“I just cannot do it, policy will not let me, if it was my house I would say ‘sure come in, eat as much as you would like.’” Those were the words the kitchen manger of a banquet hall kept on repeating to Frank Chen regarding donating left over food. The left over food in question was two weeks ago from McMaster’s annual Student Recognition Night. At this ceremony, Frank was named the winner of the Rudy Heziel award for his work in founding nolunchmoney (see http://www.nolunchmoney.com/). The goal of nolunchmoney is to combat food waste at McMaster by converting perfectly edible food, that other wise would be thrown out, into meals for food insecure students. Merely 20 minutes after Frank accepted his Rudy Heizel award he was back at it trying to get the banquet manger to donate the left over food. Unfortunately, Frank’s efforts were unsuccessful and dozens of pounds of food were thrown out that evening.
I met Frank Chen before Student Recognition Night, but this is when I learned how serious he is about food waste. I could not believe my eyes when I saw him continuously pressing the kitchen manger to donate the left over food because while he was doing this, his fellow award winners were busy figuring out which after party they were going to attend first. This illustrates how relentless one must be when trying to mitigate hunger, as the numbers on food insecurity are staggering. For example, MacLean’s magazine did a study in 2016 and it found that 39% of Canadian post-secondary students are food insecure (http://www.macleans.ca/education/four-in-ten-university-students-lack-food-security-as-education-costs-skyrocket/) The findings at McMaster University are even more severe, as the McMaster Students Union (MSU) conducted a policy paper on food insecurity and it found that 55% of students “worried about running out of food with no money to purchase more.” How can students think critically, problem solve and get good grades if their thoughts are constantly being interrupted by hunger?
Nolunchmoney posts on Facebook about left over food events at McMaster for students who do not have access to food. From September 2016 to April 2017 nolunchmoney shared over 420 food events at McMaster. As we all know, donating free food will not solve food insecurity, as the more systemic issue of poverty causes the problem. However, we cannot let food continue to be thrown out at McMaster while students’ stomachs are growling.
In addition to this, food has the power to do special things. For example, one of the neatest experiences I have witnessed during my time at McMaster was two Wednesdays ago when Dave Heidebrecht, the manger of McMaster’s Office of Community Engagement, donated the left over food from his event to Frank and I. There were over 30 bagels, 20 muffins, 10 croissants, and two platters fruit. This food is not nutritionally sound, but these were calories that people and the planet sweated for and to simply thrown them out is an abomination. Instead, of the garbage bin this food became the lunch of 32 students. The special part is that this food brought students together, Frank and I watched in pure giddy excitement as students came to the room with smiles on their faces. Seeing students put their cellphones down and picking up conversations was quite the surreal experience. This event proved once again that food brings people together and that giving food away in a public space can importantly help remove the stigma and feelings of marginalization that food insecure students have to go through. Whether one is food insecure or not it should not matter, as we should not eat in isolation of each other. Rather, we should all break bread with one another and share in conversations about what food means for those of us who have it and for those who do not.
Food insecurity, like many wicked problems in this world, will not go away unless people take physical action. I have had the privilege to work with Frank to help nolunchmoney address food insecurity by working with Chris Roberts, the Director of McMaster’s Hospitality Services, on a food donation project. If you are a McMaster student, Hospitality Services may have a negative image to you, but Chris Roberts is a great proponent of not only exercising social corporate responsibility, but actually acting it out. Chris has taken a leadership role in helping Frank and I combat food insecurity, as he has contacted Hamilton’s Public Health Inspector about food donations and found that he is able to donate all of Hospitality Services’s left over baked goods. In addition to this, Chris has gone a step farther and offered to pay the rent of a room at McMaster for Mac Bread Bin, which is the campuses food bank. Finally, Chris wants to eventually donate all left over food from Hospitality Services, but to get the Public Health Inspector to allow for this we have to set up a system that demonstrates food safety rules are being followed.
Frank and I have been energized by the initiative Chris has taken on food security and it has pushed us further in to trying to reduce hunger at McMaster. Since meeting with Chris, Frank and I have established partnerships with: Dr. Stephanie Baker-Collins and Dr. Christina Moffat from McMaster Community Poverty Initiative; Taryn Aarssen from Student Wellness Centre; Taylor Martins the Director of Mac Bread Bin; Dave Heidebrecht the manager of community engagement; Kate Whalen the Senior Advisor of Academic Sustainability Programs and Justin Monaco-Barnes McMaster Student Union President. The really sweet cherry on top of this all-star cast is that Frank had a meeting last week with Dr. Patrick Deane, McMaster’s president and vice-chancellor, and he is actively engaged with the project too! Seeing all this number of faculty and staff being interested in engaging with us on this project is tremendously exciting, but it is an alarming indication that immediate action needs to be taken on food insecurity.
It is important to note that I writing this piece as a food secure student who has the privilege of meals that my mom cooks for me, thus I cannot fathom what it would be like to be at school and not be able to reach in my bag and grab homemade chili or eggplant parmesan. I read a story in MacLean’s Magazine about an Ontario University student’s food insecurity experience and at one point he “resorted to getting white bread from Dollarama and then getting margarine—which is expensive for me—and then pouring sugar on it, and I would sustain myself on that for a week, (McLeans, 2016). When I read that, I literally felt like putting my head through a desk, how could any human in Canada or anywhere else in the world have to eat such nutritionally hollow food when there is plenty of nutritious food for all? I was furious at myself for eating such lavish lunches and having no role in the cooking process. Ever since I read that article I realized that those who have been honored with being food secure simultaneously have the responsibility to as much effort as they can to help those who are in need of food.
This food donation project at McMaster has plenty of potential to go somewhere in addressing food insecurity, but it needs lots of help. If you are willing to be a part of it and contribute to reducing food insecurity at McMaster please email: firstname.lastname@example.org or myself at email@example.com. We need the passion and energy of McMaster students who refuse to abide by the status quo, but rather intend on creating a new one. University is predicated on being transformational, so if you’re a student who wants to transform our world for the better here is your chance!
P.S. all the food one eats when doing work on food insecurity not only tastes 10x better, but the calories do not count!
Adam Chiaravalle is a 4th year Political Science student at McMaster that is devoted believer of local food in Hamilton. Everything starts with food and this why it should be near and dear to our hearts.
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