Published April 19, 2022
When UB graduate student Matt Taboni began 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 tossed them into the trash. There wasn’t a proper system to store the scraps and donate them to local food pantries.
That experience with food waste never left him. Now, Taboni leads a grassroots effort to improve food accessibility and consistency at UB and in city neighborhoods.
Taboni, a first-year student in the JD/MBA program, took the initiative by helping to found and run UB’s food pantry, Blue Table, while a UB undergraduate. In November 2020, he contacted UB Sustainability about opening on campus a 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,” Taboni says. “It’s so exciting to really make an impact on my campus.”
In September 2020, as part of his research for FRN and his campus job as a graduate assistant for zero waste for UB Sustainability, Taboni performed a food audit at Crossroads Culinary Center (C3) and Governors Dining Hall to measure the amount of food waste students produce every night. After weighing 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, churned out 91 pounds.
The Food Recovery Network now collects the food from the line at C3 that is not served to redistribute to its partner, the Response to Love Center, a food pantry and dining site on Buffalo’s East Side. FRN has conducted 33 recoveries since April 2021, which amounted to 2,600 pounds of food. Taboni expects to gather 5,000 tons by the end of the semester.
“The UB food allows us to offer a wide range of choices for our clients, and provide compassion and dignity to a population that does not always get those things,” says Mike Gilhooly, assistant director of Response to Love Center. “Thank you, UB and the FRN, for your efforts. They do not go unnoticed.”
Taboni hopes FRN’s practices can be integrated to become a regular part of Campus Dining and Shops’ food composting and recycling practices. Currently, UB composts food waste to comply with the New York State Food Donation and Food Scraps Recycling Law, 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 establish more partnerships with nonprofits in the area. He plans to expand the operation to other dining locations on campus once more partnerships are established.
However, he faces an obstacle in his objective: There are only a few pantries in the area serving hot meals, and the food recovered from UB’s dining locations is not shelf-stable. Taboni is considering allowing for donations of shelf-stable food in the future to meet the needs of the other institutions.
“One thing I love about the Food Recovery Network is that it allows us to engage with institutions off campus, such as our nonprofit partners,” Taboni says. “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 develop its volunteers into leaders. Taboni plans to send Food Recovery Network volunteers to partner organizations to help serve food so that they witness firsthand how their work directly feeds those in need. The network also offers incentives, such as soft enamel pins shaped like food to motivate and reward outstanding service.
Anyone interested in volunteering with the Food Recovery Network or donating food can contact Taboni.