Food for Thought: HPER-H 315 Consumer Health

In 2012, Nancy Barton embarked on the task of reviving a course that had not been offered at IUPUI in several years: Consumer Health. This is a PETM subject that encompasses a variety of topics, including the purchasing of groceries and fitness equipment, advertising, health fraud, and the Affordable Care Act.

She decided the course would tackle a new topic related to consumer health, but is hidden from view, exploring the state of food rescue and of hunger relief in Indianapolis. Food rescue involves recovering food that might otherwise be thrown away to both reduce waste and to repurpose the food into a meal for someone to eat. For example, bananas that are overripe are generally pulled from the shelf and tossed into a dumpster because consumers want perfect bananas without brown spots. These bananas are still in good shape, so they can be rescued, made into banana bread, cakes, or muffins and given to those in need of food. Nancy had long found food rescue interesting and had hoped to work more extensively with Second Helpings, a nonprofit community kitchen, to which she had once supplied her community garden’s crop of radishes as a 4-H leader in the past.

Development and execution of Nancy’s brainchild involved collaboration with many community partners: IUPUI Food Services, Second Helpings, Gleaners Food Bank, Midwest Food Bank, Indy Hunger Network, Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center, IUPUI Solution Center, IUPUI Office of Sustainability, and IUPUI Center for Teaching and Learning.

The course originally ran as an eight-week late-start class that met for two three-hour classes each week and consisted of roughly 15 students. Each week, one class session would be held in the classroom, discussing consumer health topics, and the other would take place out in the community, spending time at Second Helpings, Gleaners Food Bank, or the Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center.

Then something even greater happened. A staff member of Second Helpings introduced Nancy to the concept of a campus kitchen. The Campus Kitchen Project is a national community service system based out of Washington D.C. There are 39 campus kitchens that operate around the country, but IUPUI’s campus kitchen became the first in the state of Indiana. Students from the class wrote proposals to bring a campus kitchen to IUPUI, compiling statistics on hunger and collecting nearly 150 surveys concerning the food needs of IUPUI students with Paws Pantry on campus. A student director was hired and a student leadership team was gathered to develop and to implement the Campus Kitchen at IUPUI.

The Campus Kitchen at IUPUI opens when the Campus Center cafeteria closes, utilizing the kitchen space and the guidance of the IUPUI Food Services head chef. In the kitchen, students currently use foods from the IUPUI Food Services that would normally be thrown away and make them into meals for those in need. These meals are then donated to Wheeler Mission. The Office of Sustainability is now the reporting office.

Not only does the course provide amazing experiences in the kitchen and community centers but it also offers a student employment opportunity and volunteer opportunities. In addition, students have had the opportunity to present on the work done in the course and by the Campus Kitchen at IUPUI Research Day, at the Bringle Symposium, and at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education conference in Portland. Nancy reported that "the RISE grant provided the incentive to explore the invisible consumer health topic of food rescues, making the Campus Kitchen at IUPUI a reality today."

HPER-H 315 is still an eight-week late-start course, but it will now be offered online. Despite the course switching from the classroom to the computer screen, students will still actively participate in experiences at local food banks and will be able to meet together during the semester to work in the campus kitchen.

Nancy said, “We’re learning to living sustainably—taking food that might have been tossed, and by following board of health standards, learning how to cook and feeding people who might not have had the opportunity to have a warm meal.” HPER-H 315 is a valuable RISE experience that fosters awareness of individuals’ impact on the world with their waste, fosters a sense of responsibility when it comes to the community, and makes students better health consumers.