The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Youth Program Series: Food Recovery Network

Youth Program Series: Food Recovery Network

In the News

July 30, 2013

Ben Simon was eating one evening on the campus on the University Of Maryland, College Park, when he and his friends noticed the food service employees were trashing freshly made, unsold pizza at the end of their shift. Simon was bothered by this waste and talked to the manager of the campus eatery about his concerns. He quickly learned that much of the uneaten and unsold food was tossed at day’s end. 

Simon and his friends felt compelled to focus on this problem and set out to launch a campaign to recover and distribute wasted food across America. Lofty goals for college seniors? Yes, of course. But the premise of The Food Recovery Network (FRN) is incredibly simple. Every night, when dining halls close, student volunteers are there to collect and recover uneaten food that would be otherwise thrown out. Volunteers pack up the food, maintaining food safety, and transport the food to nearby shelters and food banks. The food is then distributed to hungry people in the community.

But why focus this type of food recovery project on colleges? Well, colleges sell a lotof food, and they also have an incredible amount of food waste. Perhaps even more significantly, colleges offer a large, energized volunteer base, so this type of program can really take root on campus. 

“Student volunteers are passionate about this issue, and this work helps build stronger communities by connecting university students and dining faculty to people in need in their communities. Students are the primary drivers of this movement, both on FRN's national leadership team and every chapter's local leadership team. Student feedback and input is highly valued, and is used to create our priorities, goals, and strategies for achieving them,” says Lauren Behgam, Co-Founder and Director of Expansion for FRN.

Incredibly, though, even with all this campus energy, 75% of colleges have no type of food recovery program, and so most of the food that goes uneaten on college campuses in this country ends up in a landfill. The Food Recovery Network estimates that colleges are wasting 22 million meals annually. Since the organization’s founding in 2011, however, they have recovered over 120,000 pounds of food, which is equivalent to 96,000 meals. That’s enough to feed a family of 4 three meals a day for 19 years.

The U.S. as a whole wastes over 35 million tons of food every year, and only 3% of that food is donated or composted. Not only does this wasted food cost Americans over $165 billion annually, but it also accounts for the largest component of U.S. municipal solid waste, which amounts to almost 25% of U.S. methane emissions. So recovering food actually helps the environment – another added benefit.  

Meanwhile, hunger is a pressing issue in the U.S. More than 49 million Americans have no idea where their next meal is coming from, and 25% of those 49 million are children. According to Feeding America, more than 12 million children under the age of eighteen in the U.S. are food insecure. Hungry children have greater odds of being hospitalized, and the results of chronic undernutrition contribute to high health care costs throughout life.

The Food Recovery Network currently has 23 chapters throughout the U.S., with offices based out of the University of Maryland, College Park. While Behgam says they have a strong impact in the local communities they work in, they think the largest impact they will have will be in supporting and connecting a new generation of food waste and hunger activists, all while raising awareness about the irony of food waste and hunger.  

“We are working towards the goal of having a food recovery program on every campus in America, so that there is no longer food waste on college campuses. Beyond that, we are exploring ways to partner with local governments and businesses to institute food recovery programs,” adds Behgam.