Share Meals and NYU Freedge: When NYU Students Creatively Turn Food Waste Into Food Opportunity
With the rise of college tuition and the high cost of expenses such as housing, books, and transportation, food insecurity has become a concern for some college students. A recent survey at University of California unveiled that 40% of UC students do not have a stable source of high-quality, nutritious food. Yet, every year, 22 million pounds of food go to waste on college campuses according to estimates by the Food Recovery Network. Passionate and socially minded students at US colleges have developed several projects to reduce food waste by repurposing uneaten food and donating it to people in need — within and beyond campus. At New York University, two student-led projects, Share Meals and NYU Freedge, aim to develop community-centered solutions to turn food waste into food opportunities for students.
Share Meals is a digital platform that connects hungry students with students who have extra meal swipes in their meal plans. Originally called NYU Meals Swipe, Share Meals was started in 2013 by Jon Chin, an NYU graduate student and a current finalist for the 2017 Clinton Hunger Leadership award. Jon explains:
“I had read a series of anonymous posts on social media about students not being able to afford food. One student had just 60 cents a meal for 2 weeks. Often times, students prioritize costs like rent, tuition, textbooks, and medicine over food. Meanwhile, millions of dollars worth of food is left uneaten or unredeemed every semester, so Share Meals is rebalancing the system.”
The team is made up of a combination of undergraduates, graduates and alumni across several NYU schools: Jon Chin, Earl Co, Darien Cheng, Jimmy Kim, and Vishnu Bachani. Today, students at Stuyvesant High School as well as Columbia and Bucknell University are starting chapters on their own campuses, and Share Meals has recently been selected as one of the semi-finalists of the $300K Entrepreneurs Challenge at NYU, a startup competition run by NYU Stern. The Share Meals team looks forward to establishing a national nonprofit to reach more students and support the organization’s financial growth.
NYU Freedge, originally called Project Avocado, is an initiative that aims to reduce food insecurity and food waste on NYU’s campus. The goal is with the installation of smart public refrigerators to foster community engagement and trust, and create a social movement around food sharing. Sushma Colanukuduru, an NYU alum, started the project in the spring of 2015 as part of Design for America of NYU. The team recently partnered with Freedge, a soon-to-be nonprofit at University of California Davis that aims to install community refrigerators around the world. NYU Freedge will install the first Freedge at NYU Tandon, which will be the first Freedge on the East Coast. Emma Hoffman, co-lead of the project, explains:
“Wasting consumable food is a large scale issue on campuses and so is student hunger. Most events on campus serve food and sadly, a lot of it ends up in the trash. What if there was a way to get it to members of our community who need it most? And it the same time provide a space where individuals could share their extra food that might have otherwise gone bad.”
The NYU Freedge team is made up of undergraduate and graduate students from NYU Tandon and NYU Gallatin: Michael Niamehr, Vandit Maheshwari, Tuba Naziruddin, Simon Chen, with Rodney Lobo and Emma Hoffman. In the fall of 2016, the team was awarded the NYU Prototyping Fund.
The Share Meals and NYU Freedge teams describe their efforts as complementary and have been collaborating since the start. So far, feedback on both projects has been extremely positive. Both teams are thankful for the support they have received from the University administration and departments including Dining Services, Student Affairs, NYU Tandon Facilities, and MakerSpace — particularly in the context of NYU’s affordability initiative. As Emma Hoffman reminds us: “What better way to tackle food insecurity than to redistribute surplus to shortage?” If colleges are where food insecurity and food waste meet, turning food waste into food opportunities is definitely both effective and socially minded. Such efforts might also end up saving university resources and money to support other affordability initiatives.
Anne-Laure Fayard is Associate Professor at NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering, an affiliate faculty at NYU Stern Business School, and member of the Affordability Working Group.