Student Food Bank: Chef School Initiative Supports Students’ Well-being
In its mission to cultivate workplace-ready graduates, George Brown College takes a holistic approach to supporting its learners, which is exemplified by the partnership between its Chef School and Student Association Food Bank.
Understanding that access to nutritious food helps students learn and succeed, the Chef School at the college’s Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts donates unused food items and uneaten prepared meals to the St. James Campus location of the food bank. Piloted in 2016 and fully launched in 2017, the initiative provides healthful sustenance to students experiencing food insecurity, while at the same time allowing the Chef School to operate more sustainably.
“Food insecurity is a growing issue in the city, and one that affects some of our students…This arrangement allows us to curb our food waste and help out our students,” says professional chef Jason Inniss, instructor in and coordinator of the Culinary Management program.
Food insecurity—the inability to access adequate food due to a lack of money—is a pressing problem in Toronto that affects one in seven families, and George Brown students are not immune. The Student Association Food Bank provides food to about 850 students per year who are experiencing financial hardships due to tuition and/or costs of living, and require a two- to three-day supply of food.
In 2016, Inniss noticed how much food was going to waste in Chef School classrooms, and was disturbed. This was food students had prepared to practise their skills, but did not want to take with them. This waste was happening for a variety of reasons, including dietary restrictions, or students having to go to work after class. He reached out to the food bank to arrange a distribution system for unused leftover food. Students can now either eat their creations, take them home or donate—throwing food in the garbage is no longer an option.
Each month, the Chef School donates almost 1,000 kg of unused perishable and non-perishable ingredients per month—vegetables, rice, meat, eggs, milk and canned food. As well, the school donates about 500 meals prepared by student chefs in programs such as Culinary Management, Culinary Management—Nutrition, Food and Nutrition Management and Culinary Skills. These meals include roasted lamb, red Thai curry, falafel sandwiches and homemade soup.
Inniss says these contributions allow the general population of George Brown students access to more nutritious fare than what is typically available at most food banks.
Sometimes, food banks can be a dumping ground for food that isn’t all that good for you,” Inniss says. “By making available food created through the Chef School, students get access to nutritious, balanced meals.”
Facilitating this initiative is Nicholas Daniels, the culinary gate clerk at the college’s inventory control centre (ICC), which receives, stores and distributes all food products. The ICC supplies the Chef School with containers for students to package up their donated meals, and Daniels makes sure they get refrigerated. Food bank employees pick up the containers from the ICC once a day, and then make them available to students who need them. On Fridays, when the food bank is closed, the donated meals are shared with Second Harvest, which distributes them to local shelters and soup kitchens.
“It’s hard for students to learn when they’re hungry…If a student is struggling to feed themselves financially, they’re not going to perform at their top level,” Daniels says. “I think it’s morally important for the college to have a respectful, sustainable approach to food production, and to be proactive about repurposing leftover food.”