BGSU senior fights food waste, helps fellow Falcons with innovative new program

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – Dedicated to helping Falcons in need, a Bowling Green State University senior is using her honors project to create public good by fighting food waste on campus and helping learning community members living with food insecurity access free, healthy meals.

As a sustainability intern for BGSU Dining and a volunteer with the Falcon Food Pantry, Katie Dietz, a Plainfield, Illinois, native, devised a way to fight food waste while simultaneously providing new items for the pantry.

Through the Feed More – Waste Less program, Dietz takes cooked, unserved food from the University's dining halls and turns it into full pre-portioned meals, which are then frozen for visitors of the food pantry to take home in reusable containers. 

“We learn about food insecurity in my major, but actually seeing how many people the Falcon Food Pantry serves made me think, ‘There are so many people who need food, and I work in a place that has too much food sometimes, so what can I do?’” Dietz said. “I went to Dr. [Shannon] Orr and some others to say, ‘How can I go about this?’

With the help of Orr, a professor of political science at BGSU and the director of the Falcon Food Pantry, Dietz applied for and earned a grant from the Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship for Feed More – Waste Less, which is fully operational as of this semester.

As part of her internship, Dietz, an environmental science major, knew that BGSU Dining’s slowest times tend to be weekends — when fewer students are on campus and eating at dining halls — which often end with full trays of food and pots of soup that never made it to the serving lines. 

After refining the idea through meetings during the summer, BGSU Dining now saves unserved weekend food for Dietz, who arrives every Monday to portion out everything into meals. 

She then labels each meal with diet and food allergy information so each food pantry visitor can go home with one full, frozen meal that suits their needs, providing an additional way to help those who may be experiencing some level of food insecurity.

“Some students experience chronic food insecurity,” Orr said. “Not everybody has family support, and things happen – a car repair, something breaks, an unpaid opportunity that eventually will help your career. Our philosophy at the Falcon Food Pantry is that everyone goes through tough times and we’re here to help.”

During the planning stages, Dietz considered how to avoid creating more plastic waste in the process of turning leftovers into meals when a fortuitous break solved their problem.

The Brown Bag Food Project, a Bowling Green-based non-profit that fights food insecurity, came into a donation of thousands of reusable containers and asked if the Falcon Food Pantry had any use for them – and then the project took off with its final question answered. 

“Randomly, Brown Bag said they had 3,000 reusable containers if we needed any,” Dietz said. “We said, ‘Actually, can we use all of it?’”

“It was like the universe said, ‘Katie must do this,’” Orr said. 

Each meal has a sticker that encourages food pantry visitors to wash and reuse the container, eliminating the need to throw something away to transport the frozen meal.

Through its first month, the Feed More – Waste Less program is saving an average of 50 pounds of food per week from becoming waste and has contributed an additional layer to the pantry’s offerings.

The pantry’s fall semester hours are noon-3 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays and 2:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, and it is open to anyone with a BGSU ID to use once per week. 

“I have the best job on campus because I get to work with amazing students like Katie and our interns,” Orr said. “They bring their own perspectives, ideas and passions into the pantry, and the pantry is what it is because of them.”

Updated: 11/16/2023 01:17PM