By Laina S. Miller
Over 100 people gathered on Zoom on Sep. 24 to attend “The Food Talk: A Conversation About Food Insecurity and Food Waste.” Held by the Challah for Hunger UMD chapter and the Food Recovery Network, “The Food Talk” focused on food insecurity, particularly in college student populations, and the ways that people can effect change.
There were two speakers: Miriam Lipschutz, the Director of Advocacy for Challah for Hunger and a leader in the Campus Hunger Project and the #FUELHigherEd program, and Jon Wogman, the Chief Program Officer at FRN. The event was moderated by Gabi Frohlich and Nishu Hosamane.
Hosamane joined the FRN in fall 2017, and dedicated enough time and effort to work her way from being a recovery leader to the head recovery leader at 251 North Dining Hall, then to vice president, and eventually president of the FRN chapter at this university.
Frohlich joined Challah for Hunger during the first month of her freshman year, August 2018. The following February, she joined the FRN as a part of a service-learning class. Today, she is a co-president of the UMD Challah for Hunger chapter and serves on the executive board of the FRN, both of which ultimately led her to organize “The Food Talk” event.
“Since COVID … we knew we would not be able to carry out our typical activities, like challah braiding,” Frohlich said.
Just as parts of Challah for Hunger had to be restructured, she said the FRN also had to change tracks.
Before the pandemic, the FRN was “very hands-on – a lot of close contact with people” according to Frohlich. Nearly every day of the workweek, and sometimes on weekends during events, FRN volunteers would follow the guidelines required to safely redistribute food from campus dining halls. Now, with the pandemic, all of that food relocation has been stalled.
Given the challenges faced by both organizations, Frohlich proposed a collaborative educational event between Challah for Hunger and the FRN to the FRN president. After some discussion, they contacted the national offices of the respective organizations to find participants.
“When we’re talking about campus hunger, we are talking about food insecurity,” Lipschutz said. “It’s about not knowing where your next meal is coming from.”
Lipschutz explored the extant research on food insecurity, pointing out what she described as “stomach racism”: the disproportionate impact that food insecurity has on people of color, particularly Black Americans and Native Americans. She also specifically focused on the ways in which the current COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity problems.
But Lipschutz is also hopeful about food insecurity research.
“I am here to tell you that this is absolutely something that you can make a difference on,” she said.
Jon Wogman, the second speaker, spoke about the FRN and ways that people can effect change on a local, statewide, national, and eventually, global level.
“We work at the intersection between food waste and hunger,” Wogman said, explaining the FRN’s mission. Now, with the pandemic, Wogman explained that there are currently “over 54 million people at risk of food insecurity.”
He described the many ways that the FRN has already begun changing the world of food waste: there are 230 chapters of the FRN nationally, with about 4,000 college students participating annually.
The FRN has moved over 296,000 pounds of food to be redistributed since mid-2013, and the College Park chapter is partnered with the Christian Life Center of Riverdale Park, which then redistributes food to those in need through organizations such as So Others Might Eat (SOME) and Meals on Wheels.
Wogman also dedicated time to currently extant policies that encourage the reduction of food waste and the redistribution of food to those in need, pointing particularly at the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, the only federal-level piece of legislation that encourages food donation by protecting donors from liability charges.
“Variation in liability protection can create barriers to food donation,” Wogman’s presentation explained. He argued that a more large-scale policy change could incentivize food donation and help end food waste at a national level.
Wogman also encouraged students to take individual action.
“You don’t need to have Federal action to address food waste at a local level,” he finished.