Lots of discussion at Food Waste and Hunger Forum ‘un-conference’

Submitted by chauncey bowden on Monday Apr 18, 2016.

The Food Waste and Hunger Forum hosted in February 2016 by Net Impact NC State brought together panelists who are working on initiatives to eliminate food waste, and audience participants who are interested in solving food waste and hunger.

The “un-conference” format was unique and fast-paced. Audience participants were encouraged to sit in a table where they could discuss and collaborate with fellow audience members.

Each panelist had five minutes to present background information and statistics on national and local food waste, as well as provide insight into their business or non-profit initiative to combat these issues. The panelists included: Shraddha Rathod from FreshSpire startup, Don Eli from Interfaith Food Shuttle, Morgan Murdock from FoodRecovery Network, Erin White from Community Food Lab, and Maggie Kane from A Place at the Table, and Lisa Johnson from NC State’s Center for Environmental Farming Systems. 

As part of their 5-minute presentation, panelists posed a question for the audience to discuss and provide suggestions and solutions for the forum. Among the questions posed by panelists were:

  • Whose attitudes towards ugly vegetables need to change first – consumers, produce buyers/distributors, growers, or policy makers?
  • Is it a problem that big producers such as Walmart and Trader Joes that provide the most donations, also create too much food waste?
  • How can NC State partner with a community café – a place at the table – to make it happen?

Between each panelist’s presentation were flurries of discussion among the participants who then share their findings. Among their suggestions were reaching out to local high schools for volunteers and partnering with outside organizations with similar values.

FreshSpire entrepreneur and NC State engineering student Shraddha Rathod shared her overall excitement and satisfaction after participating as a panelist for the forum in an interview with Poole College communications. It was her first time participating in a forum environment. “Most of my presentations have been for class or to judges, but nothing like this,” she said. 

“I liked how [the event] was casual and people felt comfortable talking about their ideas and these important issues. It gave me the opportunity to talk about my ideas and connect with other panelists. There was a good span of perspectives on the [food waste] topic,” Rathod said.

In addition, Rathod was able to receive feedback from the audience and panelists regarding her business. She describes FreshSpire as a mobile notification system that connects grocers with consumers. The app relays information about daily markdowns to help combat food waste and accessibility problems within the community. “[The forum] was a chance to gauge how an audience feels about your product. It was important to connect with the other panelists and see how we can help each other,” she said.

Once the event concluded panelists and audience members joined and established connections. Rathod hopes that the forum will continue to grow in the future. “NC State can gain more awareness of these issues and take bigger steps to combat them within our own university – whether through our dining halls or student involvement.  I think it’s an event that we can continue annually. We can go bigger,” she said.

NC State Net Impact is a student organization based in Poole College, open to all NC State students interested in sustainability topics. Jessica Thomas, director of Poole College's Business Sustainability Collaborative, is the organization's faculty advisor.

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