Food waste-focused organizations struggle to collaborate with Yale Hospitality
New Haven nonprofits and student organizations expressed concerns over Yale Hospitality’s food waste management.
Katya Agrawal, Contributing Photographer
Yale Hospitality has been donating leftover food to local nonprofits since 2007. However, with food insecurity in New Haven on the rise, students and local nonprofits have increased their attention to food waste management. They have since voiced growing concerns about the communication and support provided by the University.
The University recently added new dining options — including Commons and Steep Cafe — and currently faces high student enrollment. Daniel Flynn, director of asset renewal and planned projects at Yale Hospitality, wrote that both factors are “further opportunities for food waste.”
“I recognize how much shame in our country and in our culture we put on people who don’t have enough food to eat,” Lori Martin, co-founder and executive director of Haven’s Harvest, told the News. “Although we have these statistics around food insecurity, it’s more rampant than that. I think that’s the part that’s shocking. And it is a bit of a gut punch [knowing] that good food is getting thrown away if we don’t show up.”
The Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project, or YHHAP, is a large service-based student group dedicated to assisting New Haven’s food and housing insecure communities. YHHAP is an umbrella organization that comprises 11 projects, two of which aim to limit food waste in the University’s dining halls: Yale Community Kitchen and Kitchen to Kitchen.
YCK is Yale’s student-run soup kitchen, where volunteers collect leftover dining hall food on Friday and Saturday afternoons and then prepare and serve meals to New Haven residents at the United Parish House, the satellite location of the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen, or DESK. Similarly, K2K members pick up excess food from the dining halls on Monday through Thursday afternoons and transport it to DESK’s main headquarters.
Additionally, Haven’s Harvest — a local nonprofit organization — regularly recovers food from Yale’s dining halls and graduate schools, in addition to local businesses, and delivers it to community centers ranging from daycares to health care clinics. Haven’s Harvest also recovers food from YCK, according to YCK co-head Enkhjin Gansukh ’25.
Haven’s Harvest calls for support from Yale
Martin said that food insecurity is a growing problem in New Haven, especially because it is often difficult to detect.
“People are often food insecure and don’t know it,” she said. “We often have these ideas about who needs food and what food charity looks like, so [Haven’s Harvest] actually says we do our work in solidarity and not charity work. People will think of someone at the [street] corner holding a sign, looking for money or even for food. Those aren’t the only people who need food — people who are working need food, and those numbers are increasing.”
Over the past three years, Haven’s Harvest has recovered 1.5 million pounds of food per year, and Martin said she anticipates that the organization will recover two million pounds this year. Between 70 and 75 percent of that food is delivered to New Haven’s food insecure communities.
Despite feeding tens of thousands of New Haven residents each year, Haven’s Harvest does not receive any municipal funding and is entirely reliant upon support from individual donors and grants from grassroots organizations, according to Martin.
Yet the nonprofit’s day-to-day operations are costly. Haven’s Harvest must pay to run its Food Rescue Hero app — which volunteers use to sign up for food recovery shifts — and maintain delivery infrastructure. Although the organization’s daily operations require a team of six, due to the organization’s limited funding, Martin is currently its sole employee and has become a “Jane of all trades.”
“Largely it’s been funded by [grants and] my family,” she said. “We’re a lower middle-class family, but this is just how we’re doing it. Now we have a board and all but still, it’s a grassroots organization. We definitely need support from these bigger folks if we want to scale up and just keep continuing what we’re doing.”
Yale does not currently provide financial support for Haven’s Harvest’s work. Martin said that there are three ways Yale can assist Haven’s Harvest: by making annual donations, paying a fee for the organization’s excess food removal service or providing space for the organization’s warehouse and commercial kitchen.
The most pressing need, Martin said, is new infrastructure, since Haven’s Harvest currently shares a 12-by-12 foot warehouse space with another organization, limiting its capacity for food storage.
In response to a request for comment from the News, Christelle Ramos, Yale Hospitality’s assistant director of marketing and communications, noted that the University has partnered with DESK and other nonprofit organizations over the last 15 years to reduce food waste. Ramos added that last spring marked Yale Hospitality’s fourth time hosting DESK’s Breaking Bread Dinner, an annual fundraiser that raised $75,000 to assist DESK’s fight against food insecurity.
“Due to the unpredictable nature of food waste, all sustainability resources are invested in raising awareness plus reducing, and ultimately eliminating food waste,” Ramos wrote to the News. “When opportunities are presented, at large university-wide events such as Bulldog Bash, we proactively engage with community partners to galvanize resources in support.”
Challenges exacerbated by lack of communication from Yale dining services
K2K and YCK, both student organizations under YHHAP, experience different challenges from Haven’s Harvest, with student leaders raising concerns about the lack of consistent communication from Hospitality on food pickup.
K2K Co-Head Andrew Landsbergen ’25 said that the project struggles to attract volunteers because the food pick up times from the dining halls are between 2-4 p.m. on weekdays, and many students are still in class at the time. As a result, the brunt of the food pick up and delivery work has fallen on Landsbergen this school year.
Another issue he experiences is a lack of communication from certain dining halls regarding the quantity of leftovers they have on a given day. Before heading to a dining hall, he calls the staff to check whether they have any excess food he can pick up, but these phone calls frequently go unanswered.
“If there’s food that’s going to get thrown out that day, I want to know about that and I want to figure out a way to get that food somewhere where people can eat it,” Landsbergen said. “I don’t really have a way to get that guarantee, because it might be that I call a dining hall, they don’t pick up, but maybe they have ten trays of food and they just throw it out.”
Gansukh and her fellow YCK co-heads Hugo Wang ’25 and Odessa Goldberg ’25 also told the News that they struggle to communicate with dining hall staff about leftover quantities. Goldberg told the News that she thinks it would be helpful if dining halls used a centralized spreadsheet to indicate whether they have excess food, since this would allow volunteers to see in advance whether food is available and avoid unnecessary trips.
YCK volunteers strive to create balanced meals for DESK’s guests with the food they receive; in particular, they aim to include one protein, starch and vegetable per plate.
DESK’s Executive Director Steve Werlin said that the food YCK provides is a marked departure from the excess food that DESK received when it first began collaborating from Yale Hospitality in 2007, before YCK got involved.
“Over time, I think it became apparent that for a variety of reasons, we shouldn’t necessarily be thinking of feeding those in need as just providing the leftovers,” Werlin said. “We should be thinking of it as providing healthy food in a dignified manner.”
YCK also faces the challenge of accommodating guests’ dietary restrictions without choosing the food they receive from the dining halls. Gansukh said that YCK generally avoids pork so that their dishes are halal and kosher. Additionally, they provide non-meat forms of protein, such as tofu tenders, for vegetarian and vegan guests.
When asked by the News about Yale’s efforts to reduce food waste, Flynn wrote that Yale Hospitality has implemented technological features to “support inventory management, just-in-time food preparation and production, monitoring, reporting and predictive analytics.”
“Success would be that the food we buy equals the food that is eaten, reclaimed or composted — not wasted,” Flynn wrote. “This process is a journey that engages all areas of the University.”
Throughout the school year, both YCK and K2K’s leaders hope to centralize information about excess food across campus dining locations. Additionally, YCK plans to expand outreach initiatives to make sure that Yale events dispose of leftovers through sustainable, rather than wasteful, means.
Moreover, Werlin and Martin emphasize the importance of limiting food waste in light of rising food insecurity in New Haven.
“We’re seeing numbers [at DESK] that are even higher than we saw at the height of the pandemic,” Werlin said. “We’re seeing as many as 200 people per night, so we’d say that the state of the need as we see it on the ground is really growing dramatically … Food should of course be a basic human right that we should be able to provide them, the same way that housing should be a basic right. And these are basic needs met to keep people alive. But it’s appalling that in the 21st century, in the United States, we’re not able to provide that.”
DESK’s main headquarters are located at 311 Temple St.