Photo Credit Jan Garrison
Leftovers turned into frozen dinners
January 30, 2018

Cutting food waste at Culver Academies has been a constant struggle. Several attempts to make use of the wasted and leftover food have not provided the desired results. But a new plan’s initial success has proven so popular that it is drawing attention of people inside the food service industry and beyond.

Developed by Charles Mahoney ’18 (Cumming, Georgia), Sustainability Director Chris Kline ’82, and Food Service Director Lee Wilhite, the program not only provides an avenue for Culver to cut its food waste significantly, it also provides meals for the elderly and needy families in the community.

Culver is now repackaging its leftover food, freezing it, and then providing it to three different agencies for distribution to elderly – especially the lower income elderly – in the area. Since its official kickoff last week, the program has already repackaged nearly 750 meals that can be reheated. The meals include a main dish and two sides. The menu has included baked ziti, chicken-and-noodles, and turkey tetrazzini. Chef Amy Collins also whipped up a Mexican-style casserole using leftover taco meat.

The leftover food is untouched surplus in serving trays. It can be reheated and served one time to students. In the past, that food would be thrown out after that. The new program, though, has student waiters filling the food containers and using a heat-sealer to secure a plastic cover on it. A label detailing what is in the meal and reheating instructions is then placed on it.

The dinners are then placed in Culver’s walk-in freezers in the Lay Dining Hall and the Orthwein Dining Hall at Woodcraft Camp until they are delivered by the dining hall staff twice a week to the participating agencies: Culver Meals on Wheels, the Culver Food Pantry, and Forest Place, an elderly retirement community. Each person receiving a lunch through the Culver Meals on Wheels program is now receiving one of the frozen meals for dinner. Since they are frozen, the meals are good for up to six months.

In less than two weeks, the program has already generated stories in the local newspapers, been featured on a South Bend television, and drawn the interest of food industry publications.

Mahoney, a Huffington Scholar, said he studied the food security issue in Tanzania as part of his work for the World Food Prize youth summit in Des Moines, Iowa. For his senior service practicum, he wanted to develop a program closer to home. Culver’s program is similar to one at Tufts University. It has been developed with assistance from nutritionist Tracy Fox, Marshall County Extension Educator Karen Richey, and the Marshall County Food Policy Council to ensure that food safety issues are met.

The equipment was donated by Oliver Manufacturing, Grand Rapids, Michigan, with the understanding that the materials would be purchased from the company. Kline said it costs approximately 30 cents per meal for the containers. Mahoney also established the system for evening waiters and other student volunteers to assemble the meals five days a week after supper. The meals are delivered by community volunteers.

Mahoney’s initial research and trip to the World Food Prize was part of his AP World class project. The World Food Prize was founded in 1986 by Norman Borlaug, who received the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for developing several new strains of wheat and other grains that were draught and disease resistant. He was credited with saving 100 million people from starvation. Using his prize money from the Nobel Prize and other resources, he created the World Food Prize. In 1990, Iowa businessman/philanthropist John Ruan III ’61 assumed sponsorship and established The World Food Prize Foundation.

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