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“Fresh Food In Garbage Can To Illustrate Waste” by U.S. Department of Agriculture

Learning by Doing

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“Fresh Food In Garbage Can To Illustrate Waste” by U.S. Department of Agriculture


Statements like “change the world” or “make a difference” are vague in the abstract. Programs like Stanford’s Haas Center for Public Service offer Stanford undergraduates opportunities to address these laudable goals with action and create measurable impact both on campus and in the community. I saw this firsthand.

As a first-year student, I joined the Stanford Project on Hunger (SPOON), which collects unused food from campus dining facilities and provided this excess food to community groups. I went from doing one or two food pickups a week to eventually leading the organization and managing its budget. At every turn, our work to save money, divert good food from going to waste, and provide food to others got me excited to recruit new volunteers and expand.  Over the next three years, we grew the program to collect more than two tons (4,000 pounds) of food per quarter. For the community, we provided tens of thousands of meals, and the local charity saved on food procurement costs.

SPOON engaged students in service and in the classroom. At Stanford, I supervised several students in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric who wrote Community Writing Projects about SPOON and its work. From op-eds to reports to reflections, the students’ work moved me and served to further invigorate our volunteer recruitment efforts.

Food waste is a visceral issue, ripe for action. We all eat, and we all have a stake (and sometimes steak) in the food system. With just thirty minutes of volunteer service a week, SPOON’s volunteers were changing the world. Small action, when aggregated, made a considerable difference in how much food was being thrown away.

The Haas Center and SPOON provided me a taste of ongoing public problems related to food. Eventually, I went on to law school and graduate school in public policy, where I focused on food law and policy topics. Now, I teach a short module on Food Law and Policy and write articles related to wasting less and feeding more.

Programs at the Haas Center continue to promote engagement between the campus and community. Service was a large part of my Stanford education, and I hope it is part of yours as well.

Tommy Tobin

History & International Relations
Class of 2010

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