Americans waste 40 percent of the food the country produces, costing over $218 billion annually. Yet, one in seven Americans is food insecure.
Anyone wondering what happens to food prepared at a restaurant or cafeteria that’s left over can learn the best way to take care of the problem from Graceland University students and Sodexo, the university’s food service provider. Now, unused food at the Commons finds its way over to the Memorial Student Center (MSC) on selected Saturdays at 7 p.m. with free meals available to students and the public.
According to faculty advisor Dr. Dan Platt, Assistant Professor of English and hands-on environmentalist, a core group of sustainable student enthusiasts, including interns Tabitha Watson and Kennedy Warner, discovered the Campus Kitchen Project last spring to address issues of hunger and food waste, and they enthusiastically spearheaded efforts to start one at Graceland.
The Campus Kitchens Project is a national program founded in 2001 currently on 65 campuses throughout the United States, and beginning with its first meals served last year, Graceland became Iowa’s first and only Campus Kitchen. Its purpose is to provide university and high school campuses across the country an opportunity to "transform unused food from dining halls, grocery stores, restaurants and farmers’ markets into meals for their community."
After gaining campus leadership support, the group prepared and submitted a required video presentation of their vision to apply for a grant from the organization’s national network. The process involved voting for the best. In a highly competitive contest, Graceland’s entry eventually placed second, winning $5,000 – one of three awarded funding.
Watson, a sophomore nursing major who plans to someday become a nurse midwife and who is also a baker in the Commons, describes her involvement as a passion for bridging community service with sustainable actions. “Students who participate in the program also receive credit for Graceland’s service program,” she said.
On Campus Kitchen Saturdays, Watson can be seen working in the Commons with volunteers to transfer leftover food from whatever is on Saturday evening’s menu to the MSC. She commented that, so far, there has always been enough food for students and community members who come.
Warner, who is a sophomore biology major with plans to become a pediatrician, talked about the significance of a sustainability program. She’s also a Saturday worker and emphasized that “it’s important to reuse whatever we can and be mindful of the decisions that we make.”
All three praised Graceland Sodexo’s Dining Director, Jeremy O’Neal, and his support for not only helping with the development of the project but also with its ongoing success. To that end, O’Neal, who came to Graceland recently with over 20 years of experience as an executive chef and dining manager said, “I see it as a priority to not only prepare meals for students of Graceland but to be a partner to the Lamoni community. I love being a part of any initiative to combat food insecurity, and Campus Kitchens is a great step in that process.”
The Campus Kitchen Project is more than a free meal. It’s a total community program – not just for students or the food insecure. It’s open to everyone. Graceland University has a history of service and integrating local residents and students. This is another way to continue that rich tradition.
“We look at this as an opportunity for students and the community to come together,” Platt said. “It’s a great way to develop cross-fertilization between Lamoni residents and Graceland University students.” He also reminded those who attend to feel free to bring containers to take any “leftover … leftovers” home with them.
The goal is for weekly Campus Kitchen Saturdays but, for now, the schedule will be posted as they occur. The next one is this Saturday, Nov. 17, at 7 p.m. “Come, join us, and hang out, have a meal, and mingle,” Platt said.