Great things are happening in Northeast Iowa! Luther College in Decorah, Iowa is a core partner of the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness and is also dedicated to increasing access to healthy, locally grown food in our region. Through the students and faculty, Luther tries to be a model of healthy living and intentional eating. However, feeding the hungry Norse army is a lofty task. The only way to do it is to make more than enough food. But what happens to the leftovers? Re-serve or compost what you can, but throw away the rest?
That was the case back when I, as a Luther student, did work study with dining services. My least favorite job in the kitchen was pan-washing. Leftovers came to me at the end of the night, still in their pans. I threw away full containers of good food, and flushed more down that industrial garbage disposal than I care to think about. I asked back then, and there was no way around it. Students rejected re-served food, so the only available viable place to send leftovers was to dumpster. Surely, there had to be a better way!
Now there is.
In the fall of 2013, Luther College implemented its Cafeteria to Community program. Twice a week, student workers and community volunteers pack up the leftover food items for delivery to the First Lutheran Church food pantry in Decorah. Donations include soup, main entrees, homemade pasta sauce, vegetables, salads and more! Workers make sure good food goes to those in the area who need it. So far, over one ton of food has been donated (Specifically, 2200-2300 lbs. as of 1/27/2013).
In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I and the other AmeriCorps members serving with FFI volunteered our time and energy to this project. We have signed on to spend the evening scooping, packing, counting, and labeling the donations for one night each month, until the end of our service term. On top of that, we continue to use our extended reach throughout the region to raise awareness and volunteer support for this project.
This opportunity is a meaningful way to affect change in the food system. Supplying the recipients with good food gives them the freedom to shop smarter, hopefully purchasing more nutritious calories with their food dollars. It also challenges the greater community to take note of food waste. We know that a strong food system doesn’t end at the plate; we must keep making mindful decisions concerning waste as well. That can mean starting a family compost collection, preparing less food, or finding an appropriate second life for leftovers. The Cafeteria to Community Program models this wonderful idea of reducing and reusing. I am proud to lend my support to such a noble project and to have watched my alma mater make such an impressive and much-needed change.