The birth of a food activist

  • Article by: LEE SVITAK DEAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 22, 2010 - 10:27 AM

It all started in a college cafeteria.

Lee Svitak Dean in the 1970s as a student at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

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In 1971, I was 18, a freshman at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and a diner in the dorm cafeteria, where I became curious about what happened to all the leftover food. Curiosity turned to action when I discovered that any extra food at the end of the day that was not repurposed into something else was discarded. All of it. Dinner rolls, vegetables, meat, potatoes and dessert all ended up in the trash. I was appalled by the waste, which unfortunately was not unusual in the food business then.

Meanwhile, in a room near the cafeteria, the sports teams were fed those same dorm meals. As I saw them plow through their heavy-duty dinners, I wondered if the leftover food (the odds and ends that hadn't yet been served) could be offered to others in the manner it was for the players, a "people's buffet," to use the parlance of the day, to feed students outside the dorm.

Such is the naivete of teens -- and the birth of a food activist.

I went to the director of university food services and made my case. "Not possible," I remember him telling me. "The Good Samaritan law doesn't apply to food. We would put ourselves at risk of being sued if we gave away food for free."

Thirteen years later, in 1984, the Greater Minneapolis Food Bank (later called Second Harvest Heartland) was formed to feed those in need and to reduce food waste by redistributing unused edibles from restaurants, groceries, bakeries and farmers.

That's how most revolutions take place: An idea percolates from many ordinary people, and then takes off.

LEE SVITAK DEAN

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