moving forward, FRN will need to collaborate more seriously with other groups that are working towards the same goal.”
Despite the limitations of a student run organization, Renata and the other members of FRN at Brown are confident that “the national organization has done a lot to increase awareness and consideration for issues of homelessness, food access and food insecurity as well as promote action to combat these problems.” As with any non-profit work, one organization or program is never capable of treating the issue as a whole. However, awareness is a fundamental prerequisite for any movement or large-scale change. With the goal of creating branches throughout the nation, FRN hopes to encourage involvement from as many students as possible, recovering food and spreading awareness along the way.