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The Growing Movement to Teach and Inspire Youth to Change the Food System

At WasteExpo, experts will explain how children can help change the foodservice system paradigm on a large scale in order to cut waste.

There is a fairly new, growing movement to get children to take the lead in figuring out how to keep food out of the trash. It’s happening in campus dining halls, classrooms and students’ communities. And now, a national arts organization is launching a program to get future chefs to help change the foodservice system paradigm on a large scale in order to cut waste.

These initiatives, what’s driving them and ultimate goals will be discussed at a WasteExpo session titled “Youth Engagement in Food Recovery for a More Sustainable Food System: Strategies and Opportunities,” held Tuesday, April 25 from 9:00 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. in Las Vegas. Presenting will be Regina Northouse of the Food Recovery Network, Jonathan Deutsch of Drexel University and Kris Moon of the James Beard Foundation.

Working with culinary students, Drexel University is making new products out of would-be food waste.

“We are working with food companies, startups and nonprofits to see what’s going into compost or the waste stream and how to minimize that. We are also figuring out how to develop food products that are healthy, delicious and cost neutral or revenue positive,” says Deutsch.

He believes culinary schools can make inroads by tapping into students’ enthusiasm as they start their careers, teaching them how to do fine cuisine in a sustainable way.

“Rather than follow recipes, students are solving real-world problems. They are thinking through challenges and about developing and scaling these products,” he says.

Drexel is also partnering with the James Beard Foundation on a curriculum to train culinary instructors on how to teach practical ways to prevent and minimize food waste. He thinks it will catch on.

“Through this James Beard curriculum, I will be training 500 instructors in the first year. Each of them may have 20 to a few hundred students a year. I think we will be seeing more and more schools doing this,” says Deutsch.

Food Recovery Network is enlisting students both nationally and locally. With chapters around the country, it trains youth on food safety and gives them criteria to find matching nonprofits to receive food.

“Through a national presence, we have power and a voice as one collective, but we provide resources to all our chapters because needs vary by region,” says Northouse. “This allows students to get to know their communities. This is about knowing people by name and understanding the struggles of those who go to kitchens, shelters and after-school programs.”

Students form meaningful relationships with dining service providers, too.

“Dining staff spend their full day making food. Can you imagine at the end of that day telling them ‘thanks for doing this. Now, just throw it away?’ Now, students can work directly with them and say ‘thanks for your help,’” says Northouse.

When things go well, Food Recovery Network can help dining halls understand what their population is consuming and change their practices to not overproduce, comments Northouse. These dining halls can predict what they need to prepare for a meal and then have a structure to donate what’s left if there are leftovers.

Meanwhile, students are developing multiple skills.

“They are in every job sector, whether it’s food recovery or architecture or they plan to work on Wall Street. What we’ve seen in our surveys is food recovery work improves their ability to communicate with leaders in general,” says Northouse.

The James Beard Foundation engages the culinary community in sustainable food issues like childhood nutrition and food waste reduction.

“With food waste, one untapped area is culinary schools across the country,” says Moon.We started to work on a program with the Rockefeller Foundation where the end target is culinary school students, and we decided the best way to reach most people was a train the trainer model to prepare culinary instructors with resources they could take to class around food waste.”

James Beard and its partners are building an online platform and will introduce the curriculum this June. The online platform will be available publicly and free to instructors this fall.

“Changing the curriculum in culinary schools is challenging, propriety and bureaucratic because each learning institution is its own entity,” says Moon. “Currently, there is no way to standardize the curriculum across institutions, and it would be labor intensive to try. Through this curriculum, we can provide assets to schools, and, hopefully, they will be inspired to bring it into their classes.”

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