Indiana Daily Student

IU students create program to distribute international food, educate about food insecurity

<p>Shreya Mapadath, Ethan Joss and Marria Peduto shop for food March 24 at B-Town International Market. The three IU students distribute food boxes to other students and organize discussions about food insecurity.</p><p></p>

Shreya Mapadath, Ethan Joss and Marria Peduto shop for food March 24 at B-Town International Market. The three IU students distribute food boxes to other students and organize discussions about food insecurity.

Three students from IU’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies teamed up to start the program Food (Security) for Thought. The program aims to distribute boxes full of international food items and to educate the Bloomington community about food insecurity and global cuisine.

The program received the U.S. Department of State’s Community Development Action Fund Grant in February along with additional funding from IU. After receiving these grants to fund the creation of the food boxes, which totaled to about $30,000, the three students started a social media campaign and began putting together food boxes that are free for anyone in the Bloomington area.

IU junior Marria Peduto is the founder of the project. She said she started the organization because of the rise in food insecurity around the Bloomington area during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For some international and grad students, they no longer had access to good food sources because of the pandemic and job losses, so we wanted to fill this gap for culturally relevant food,” Peduto said. “The goods donated to food banks are like powdered mashed potatoes and canned green beans, and that's not going to be what's most culturally relevant to someone that has tofu as their main protein and jasmine rice as their main carb.”

Peduto said two of the program’s most important priorities are educating the Bloomington community about food insecurity and sparking peoples’ interest in global food through the food boxes and social media. She said anyone can pick up a food box whether they are food insecure or not. 

People can get a food box by going to one of the pick-up locations listed on the Food (Security) for Thought website. Boxes are created every two weeks and given on a first-come, first-serve basis. The group has already distributed more than 450 boxes.

The group fills the boxes with foods from local international marketplaces. So far the group has created boxes centered around different cuisines such as Mediterranean, East Asisan and Latin American. Each themed box includes different foods and ingredients inspired by a different region of the world.

Another focus of the program is its social media strategy, which is aimed at providing easy international recipes and cooking demonstrations. Many of the recipes the group shares correspond to the ingredients featured in the meal kits the group creates.

Freshman Shreya Mapadath is the head of outreach and marketing for the program. She runs the group’s Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts.

“Marria is a great chef and so she would send me her recipes and I would format them and post them to our social media page,” Mapadath said.

Mapadath said the group plans on continuing content creation for the group’s social media so the group’s accounts can serve as resource pages for people receiving food boxes and for those who want to try different international recipes.

The organization also recently organized a virtual public symposium from Wednesday through Saturday about food security and global nutrition. The symposium featured national and international leaders and experts.

Junior Ethan Joss was in charge of programming for the 4-day symposium, and he said the event was a success based on the over 20 speakers featured and how many people attended over Zoom. 

“We originally started with quite a small idea of what this conference would be, with maybe a few speakers over a day, and then it grew tremendously since we got the grant,” Joss said. 

Peduto said she has seen people pick up boxes who just wanted to learn more about the world through food, but there's also been people who have picked up the boxes to serve as their food source for the week.

“If people are getting a box, we don't want it to feel like it's a handout for a bad situation,” Peduto said. “It's just a way for them to celebrate food.”

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