“Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice,” as poet Robert Frost once said. However, I believe there are three threats that will be humanity's downfall: food, waste and blood. Unfortunately, the “friendly little bubble” around Ann Arbor is not enough to shelter the city from the plague of collegiate food insecurity, food waste and national blood shortages. At first glance, it may seem these public health threats belong in different categories and should inspire separate solutions. However, there is an intersection between all three of these issues that would provide the opportunity to create a single solution that could combat all three problems at once. In other words, I am betting that you can kill three plagues with one stone. Before I make my case for a solution, I figured I ought to break down each problem first.
First and foremost, I understand that college is an investment for your future. However, it is ridiculous for an investor to go hungry in order to see a return on their investment. Nevertheless, according to a 2015 study by Nikki Kasper, “41.4 percent of U-M students had low to very low food security.” Low food security is defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as “the disruption of food intake because of lack of money and other resources.” Unfortunately, the University’s response to this issue has been less than urgent. In recent years, multiple food pantries on campus allowed students to scramble alongside hundreds of peers once a month to secure free food in what can only be called the actual Hunger Games. According to The Daily, starting in fall 2019, Maize and Blue Cupboard food pantry will begin offering daily distribution of nutritious food and produce at a permanent location on Central Campus. However, the question still remains as to whether these efforts alone can satisfy all the hungry students on campus.
Luckily, on a college campus, where there is scarcity there is also surplus. According to MLive, in the spring of 2018, Sava’s did not have enough dumpsters to hold all of its waste. It doesn’t take a master’s degree to understand that a good portion of that waste was leftover food. I recognize that not all food waste can be recovered safely. If food is no longer safe for human consumption, of course, a restaurant should responsibly dispose of it or compost it. However, not all food is unsafe for consumption when it is thrown away. It seems rather ironic that dozens of restaurants and cafes like Sava’s are throwing away food every day when they are just steps from a campus where more than 41 percent of students are food insecure. Sava’s is only one of dozens of local restaurants and cafes that benefit from the endless foot traffic the University of Michigan supplies to keep their businesses open. Consequently, it would be worth asking them to donate leftover food back to local students who need it the most and give it back it to the community that supports their bottom line.
Beyond just food insecurity, there is also a constant need for blood donations. It seems that every summer there is a drought of blood donors, largely due to the fact that school is out and a great deal of students no longer make time to donate. According to a U-M Health Blog post, these "nationwide blood shortages … (leave) doctors and emergency room personnel without the resources for some surgeries and procedures.”
In essence, students have the blood and empty bellies while local restaurants have the food and should be motivated by the prospect of giving back. I propose creating a digital platform that enables students to subscribe to reserve and pick up extra food that would otherwise go to the landfill from restaurants in Ann Arbor. Instead of money, however, the subscription fee for this service would be to donate blood regularly, every two months throughout the year and particularly during the summer and winter when blood shortages are most likely to occur. If students don’t qualify as blood donors, perhaps they could donate their time at blood drives or solicit someone to donate in their name to satisfy the subscription fee. Restaurant employees could identify students who are active donors through a special discount card mailed to them every two months or a smartphone QR code sent to the students’ email. According to Kasper, some studies have found that limited free time and lack of transportation may also be barriers to food, so perhaps the digital platform could provide delivery to students for a small fee.
When it comes to public health issues, extra food pantries established by the University are not going to be enough. As a student body, we have the power to take matters into our own hands and problem solve. As a society, when we examine public health issues, we often section them off, try to isolate their specific causes and brainstorm solutions independent from each other. Such a practice is as outdated as the bubonic plague itself. When studying public health issues independently, it’s easy to fail to see the big picture or recognize how they can intersect. It's kind of like trying to navigate to a new location by only looking at a fraction of the map. If most of your map is covered, then you are going to miss an intersection that could make it easier to get to your destination — which, in this case, is hungry students, less landfill waste and reduced blood shortages. The reality is, if you are willing to challenge conventional thinking and break the silos we keep around separate public health threats, you will find connections. Public health is far too complex an issue to try to isolate problems. Turns out that mapping out a social venture that can combat public health threats is as simple as finding the connection between public health problems. Who knows, maybe your next social venture is just an intersection away.
Soneida Rodriguez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.