After thousands of guests from the Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival were fed to their hearts’ content last month, carefully coordinated food rescue efforts – led by hospitality management professor John Buschman – made certain that anything that was salvageable went to feed some of the neediest members of the community.
Driven by Buschman and his students, the Festival’s “food rescue” efforts this year encompassed multiple events and helped provide about 20,000 meals for the Miami Rescue Mission, including pasta from Barilla’s Italian Bites on the Beach hosted by Giada De Laurentiis and sliders from the Heineken Light Burger Bash hosted by Guy Fieri.
And that’s not the only way the Festival collaborates with the Miami Rescue Mission. Several of its visiting chefs utilize the facilities to prep food for events as the weekend gets underway.
“Recovery from some of life’s problems can start with a hot meal in your stomach,” Buschman said of his motivation to ensure leftover food supplies the community’s shelters and kitchens. The Miami Rescue Mission serves an average of 1,300 people each day between its Miami-Dade and Broward centers; and with the help of the Festival’s food rescue efforts, it is able to have an even greater impact on the lives of formerly homeless residents of the shelter, as well as currently homeless guests invited in for a meal.
The coordinated effort began in the Festival’s fifth year, when one of its signature events, the BubbleQ® barbecue on the beach, was destroyed by a sudden and forceful rainstorm. Untouched food and drink for about 3,000 attendees would’ve gone to waste, if not for the quick thinking of student volunteers and event manager Kelly Murphy, who packed it up and sent it off to the food bank.
“There’s a lot of work and effort that goes into receiving the food for the Festival. You have to prepare for every guest in excess,” said Murphy, a freelance event producer who still works with the Festival on food rescue. “A couple students were so upset [by the rain] that they went around and collected food and brought it to kitchens or shelters that could take it.”
Buschman joined the team the next year with a plan to organize the food rescue into a concerted, annual effort. And since then, the campaign has grown from collecting food from one event to eight, including the Goya Foods’ Grand Tasting Village, during which guests sample bites and cocktails from more than 50 of the most popular restaurants and brands in the nation.
Student volunteers involved include members of the Student Social Work Association, Buschman’s students in his Social Responsibility in the Hospitality and Tourism Industry class and more.
“This generation of hospitality management students is very socially conscious,” Buschman says.
It’s a lesson in social responsibility that sticks – Buschman said his students have come back to him years later to tell him they’re now advocating for similar programs in the hotels, restaurants and convention centers where they work.
Biology major Claudia Ortuzar is Buschman’s teaching assistant and has been involved with the Festival’s food rescue effort for three years. She said participating gave her a new perception of what it means to be privileged or underprivileged.
“I saw the amount of people who are food insecure and are dealing with this every day. I’m not super privileged, but I have a home and I’m not food insecure. I’ve never seen that side of the population, so it was a whole new perspective of viewing the world,” she said. “Because I have that privilege, I can give back to the people who actually need it and who are struggling to survive.”
Ortuzar wants to pursue dentistry. Drawing a connection between food rescue and her career interests, she was inspired to one day open a free dentistry clinic.
“Nutrition and food insecurity and dental hygiene really play together,” Ortuzar said. “I’ve seen how people who don’t have food also often don’t have access to the medical and dental care they need, so I want to work on bridging that gap.”
The Festival’s commitment to help support hunger-relief efforts in Miami runs parallel to the mission of its sister Festival, NYCWFF, in New York City to EAT. DRINK. END HUNGER. With Festival founder and director Lee Brian Schrager as a member of the board for Food Bank for New York City, NYCWFF has raised more than $11 million to date for them and No Kid Hungry.
Said Murphy of why the Festival places an importance on food rescue: “There’s a lot of people that go to bed in our community hungry, and this is our way of connecting with the community and sharing our rewards. It’s important that we don’t fill our landfills with perfectly good food when it could go on someone’s plate who needs it.”
Hosted by Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits and FIU each February, the Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival benefits FIU’s Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management. To date, the Festival has raised more than $26 million in support of education and scholarships at the school. The Festival also provides valuable career insight and networking opportunities to more than 1,000 students annually who volunteer in areas like event management, logistics, culinary preparation, marketing and more.