Sustainable Food Conference with Patel College

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On October 22, more than 70 people gathered at the Patel Center to participate in a conference aimed at addressing hunger issues on the local level.

With a focus of turning solutions into action, the Tampa Bay Network to End Hunger's (TBNEH) 4th Annual Food Conference with the USF Patel College of Global Sustainability drew a wide range of stakeholders including students, professors, non-profits, government employees and concerned citizens.

"We are here today to collaborate on a very important mission – ending hunger in the 21st century," said Richard Berman, Director of the Patel College of Global Sustainability (PCGS). "At Patel College, we believe that ending hunger is a key component to creating a sustainable society. This summer we had students conducting research internships looking at sustainable agriculture practices in Belize and food waste education in Peru. We are proud to contribute our resources and expertise to study and address hunger on both the local and global level. As a first step towards action, PCGS is proud to announce the development of 8 new graduate certificate programs and 2 new M.A. program concentrations including food sustainability and security."

Coordinated by the TBNEH, PCGS, and the USF Office of Community Engagement and Partnerships, the conference featured presentations on diverse initiates and community projects that address hunger such as prescribing food as medicine, recovering wasted food, and the development of a hunger map application.

Meals on Wheels of Tampa, Feeding Tampa Bay, Chouinard's Cuisine joined the conference as exhibitors, offering fun and interactive displays of their meals and services. Meals on Wheels treated the participants to a box lunch, serving the same meals going out to homes that day.

Andrew Chouinard, owner and chef of Chouinard Cuisine catering company, served a gourmet meal of lamb drizzled with roasted red pepper cream sauce, pan-seared vegetable rosemary casserole, and a flatbread pizza topped with artichoke, olives, and parmesan cheese – all made from recovered food donated from three different sources in Tampa Bay.

Food recovery is the practice of diverting edible food from waste bins and into hungry stomachs. Chouinard Cuisine does this by accepting donated food from organizations like restaurants, grocery stores, and churches and upcycling the food in a creative and delicious meal. For instance, a grocery store might receive 1000 pounds of tomatoes and choose to discard 100 pounds of perfectly edible but ugly, bruised tomatoes. Usually the produce would be thrown in the trash, but by recovering the food, organizations like Chouinard Cuisine can incorporate the tomatoes into a healthy meal to feed hungry families instead.

"There is a stigma with recovered food," Andrew Chouinard acknowledged. "But recovered food is really very safe. All recovered food is reheated by an experienced chef to a temperature of at least 165 degrees, ensuring there is no bacteria contamination. This is already a common practice in countries like France that mandates all unsold but edible food in grocery stores is donated to feed the poor."

The Patel College hosted a popular breakout session focusing on innovative approaches to addressing hunger and poverty.

PCGS student Ericka Leigh McThenia's presentation on "Implementing More School Gardens and Teaching Waste as a Resource to Achieve Food Security" focused on lessons learned from her capstone research internship with the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization. PCGS student Steffanie Agerkop's presentation, entitled "Time to Grow Up! Innovative Vertical Agritechture to Nurture our Communities and Planet" explored the benefits of vertical urban gardens and farms. PCGS alumna Eve Spengler's presentation "Food Waste Recycling: Why Organics Do Not Below in our Waste Stream" proposed that food waste should be composted into rich soil rather than left to discompose in dumpsters.

The conference ended with an inspiring keynote address from Brenda Koester, Assistant Director of the Office of Family Resiliency at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.