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Students recover 1,000 pounds of leftover food from Stanford Stadium concessions

Stanford Food Recovery partners with local organizations to feed 800 meals to East Palo Alto community members

(Photo courtesy of Kana Cummings)

Stanford’s football team wasn’t the only group to take home a win on Oct. 5 — Stanford Food Recovery (SFR) held up its own victory by recovering more than 1,000 pounds of unsold food items from the stadium thanks to a handful of volunteers.

Right after the game, roughly 10 SFR members helped bring the 800-meals-worth of food to a delivery truck, which then carried meals to the Ecumenical Hunger Program in East Palo Alto.

“I don’t think anyone is thinking about waste when they watch the game,” said SFR member Allan Lopez ’23. “And it’s not their fault — it’s kind of hidden. I was really in shock of how much food there was left over.” 

But the food waste extends beyond football games here at Stanford, according to SFR co-president Kana Cummings ’21. SFR — which began at the University as the Stanford Project On Hunger (SPOON) in the ’70s but has been rebranded and revitalized recently — also does food pickups at other athletic matches and at large campus events like Stanford Splash! and the First-Generation Low Income (FLI) Conference. 

The group is working toward developing a system, potentially through the CardinalSync registration process, where individual student organizations can alert SFR ahead of an event so that members can recover leftovers at the event’s completion. Cummings hopes that this process will allow more students to be involved in food sustainability at Stanford.

“A lot of students are aware of the issues, but they don’t know the next steps,” Cummings said. “They don’t know where to start.”

Student involvement has expanded thanks to partnerships with local organizations, according to co-president Ryan Treves ’21. One of these organizations, A La Carte, launched last year as a pilot program between Stanford and Joint Venture Silicon Valley, a local nonprofit which analyzes the impact of local public- and private-sector projects. The goal of the pilot was to develop a protocol for food recovery, salvaging food from campus that has been held at appropriate temperatures. To accomplish this, A La Carte developed a refrigerated food truck that takes leftover, safe food from venues and delivers it directly to neighborhoods in need. 

“SFR had been working at a few locations and doing the best they could, as students, but it’s a daunting task and there are a lot of logistics,” said Silicon Valley Food Rescue Initiative (through Joint Venture) Executive Director Robin Martin. “We had the infrastructure to help amplify what they were trying to do.” 

The truck delivers to high-poverty impact zones in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, including community centers, senior centers and elementary schools. Hungry clients can approach the truck window and order from a list of healthy options. 

This June, the successful pilot project was integrated as a program under Loaves and Fishes, a Bay Area organization that has been working to serve those in need for nearly four decades. Now, A La Carte has several trucks collecting prepared food from corporate and university campuses. 

“We were happy to be a part of this effort to connect, not only the dots, but the relationships between the university, the community, Joint Venture and Loaves and Fishes — all sharing the common goal of making sure our neighbors in need are being taken care of,” said Loaves and Fishes CEO Gisela Bushey.

Since acquiring A La Carte, Loaves and Fishes’ meal services have doubled, now serving 100,000 meals per month, according to Bushey. The organization predicts it will provide over 1 million meals by the end of the year. 

The partnership with Loaves and Fishes is especially important as it delivers high-quality, nutritious meals in areas that often can’t afford to eat healthy, Martin said. According to Bushey, one-third of the clientele are children.

“I could cite all day the impact [of] not having a consistent source of healthy nutrition on learning, concentration, productivity and overall mental and physical health,” Bushey said. “But here’s the reality: For the vast majority of the people we serve, the meal they get from us is the only meal they’re getting that day. If we weren’t able to provide this food, these folks would go to bed not knowing where their next meal is coming from.”

The A La Carte food truck also partners with Stanford’s Residential and Dining Enterprises (R&DE) Sustainable Food Program to recover leftover prepared food from dining halls. The truck visits campus six days per week, according to Bushey. 

SFR members Treves and Lopez cited dining halls as a primary problem area when it comes to food waste on campus because students generally take more than they need. To curb this dining hall waste, R&DE promotes sustainable operations including trayless dining, composting and food donation. Stanford aims to reach its zero-waste goal by 2030. 

R&DE did not respond to The Daily’s request for comment in time for publication.

Part of the problem, Treves continued, is the disconnect between life at Stanford and the issue of food waste as a whole. He said students learn about the issues in classes and at events but don’t apply them to their everyday life. 

“There’s this idea that ‘I’m just getting something at TAP and that’s not connected,’” Treves said. “When in reality, Stanford is within the mesh of our local community, and there are people on campus, and right off campus, who aren’t food secure.” 

As Treves points out, food insecurity is also impacting students on campus, but a pilot program in collaboration with R&DE, the Graduate Student Council (GSC), Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) and Stanford Solidarity Network (SSN) aims to combat this. The program, called the Second Harvest of Silicon Valley food bank, allows self-identifying food-insecure students the opportunity to receive food. 

Though the issue of food waste may seem all-encompassing, Lopez is hopeful that student engagement can bolster change. 

“This is something so simple to do and there’s a tangible effect,” he said. “This could literally feed families — just because I can’t see them doesn’t mean it’s not as important.”

Contact Sabrina Medler at smedler ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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