When UB grad student Matt Taboni started working at a local bakery in the summer of 2020, he realized how much food was wasted when he cut off the tops of cakes and threw them away. in the garbage. There was no proper system for storing leftovers and donating them to local pantries.
This experience of food waste has never left him. Now, Taboni is leading a grassroots effort to improve food accessibility and consistency in UB and city neighborhoods.
Taboni, a freshman in the JD/MBA program, took the initiative by helping to found and run UB’s food pantry, Blue Table, while an undergrad at UB. In November 2020, he reached out to UB Sustainability to open an on-campus chapter of the Food Recovery Network (FRN), a national, student-led organization that fights food insecurity by recovering perishable meals that would otherwise go to waste.
“I love every minute of what I do at the Food Recovery Network,” says Taboni. “It’s so exciting to really make an impact on my campus.”
In September 2020, as part of his research for FRN and his on-campus work as a Zero Waste Graduate Assistant for UB Sustainability, Taboni conducted a food audit at Crossroads Culinary Center (C3) and Governors Dining Hall to measure the amount of students wasting food. produce every night. After weighing the plate and line waste, he found that C3, with an average of 1,200 students per night, produced 292 pounds of plate and line waste. Governors, with an average of 550 students per night, produced 91 books.
The Food Recovery Network now collects food from the line at C3 that is not served to redistribute it to its partner, the Response to Love Center, a food pantry and catering site on Buffalo’s East Side. FRN has made 33 recoveries since April 2021, which amounted to 2,600 pounds of food. Taboni expects to harvest 5,000 tons by the end of the semester.
“UB food allows us to provide a wide range of choices for our customers and bring compassion and dignity to a population that doesn’t always get those things,” says Mike Gilhooly, associate director of the Response to Love Center. “Thank you, UB and FRN, for your efforts. They do not go unnoticed. »
Taboni hopes that FRN practices can be integrated to become an integral part of Campus Dining and Shops composting and food recycling practices. Currently, UB composts food waste to comply with the New York State Food Donation and Food Scraps Recycling Act, which requires institutions that generate an annual average of two tons or more of wasted food. per week to donate or recycle excess edible food.
Taboni says the Food Recovery Network is overwhelmed with the amount of food it has been able to collect from C3 and would like to partner more with nonprofits in the area. He plans to expand the operation to other dining venues on campus once new partnerships are established.
However, he hits a snag in his pursuit: there are only a few pantries in the area serving hot meals, and the food scavenged from UB’s restaurants isn’t stable. Taboni plans to allow shelf-stable food donations in the future to meet the needs of other institutions.
“One thing I love about the Food Recovery Network is that it allows us to engage with off-campus institutions, such as our nonprofit partners,” says Taboni. “The long-term plan is to create these relationships between students and these organizations for volunteering or internship opportunities.”
The Food Recovery Network’s mission goes beyond the food recovery process. The group also wants to turn its volunteers into leaders. Taboni plans to send Food Recovery Network volunteers to partner organizations to help serve food so they can witness how their work directly feeds those in need. The network also offers incentives, such as food-shaped soft enamel pins to motivate and reward exceptional service.
Anyone interested in volunteering with the Food Recovery Network or donating food can contact Taboni.