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Exploring Food Waste, Stewardship and Sustainability Across Cultures

Published: June 22, 2022

This fall, we anticipate welcoming an AmeriCorps Minnesota GreenCorps member to serve for one year at Concordia Language Villages (CLV). Coordinated by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Minnesota GreenCorps program aims to preserve and protect Minnesota’s environment while training a new generation of environmental professionals. Members serve at a host location for 11 months, receiving a living stipend and education award for their service. At CLV, the Minnesota GreenCorps member will join staff members and villagers in critical conversations around culture, language and sustainable environmental practices.

According to the National Resources Defense Council, although one in eight Americans struggles to put enough food in the table, up to 40% of the food produced in the United States is never eaten, but rather ends up in landfills as methane-heavy overstock, “ugly produce” or oversized-portion leftovers. Meanwhile, resources like land, water, energy and labor are wasted in the process of producing, transporting and storing these landfill-bound items. Statistics from the World Food Programme are sobering: 1.3 billion tons of food (approximately $1 trillion US dollars) are wasted per year around the globe. That is enough to feed two billion people, or more than twice the number of undernourished people on the planet. 

With a GreenCorps member at the Language Villages, we will be assessing how much food waste CLV produces in our commercial kitchens.Thousands of villagers and staff enjoy authentic meals made from scratch at our eight culturally authentic sites, and those food scraps add up fast. How can CLV be more intentional about the management of waste and the conversations we have around it? What kinds of practices and understandings will participants take back home with them after attending a session with us? 

Our GreenCorps member will also be collaborating with staff to develop toolkits for program leaders, combining education and cultural inquiry around global practices. With these toolkits, we intend to go deeper in our practice of the CLVway by “engaging critically and creatively with issues that transcend boundaries.” Waste management practices vary widely around the world, shaped by cultural understandings, customs around mealtimes and food preparation, local environmental factors, and the availability of waste management technologies and infrastructures. What can we learn from our own practices and from innovations happening around the world?

We incorporate aspects of German Umweltfreundlichkeit
into daily life at camp, such as Mülltrennung (trash separation).
Every building in Waldsee has four different-colored Tonnen
(trash cans), a blue one for Altglas (glass), one for Plastik und
Verpackung (plastic and packaging materials), one for Altpapier
(paper and cardboard), and one for Restmüll (other trash).

We can ask ourselves questions like, “Do people from Japan organize their 生なまごみ (nama gomi/kitchen scraps) differently? How has Guatemala become a 'Food Smart' country? What is that Gelbe Sack or that Biotonne that the Germans talk about so much?” Highlighting these cultural elements in Village life can lead to thoughtful conversations about “food loss” and “food wastage,” as well as what role villagers can play as global citizens in striving for better action locally and globally. 

Do you compost? I’ve been collecting small scraps of orange peels, apple cores and coffee grounds in a used gallon ice-cream bucket (the way my parents taught me). I brought my bucket to the work break room and soon colleagues began adding their own scraps—enough so that I had to empty out the bucket and freeze it in the garage before spring thawed out the garden. In Northern Minnesota, you can freeze your compost in a secure bin for several months, as the temps stay below freezing. Oftentimes this is just long enough to stop the food scraps from breaking their nutrients before being added to soil for gardening in early spring.

A 'please turn off the lights' hand-made sign in Japanese
A reminder to conserve energy at the Japanese
Language Village.

A few weeks into collecting colleagues' food scraps, a commercial bin with a carbon filter to collect even more compost appeared alongside my bucket. “My goodness,” I thought, “My colleagues care too! They want to help out.” My few actions made an impression on those around me. My effort was contagious, not just in the sense of initiating composting in the break room, but in sustaining the practice as well. According to a 2009 study in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes about 66 days on average to develop a new habit; a little intentional practice—in community—can make a big difference over time.  

There is much yet to learn from the conversations being had around waste management, food practices and social implications of certain practices in countries around the world. I imagine that the Language Villages will continue to uncover new avenues of conversation and action around these topics as we engage with the Bemidji community, villagers from across the country, and staff from around the world. Hosting a Minnesota GreenCorps member will be an exciting journey, fertilizing a rich ground for lots of learning and reflection on current practices, both at CLV and in our home communities. 

Interested in learning more? Check out these resources:

About the Author

Marty Jost Fankhanel is the Associate Director of Programs. He currently is the lead administrator for Educator Workshops, Village Weekends, and High School Credit Programs. He has worked with the Language Villages since 2007. His linguistic studies span from graduate research in Urdu and Hindi language to Albanian study as a Peace Corps volunteer. He is a Boren Fellow and advocate of engagement in critical and less commonly taught languages in the United States. Furthermore, Marty is a graduate of Concordia College and former AmeriCorps NCCC Team leader. He has his Masters of Science in Experiential Education from Minnesota State University, Mankato. As a member of the Concordia Language Villages he focuses on credit documentation, experiential curriculum expansion, and outdoor task-based education.  He is conversational in Spanish, German, French, Albanian, and Urdu.

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