By: Gus Pignatello, Staff Writer
USM’s Food Studies Program is hosting New England’s first Universities Fighting World Hunger Summit (UFWH).
Director of Food Studies, Michael Hillard, lead the efforts to host UFWH after bringing a small group of food study majors to the University of Illinois summit last year. He wanted to create a dialogue about hunger in Maine and worked with Frank Wertheim from the University of Maine Cooperative Extension to bring the UFWH summit to Maine.
The UFWH Summit is designed to bring awareness to hunger on a local and national scale. Food insecurity is an issue for over 40 million Americans, as stated on the Food Studies website. Maine is the eighth most food insecure state in the U.S. USM is connecting with a number of local groups, such as the Good Shepard Food Bank and Cumberland County Food Security Council, to demonstrate how communities can come together to end food insecurity.
Hillard said that not many people realize that hunger can be a problem on college campuses, as well as within communities dealing with poverty. He told a story about a student at USM who couldn’t afford to pay her monthly food bill after getting her car towed.
Hillard hopes to “create a culture of awareness and engagement for the problem of hunger on campus and in the state of Maine,” he said.
The theme of this years summit is “Fighting Hunger in a World of Plenty: Shifting Power and Taking Action,” with an emphasis on political policy change in Maine due to the most recent governor election. The event will include five keynote speakers: USM President Glenn Cummings, Executive Director of the Institute for Food and Development Policy, Eric Holt-Giménez, Professor of Social Welfare at Washington University, Mark Rank, Senior Fellow for the Global Food and Agriculture Program, Roger Thurow, and Maine Representative Chellie Pingree.
The UFWH Summit is being sponsored by Rise Against Hunger, the Maine 4-H Foundation and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States. The main benefactor is Sodexo, who donated $20,000 to host the event and provide all of the food.
Catherine Sheirer, a tourism and hospitality major, is a food studies intern that is working with Sodexo to design their menu using local food sources. She is reaching out to Backyard Farms, Green Thumb Farms and Wyman’s Blueberries. Catherine is working with Garbage to Gardens to use composted foods as a fertilizer instead of it going to a landfill.
The key idea for the summit is sustainability. According to Sheirer, Sodexo is making an effort to cater the summit in an eco-friendly way in hopes that others will follow their example and the message of the summit.
For the past couple of years, Sodexo has made a point to be involved in aiding campus hunger. Last year, Sodexo helped the Campus Kitchens Project in providing food for the less fortunate. Jaime Bacardi, a Sodexo employee, started a project this year centered around identifying student interest in dishes made with locally sourced fish.
The Food Studies program is creating a one-credit pop-up course around the event that is designed to educate students on why food insecurity continues to rise. Students that sign up for the course will attend the summit and two four-hour class sessions.
The UFWH Summit will be held on the 7th floor of Glickman Library at the Abromson Community Education Center on March 15. Registration costs will range from $40 for students to $100 for public attendance.