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5 Questions with Regina Northouse, Executive Director of Food Recovery Network

1. What motivated your personal interest in sustainability and food waste reduction?

My role as Executive Director of Food Recovery Network has brought together my passion for ending food waste and hunger, my experience with individual leadership development, and my belief in young people as powerful agents of change. I’ve dedicated my career to non-profit work, as I believe it can generate solutions to many problems in our communities. Sustainability efforts require big systems change, small systems change, innovative and disruptive system change and individual behavior change. This kind of work requires collaboration, another powerful ingredient to change that I am committed to fostering. And that’s just one of many skills needed. I believe that this food recovery movement, led by a whole generation of passionate young people, are is going to be the ones who what significantly disrupts status-quo problems.

2. Can you share a story about a food waste hero who inspired you?

Working for a national organization with more than 230 chapters on college campuses is humbling. Every student in our network has their own inspiring story. I’m always excited to share some of them!

For example, in the wake of Hurricane Irma, our students at the University of Tampa showed incredible strength and resilience. And at FRN, our students donate their food to local nonprofit organizations such as homeless shelters, soup kitchens or food pantries. We call those nonprofits our “nonprofit partner agencies.” Our Tampa chapter would go goes beyond just dropping off their nutritious food to their local agency--they would also volunteer as mentors, working with the elementary students there. When the building where this nonprofit was housed suffered terrible fire damage from hurricane Irma, our students worked to continue to feed the people supported by that nonprofit. We didn’t even know about the fire damage and what they were doing to help ensure people were being fed until we reached out to see if our student leaders in the affected areas were okay. They just felt this is what they had to do in the wake of such a tragedy.

3. What change have you made personally to be more mindful?

Food waste can happen to the best of us — it definitely happens to me — but I try to eat the produce I’ve purchased as soon as possible and put food that needs to be consumed first in the front of my fridge. For the unavoidable food scraps, I make sure to compost all organic matter. Another nonprofit that I love, called Ample Harvest also is a way for home growers like myself to donate my surplus grown produce to local nonprofits if I can’t consume it all, freeze or preserve it, or give it away. It’s a great resource. And, the founder of Ample Harvest is on the FRN advisory board!

4. What will it take for America to make food waste a priority?

For this country to truly make food waste a priority, there are changes that we can make at every step of the food production process as I noted earlier

We have to make a concerted effort to educate Americans — and I’m sure you’ve seen some of the cool educational campaigns that have cropped up. More conversations about the way we consume food are being had every day, and FRN is here to amplify those conversations and the action steps that come from those discussions. Let’s not shame people for whatever part they may have in food being wasted, but give them the tools and resources to make everyday behavior changes that can make such a big difference. People are pretty savvy about preventing food waste once they’re given the right resources. I’ve yet to meet someone who wants to waste food or waste money.

5. What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?

Besides making sure their school or alma mater has an FRN chapter, there are many small changes that every person can make. Here are a few simple things that can make a huge difference:

  • Have an “eat me first” bin in your fridge to make sure fresh produce isn’t wasted.
  • If you’re eating at a buffet, try not to mound over your plate, but go up as needed. You’ll get your money’s worth no matter what, but getting your money’s worth doesn’t mean throwing away the two whole pieces of chicken or an entire piece of cornbread you just couldn’t finish.
  • Look closely at the buying patterns in your home. Buying in bulk doesn’t save you money if you’re not using the full product. If you buy a huge container of hummus because it’s cheaper, but you’re wasting half of it, think about buying a smaller amount the next time you’re at the store.