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UT Food Systems Service Project



Led by students,  the Food System Service Project aims to engage the UT community – faculty, students, and staff – to promote campus food security, reduce food waste, and inspire servant-leadership. The FSSP is leading a research initiative analyzing the financial, environmental, and social impacts of  how and why food enters, exists, and leaves UT’s campus. The analysis will reveal points of loss (financial, environmental, and social) and be used to advocate for systemic change.


Goals of FSSP

The Food System Service Project has established the following goals relating to UTK’s academic community:

  • Increase visibility and transparency of UTK’s food system and sustainability efforts
  • Significantly increase student awareness of and action against food waste and food insecurity through a systemic and sustainability focus
  • Enrich academic rigor and experiences through experiential learning
  • Inspire ethics of sustainability and servant-leadership

In 2017, Dr. Betsy Anderson Steeves found around 1 in 3 students are food insecure at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (Chadwell, 2019). With perspective, in 2017 the University of Tennessee, Knoxville had 28, 321 enrolled students. This would mean 9, 440 students were food insecure within a month of the administered survey. “Unlike the rent, which might result in eviction, or the electric bill, which might result in the power being turned off, food expenditures are not a fixed cost” (Hossfeld et. al. 2016). “The consequences of food insecurity include poor health outcomes such as increased morbidity and mortality as well as depression” and students experiencing food insecurity “can lead to poor performance in school” (Hossfeld et. al. 2016). Furthermore, college students in Southern Appalachia experience food insecurity at a higher rate than the national average, leaving students more vulnerable to “poor academic performance and unhealthy spending habits and coping mechanisms” (Hagedorn 2019; Schneibel 2019). The vulnerability of students in higher education undermines their efforts to pursue a degree because their grades are likely to suffer from food insecurity.


The impact of food waste extends to financial costs as well. The United States alone wastes ninety-six billion pounds of food, approximately one-third of all food produced in the US, which results in $165 billion in lost economic value (Evans & Nagele, 2018, p. 177-179). As food waste presents severe environmental and economic loss, we must ask ourselves what social impact does food waste produce? Alex Barnard (2016) asserts that the United States wastes enough calories of food to account for the entire world’s nutritional deficit (Gillion 2019).  If only thirty percent of all food waste was recovered and redistributed in the U.S, the amount of food would be able to “supply every food-insecure American’s total diet” (Evans & Nagele, 2018, p. 181). In the United States, food insecurity has been around 11% of the population between 2017 and 2018 or around 36 million Americans (Colman-Jensen et. al., 2019). While theories suggest an increase of agricultural production is necessary, many scholars argue systemic dysfunction is the cause of both food waste and food insecurity (Gillion 2019; Lang & Barling 2012; Evans & Nagele 2018; Baker 2020; Barlett 2011; De Wit 2014; Drechsel & Karg 2018; Hilimire 2016). Such scholars claim the movement towards a sustainable food system is society’s hope of equitable and environmentally sustainable practices.


The University of Tennessee’s Food System Service Project (FSSP) aims to promote access to food locally and globally. FSSP encourages others to think critically, be an ally, and act intentionally. As engaged scholars, students partner with the University of Tennessee, organizations, businesses, and government to advance food security and reduce food waste.

Investigating UT Knoxville’s food system is a fundamental element to the project. Understanding food on campus informs data-driven advocacy and action. Research also creates opportunities for students from all colleges. Guided investigations for all academic pathways creates opportunities for long-term service, research, internships, and professional mentoring. Fostering practices of reciprocity, reflection, and action demonstrates synergistic and sustainable development. 

Concentrating resources into a collaborative plan with a broad network of stakeholders is the future of sustainable social development. Attendees will be inspired to gain an educated and current understanding of hunger within their respective communities; understanding situational factors will allow the development of intentional action-plans. The presentation will demonstrate how to develop, structure, and conduct projects focused on eradicating hunger through engaged scholarship and sustainable food systems. 

Want to get involved in FSSP? Email us today to learn more.