U, students partner to recover leftover food from dining halls for donation

The student group collected 4,200 pounds of food to donate last semester.

Will Bergstrom collects unused food from the Blegen Hall Subway on Friday, Feb. 28. Every Friday, the Subway location donates their unused food that would otherwise be thrown away.

Andy Kosier

Will Bergstrom collects unused food from the Blegen Hall Subway on Friday, Feb. 28. Every Friday, the Subway location donates their unused food that would otherwise be thrown away.

Abbey Machtig

In collaboration with a local nonprofit organization and a University of Minnesota student group, M Dining will donate uneaten food from various residential and on-campus locations ahead of spring break.

Throughout the past several years, M Dining has taken part in food rescue initiatives in collaboration with the student group Food Recovery Network UMN in an effort to promote sustainability and combat food waste. During fall semester, rescues occurred on a weekly basis and totaled to 4,200 pounds of donated food. As dining locations on campus prepare to close for spring break, another large food donation will take place. 

“Food insecurity, it is an issue in the Twin Cities. It’s something that kind of every large city in the U.S. is dealing with to some degree,” said Austin Johnson, the M Dining Sustainability Manager. “We have very similar goals as the University does when it comes to sustainability. We know that it’s important to collaborate and there’s some things we can’t do on our own … So that collaboration is really important, and students are a big factor in that.”

As part of the program, food is collected from dining halls, restaurants on campus and other catered events. A variety of food is donated, including both perishable and non-perishable items, to local nonprofit organizations like Loaves and Fishes, which provides meals and food services to people in the Minneapolis and St. Paul area.

“We serve about 3,500 meals a day across 32 locations around Minneapolis and St. Paul. So that’s where the food that we get from the University of Minnesota goes to. What we are is the resource for them to essentially bring the food to and help them get it to a plate,” said Kiley Benson, the volunteer coordinator for Loaves and Fishes.

Students involved in Food Recovery Network UMN facilitate the bagging, freezing and transportation of food to distribution centers around the area.

“Our biggest [food donation] is all of the food that can’t be saved over winter, spring or summer break. It’s tons of produce, dairy, eggs, things like that. What we do is just go to every dining hall and load it up onto whatever we can [vehicles to transport the food],” said William Bergstrom, president of Food Recovery Network UMN.  

Although the program is beneficial to both M Dining and local meal distribution centers, the surplus of food on campus indicates the need to further streamline the preparation process, said Chris Elrod, a spokesperson for M Dining.

“The goal in the beginning is to have no food waste. When there are perishable items that are left over break, obviously that’s where this program comes into play. But our ultimate goal is for there to be no surplus food,” Elrod said. “And when there is we’re excited and happy to partner with Food Recovery Network in rescuing that food and making sure that individuals who may not have access to it are certainly able to benefit from it.”

The use of annual student surveys helped M Dining discover the sustainability causes they felt were important to them. The results showed that 86% of students indicated that they were either involved in or supported environment causes, with recycling, the incorporation of reusable items and the donation of surplus food appearing as the top areas of interest.

“Overall having students that are passionate, they’re the ones that kind of drive a lot of what we do for sustainability, like the surveys,” Johnson said. “We’re here to provide a service for the students and if the students are passionate, and they’re the ones driving it, it makes it a lot easier on our end.”