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Food Recovery Network

Alex Carr and Kevin Uth each joined Ohio State’s Food Recovery Network to help attack issues that face our community every day: hunger, food waste and sustainability.

During COVID-19 those issues certainly haven’t disappeared. And although they’ve had to work smarter and harder this year, the Food Recovery Network hasn’t disappeared either. In fact, the club and its aspirations have expanded this fall.

“It’s put a lot of responsibility on our volunteers to keep our mission going this year, but we didn’t want to stop during COVID-19 because a lot of people are experiencing even higher levels of food insecurity and hunger than ever before,” said Carr, the Food Recovery Network president and a senior mechanical engineering major.

The Food Recovery Network at Ohio State is a chapter of a national nonprofit organization that unites students at colleges and universities to fight food waste and hunger. Ohio State’s organization does that every day, collecting excess food from Ohio State’s dining halls — such as prepackaged meals, sandwiches, salads and fruit cups — and delivering it to food pantries and shelters around Columbus.

“When you work for an organization like this one, you’re making an immediate impact on issues that need to be solved right now,” said Uth, the student organization’s vice president and a junior mechanical engineering major. “That’s why I joined, to make that immediate impact on people’s lives.”  

Any food that can’t be taken, such as bagels or other bread products that will go stale, the group finds creative ways to keep it out of landfills. It’s either composted on campus or used in creative food upcycling products.

For instance, last year they partnered with Seventh Son Brewery in Columbus to make a bagel beer out of excess bagels. Similarly, they’re currently working another student organization, Know Food Waste, the Food Science Department and Ohio State’s Dining Services to create bagel chips.

“It’s something we’re really excited about because it does speak to the collaborative and community engagement aspect of our group,” Carr said. “We want to partner with other sustainability organizations around campus, introduce them to our club and introduce our members to sustainability efforts around Ohio State to open up more collaboration.”

The club is able to expand its efforts this year more than ever because membership doubled after the Involvement Fair with 40-plus new members joining in August. That’s allowed the Food Recovery Network members to begin training younger members to do the daily pickups. The group also has done more virtual engagements and meetings than ever before. And similar to collaborative efforts around campus, the group has begun looking at opportunities outside of Ohio State to help combat hunger and food waste, such as helping farmers with excess food due to COVID-19 and feed communities in need. 

“There’s no limit to what we can do,” Uth said. “All it takes is the effort and involvement to increase the scale of what’s happening. We’re looking at more ways to expand and feed more people — and that excites me because there are so many more who need help.”

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