In your opinion, why is sustainability important and what are some of the aspects of sustainability that you are most interested in?
I think sustainability should be an integral aspect of our lives simply because the availability of resources depends on it. I’m a firm believer that we all share a responsibility in being stewards of the environment and implementing better practices into our lives to help alleviate anthropogenic stress on the environment. Many aspects of sustainability interest me, but I am most passionate about food waste. There is an increasing dialogue about food production and consumption, both of which concern environmental health, but I think food waste naturally comes as an afterthought even though it too can have detrimental environmental effects. However, what is exciting to me about food waste is that there are many different solutions, from source reduction to recovery to compost, that all have the capacity to have great positive impacts on the environment.
Could you talk about the problems of food waste/ food insecurity and how Food Recovery Network (FRN) helps solve it?
Food is wasted at all levels of food production on a global scale, but Food Recovery Network works to eliminate food waste at the pre-consumer level. On campus, this refers to food prepared at dining halls that did not get served or food prepared by vendors at the Farmer’s Market that did not get sold. Without a recovery program in place, this food is typically thrown out at the end of the day unless it can be repurposed into a meal the next day. However, the majority of the food thrown out is still perfectly good for human consumption, but perhaps does not meet the chef’s standards to cook with. Our chapter of Food Recovery Network has established relationships with Housing*Dining*Hospitality (HDH) and the Faculty Club, as well as the Farmer’s Market vendors, so that we can instead recover that food before it goes into the waste stream. It is important to recover food before it goes into the waste stream because if it ends up in the landfill it produces methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and even if it is composted all of the energy that went into growing, packaging, and transporting the food was used for no reason.
The second part of FRN’s mission is to link the problem of food waste to a solution for food insecurity. With this recovered food, we are able to provide resources to the food insecure community of San Diego. Food insecurity affects 12% of the population of San Diego County as well as many students on campus. Since our start, FRN has partnered with Urban Street Angels, a transitional youth homeless shelter in North Park that provides emergency overnight shelters for people ages 18 to 25. By delivering food recovered from the dining halls, Faculty Club, and Farmer’s Market, we provide roughly 150 meals per week for the homeless youth community at USA. Starting this quarter, we will also be able to provide meals for students with food from the Farmer’s Market and Faculty Club. These meals will go to students facing food insecurity who may or may not qualify for CalFresh or other food assistance programs.
What do you do as an EcoNaut and what are some things you hope to accomplish through this role?
As an EcoNaut, I work with resident advisors (RAs) to help educate residents about campus sustainability efforts and how they can incorporate sustainability into their lives in ways they perhaps had not thought of before. My goal in talking to residents is to show them concrete steps they can take to help solve different environmental issues. The programming that the EcoNauts bring to RA events is great in that it informs residents of a variety of issues facing the environment in an interactive, informal setting, but I know that learning about these problems can sometimes feel overwhelming and hopeless. To me, the most important part of our programming is ensuring that when residents leave an event they feel like they have new knowledge and tools to help fix a problem rather than feeling doomed now that they know more about it.