Tufts Dining to begin pilot food donation program after ExCollege class petition

Tufts Dining Services will start a pilot initiative, “Food 4 Free,” to donate leftover food from dining halls to a local agency beginning in January. The program follows a petition signed by almost 250 people calling for the “rescue and redistribution of Tufts’ unused food.”

The Change.org petition was created about four weeks ago by students enrolled in “EXP 46: Philanthropy, Nonprofits, and Community,” a fall Experimental College class, and was addressed to Tufts University Dining Services (TUDS) as part of a service project in the course.

The online petition asks TUDS to implement food rescue programs so that uneaten food is not wasted and can be donated to those who need it. The petition also asks Tufts to purchase a blast freezer to ensure that the food does not spoil while in transit to food rescue programs.

“Universities across the country have implemented food rescue programs in their dining halls to ensure that the food students don’t eat can be eaten by those who go hungry,” the petition stated. “It is time for Tufts to do the same.”

Director of Dining and Business Services Patti Klos said TUDS is currently collecting information about what food from Tufts can be redistributed and what that process looks like.

“Dining set a goal this year to identify food that can be donated to area agencies that redistribute food to those who are hungry,” Klos said. “We have met with a local agency to learn more about how they work, and have had conversations with our peers at Harvard [University Dining Services] to learn how they have successfully repurposed food. We are now collecting data on food that is left at the end of each day that would qualify to be donated.”

TUDS’ goal of food redistribution aligns with that of the students in EXP 46, she said.

Nancy Lippe, the instructor of EXP 46, said that students in her class spearheaded the petition.

“Students have spent the semester studying effective characteristics of philanthropy and nonprofits,” Lippe told the Daily in an email. “One of the students suggested the class focus on food waste and how addressing food waste on the Tufts side can help address food insecurity in the Tufts extended communities.”

Sophomore Maya Pace, the project’s outreach coordinator who drafted the petition, said the students in the class started discussing food waste, which seemed to be an issue that everyone was passionate about.

“One day we had a big brainstorming session where we collectively discussed issues that were important to us as a class,” Pace said. “During this time, we landed on food waste and ran with it. We decided to address this issue within the Tufts community because Tufts didn’t have a food rescue system in place and we felt that making change in our community would be interesting and impactful.”

Lippe, who is also the program director of Musketaquid Arts & Environment at The Umbrella Community Arts Center, said she plays a minimal role in the service project and allows the students to take control.

“[The] purpose of the project is the for the students to take ownership of a project from start to finish, to better understand the challenges of [the] work nonprofits do,” she said.

Students in the class approached the problem by analyzing both Tufts students’ personal food waste and the university’s response data on composting, she said.

“We were concerned about two sides of the food waste issue,” Pace said. “The average college student wastes around 142 pounds of food per year, and in the all-you-can-eat dining halls, taking more than you need is so easy. We wanted to encourage students to take note of their own participation in this trend and to try to reduce personal food waste.”

According to Pace, the university composts about 212 tons of food per year. The class felt that many food insecure families in the region would be able to make use of the food that is still sanitary and edible if it were redistributed.

“We learned during this process that Tufts does not have a food rescue system to take the reusable food from Tufts and give it to food-insecure families or individuals,” she said. “We were hoping to encourage the reduction of individual food waste so that there would be more reusable food that had the potential to be redistributed once Tufts implemented a food rescue system, and to also bring attention to Tufts’ lack of a food rescue system.”

Klos explained that out of the 212 tons of food that TUDS composts annually, at least a third of the food is non-edible and that soiled napkins play a role in increasing the figure. She also said that students should do their part to waste less food.

“Until recently, [TUDS] placed soiled napkins in with food waste from trays in the dining centers, and ran it through our pulping equipment, which grinds it up and removes much of the water waste,” she said. “A recent study revealed that napkins increase in weight by 40 percent by being processed through the pulpers. We now separate napkins to prevent them from going into the pulping equipment, and expect to see a decrease in the weight of the compost we generate as a result.”

According to Pace, the group of students is currently in contact with Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate to turn the petition into a Senate resolution.

Klos is receptive to student feedback and said that TUDS regularly evaluates its production methods so that food waste can be minimized.

“I am glad to hear that students care as much as we do about this issue,” she said. “At Dining, we track how much food we procure, prepare and place in service to our customers, so that we can produce/make available only what is actually needed. We regularly evaluate our production methods and provide training for our staff to make sure we’re not overcooking food, keeping it fresh and appetizing, to minimize waste.”