U-M's first VegWeek highlights issue of food waste with "waste dinner"

A "waste dinner" demonstrating the usefulness of commonly discarded food items was the culminating event of the University of Michigan's (U-M) first-ever VegWeek, which ran March 12-16.


VegWeek was billed as "a week dedicated to animals, the environment, and health." Aaron Brodkey, vice president of the Michigan Animal Respect Society (MARS), the lead organizing group for VegWeek, says calling the week's final event a "waste dinner" was a calculated gamble. He says the "shock factor" got people's attention, but also made marketing the event a little difficult.


"We had to clarify it was pre-consumer waste, like clippings from vegetables or day-old bread, not leftovers from someone's cafeteria lunch tray," Brodkey says.


The dinner was meant to raise awareness about the issue of food waste, and included small "food bites" served at five different stations. A stew made from vegetable scraps and desserts made with spent grain from the beer brewing process were two of the menu items highlighting how food can be used creatively rather than thrown away or composted, Brodkey says.


The nonprofit VegMichigan has hosted a "Veg Week" in the Ann Arbor area for years, but the March event was a first for the U-M campus. It was organized and sponsored by MDining (representing U-M's dining halls), Planet Blue student leaders, MARS, the U-M Sustainable Food Program, and other campus groups dedicated to sustainability.


Events earlier in the week included a talk by Dr. Joel Kahn, a U-M alum and cardiologist, about the health benefits of a plant-based diet; a screening of the documentary Forks Over Knives; and a panel discussion with U-M professors who have adopted a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Before the waste dinner, Dr. Will Tuttle (author of The World Peace Diet) and Daniel McKernan (founder and executive director of Barn Sanctuary, based in Chelsea) discussed the environmental and ethical benefits of a plant-centric diet.


Brodkey says that each VegWeek event attracted at least 120 participants, and more than 200 came to the Waste Dinner. The chef had prepared enough food for about 150 people, and the event ran out of food.


Brodkey, a senior, won't be around to help organize a second VegWeek in 2019, but he feels like VegWeek created some momentum.


"I'm hoping that, with that momentum, MARS and the rest of the organizers will see it was valuable and move forward with it again next year," he says.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.


Photos courtesy of the University of Michigan.