2017-18 Featured Students
Food Recovery Network (November 2017)
Iowa State University offers a diversity of opportunities for students to get involved. With more than 850 student organizations available, Iowa State has much to offer in the realm of clubs and organizations. From engineering to advertising to ukulele, Iowa State ensures students can be engaged in organizations that are catered to their hobbies, majors and passions.
With Thanksgiving (Nov.23), National Philanthropy Day (Nov. 15) and Giving Tuesday (Nov. 28) right around the corner, November is a time to reflect on all we have for which to give thanks, as well as for those not having opportunities that are available to us.
In addition to being thankful, November is the oppportunity to give back. One specific club that goes above and beyond to give back to Iowa State and the Ames community is the newly-formed Food Recovery Network.
This organization is the largest student movement against hunger in the United States. Its goal is to unite college students on campuses across the nation to fight hunger and feed people. With a total of 230 chapters in 44 states, including the District of Columbia, more than two million pounds of food have been diverted from landfills.
This national network not only diverts food from landfills, but also recycles and recovers food. College chapters are partnering with campus dining centers, cafes, catered events and local networks to recover unused, perishable food with the intent to donate that diverted food to those in need in their communities.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, food waste is defined as lost or wasted food throughout the entirety of the supply chain -- from initial production to final household consumption. Each year, about 40 percent of food is wasted. That equates to nearly 300 pounds of food wasted per individual, and the equivalent of $1,500 lost for a family of four.
For example, wasting food has a significant impact on air quality. Food waste is not only breaking the bank, it is also costly to the environment. Landfills plagued with rotting food are faced with methane gas, a common greenhouse gas released during decomposition, 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
An especially alarming reality is that twenty-one percent of landfill intake is food waste -- especially when, in 2016, 12.7 percent of Americans were considered food insecure, according to Feeding America and World Hunger. Ames faces these same challenges, and the ISU Food Recovery Network is focused on solving them.
“Empowering students to act rather than ignore a problem creates a more wholesome student body and campus,” said Autumn Rudlong, ISU Food Recovery Network president.
Established by ISU student Autumn Rudlong in September 2015, the ISU Food Recovery Network recovers food waste from ISU dining cafes and partners with Food at First, a free meal program and perishable food pantry in Ames, that distributes food throughout the community. With only two years under its belt, ISU’s Food Recovery Network has already recovered 3,204 total pounds of food.
“[ISU Dining] changes its menus and options to address the students’ desires and dietary needs,” Rudlong said. “Because of this, the dining centers offer more food options, thus creating more waste. The Food Recovery Network opens the door for university students to confront the consequences of their food requests, which is waste.”
Rudlong first found out about this national organization while taking a food issues course at Iowa State. She did not realize food waste was such a major concern in the U.S. When introduced to the Food Recovery Network, she knew she had to bring it to Iowa State. She immediately contacted the national organization and started her own chapter.
In 2015, the Food Recovery Network was recognized nationally by its parent organization, but wasn’t recognized as an ISU student organization until 2017. This made it difficult to receive funding. However, through the establishment of the Student Government’s Excellence Fund, the Food Recovery Network received $408 to purchase 12 reusable food bins to aid in the collection of food on campus and the delivery of that food to Food at First.
The Food Recovery Network has taken it upon itself to reduce food waste on Iowa State’s campus. Not only does this organization work with ISU Dining to recover unused food, it also teams up with campus events that accumulate perishable food. This past semester, the Food Recovery Network partnered with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) for its ISU CALS Week and College of Human Sciences (CHS) for its CHS Week.
The Network also collaborated with the World Food Prize’s Iowa Youth Hunger Summit last spring. CALS and CHS Week yielded around 300 pounds of recovered food, and the Iowa Youth Hunger Summit yielded roughly 80 pounds. It goes without saying that Rudlong has worked tirelessly to lay a foundation for the Network to flourish in the future. Although she will graduate soon, her passion for food security runs deep.
“Although my time will end with Food Recovery Network at Iowa State, my passions for fighting food waste will never be assuaged,” Rudlong said.
She plans to attend graduate school and pursue a degree in International Food Science and Food Waste Solutions with the hope of conducting research with the FAO. She is excited to build on previous research experience with the FAO, a defining chapter of her life that steered her in the direction of global sustainability and solving world food issues.
Through her years of being president of the Food Recovery Network, coupled with FAO research, Rudlong has transferred many techniques to increase sustainability and food waste reduction in her daily life. For example, she makes a fridge inventory before grocery shopping and encourages friends and family to eat and not waste the food they already have. Most impressively, she takes every opportunity to educate others about the benefits of reducing food waste, the most significant thing she feels she can do.
“Being sustainable is important because the earth is the greatest legacy we can leave,” she said. “Leaving things better than receiving them is always something I was taught growing up, and it will continue to be something I strive to teach others.”