Food issues experts such as Jonathan Foley, of the University of Minnesota, often cite two major figures when discussing food security in the world: One out of every seven people are going hungry, and 30 to 40 percent of the food produced is wasted. Foley, who delivered a guest lecture at ISU entitled "Feeding the World, Sustaining the Planet," conceded that the current food supply is more than enough to sustain the world's current population.
An Ames program, Food at First, works locally to tackle waste and hunger issues. The program, which began in 2004, is part of a new movement of "perishable" food kitchens and pantries. The program consists of four major groups of volunteers: food gathering (or gleaning), food preparation, marketing and fundraising.
Volunteers glean soon-to-expire food from local sources like Walmart, restaurants and ISU Dining. The program also receives produce from local commodity and organic farmers, with a recent receipt of roughly 4,500 ears of sweet corn, for example. Such produce can't be used at once, so volunteers gathered and processed the corn before freezing it to be used throughout the year.
"We've been doing this for several years and it just keeps growing," said gleaner Bernie White. "Companies are beginning to realize that the liability is less important than using this food and not throwing it away. [They] told me that, 'Before we started, it always ended up in the Dumpster,' and it really broke their hearts."
From there, the food goes to First United Methodist Church's kitchen for storage or preparation. Other than on Wednesdays, volunteers come in every night to prepare meals for the public.
"Thursday night is our biggest night of the week and we usually serve around 100 people," said Chris Martin, a cook who has been working with Food at First for around a year. "The average for the other nights is usually 50 or more.
"Almost everything that goes into our meals comes from perishable food donations. All of that meat was going to be thrown out, but it was still perfectly good."
Aside from a fresh, hot meal, other perishable items are available to bring home. These include everything from bread and fruit to the egg-salad sandwiches that students pay upwards of $3 for at one of the university's cafes.
The program's commitment toward reducing waste runs from the beginning to the end of their process."What food does go south, we have a partner that picks it up and feeds it to his livestock, so we're recycling it right down to the brass tax," Martin said.
The program serves dinner Sunday through Friday, with the exception of Wednesday, from 5:30 to 6:15 p.m. and serves lunch on Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Meals are served at the First United Methodist Church. They also operate a perishable food pantry twice a week. The "Free Market" pantry is located at 116 N. Sherman Ave. and operates Mondays and Thursdays from 4 to 4:30 p.m.