Back in 2013, a USDA survey announced the 21.3% of Arkansan households were food insecure. At the same time, it is estimated that colleges throw away 22 millions pounds of good food every year, adding to the global epidemic of food waste. A few students at the U of A learned these statistics and decided to do something. In 2014, Razorback Food Recovery was born.
“The idea is basically simple. We want to keep food from being thrown into the landfill and instead get it to the people who need it. Waste not, want not. But making this happen takes a great deal of work, planning and cooperation,” explained Claire Allison, food programs coordinator for the U of A Center for Community Engagement in a 2015 Newswire article.
The food recovery process takes a large group of coordinated and dedicated volunteers to make it happen. First, unused food from campus retail and dining locations are collected and stored by Chartwells associates. Next, student volunteers repackage, weigh and log all recovered items. Finally the food items are distributed to the U of A’s Full Circle Food Pantry and local agencies.
This results in free, healthy meals going to people who need them and a lot less good food ending up in a landfill. Talk about Win-Win.
In May RFR announced that they had officially recovered 100,000 lb of food – enough to feed around 27,750 people with three full meals.
The effects of their efforts are expanding far beyond NWA. Razorback Food Recovery was the first campus-based food recovery program in Arkansas and one of the first in the Southeastern Conference.
Now the RFR team has developed a food recovery model and training program to help other colleges and universities establish their own pantries and food recovery projects.
So far, this mentoring program has been implemented at Arkansas State University, Northwest Arkansas Community College, the University of Arkansas Little Rock, and Arkansas Tech University.
Yet RFR doesn’t see their work as done. Writing about this on Facebook, RFR said, “Arkansas and Mississippi are tied as the most food insecure states in our nation. Although we are no longer the highest in child hunger, we still have a long way to go.” Arkansas ranks second in the nation in hunger with 18.4% of Arkansas households considered food insecure. Washington County falls only just under that average with 17.2% food insecure households, or about 1 in every 6. But with RFR on the job, and your help, hunger will continue to decline right alongside campus food waste.
Food recovery initiatives like this are so important because they address both sides of the problems caused by waste. While most people understand that waste should be avoided because it eliminates the usefulness of a resource and wastes the energy put into the product’s production, few realize that unnecessary waste also often leads to impoverished populations. Simply put, wasteful living means less of a resource to go around which leads to some people having to do without.
Striving for a Zero Waste lifestyle is not only good for the environment, but the only truly socially responsible way to live.
The story of RFR teaches us another notable lesson:
RFR was started by a group of U of A students and staff who were just that – normal members of our campus community. The only thing that set them apart was that when they saw a problem in their community they took the initiative to solve it. While RFR started small, it is now impacting the whole state of Arkansas and may go on to change the food culture of campuses across our nation.
Razorback Food Recovery serves as a challenge and encouragement to take initiative when confronted with problems in our community.
It is time we step away from wishing things were different and instead take the steps necessary to make a change. Who knows what creative, game-changing solutions our campus might come up with if we only believe we can?
Have an idea but don’t know how to move forward? Email us at the OFS at firstname.lastname@example.org or stop by our office on Harmon Ave. and we will be happy to help!
Click here to volunteer with RFR.
Click here to learn about hunger in Arkansas.
Click here to read more about the connection between sustainability and social justice.