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Baking up something good for the community

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

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Human Nutrition students Kelly Latimer, Crystal Lau and Wendy Voon and instructor Rosie Finigan (far right) are joined by KiwiHarvest Dunedin branch manager Susie Townshend in the Carrington College kitchens. Photos: Sharron Bennett.

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Perfectly edible bananas that would otherwise be destined for the landfill are being put to good use feeding Dunedin’s most vulnerable children and families thanks to a unique partnership between KiwiHarvest and the University of Otago’s Human Nutrition programme.

Students in HUNT 231: Foodservice Operation are using excess bananas collected by KiwiHarvest – a local food rescue organisation – to make banana loaves which are then gifted back to KiwiHarvest for distribution to their network of 30 community organisations and charities throughout the city.

In total, the second- and third-year students will prepare 50 loaves of banana bread – equivalent to 1,000 servings.

KiwiHarvest Dunedin branch manager Susie Townshend says bananas are one item the organisation always collects in abundance so it’s “great to be able to gift them to our receiving partners in another form – not just bananas”.

She says many of the individuals who benefit from KiwiHarvest’s distribution efforts don’t necessarily have the time or money to invest in preparing nutritious, home-cooked food.

For their part, the students are getting a chance to step outside the classroom and gain practical food service experience.

Paper co-ordinator Carla Thomson says HUNT 231 is designed to introduce students to the basic tools and resources used in the foodservice industry, from food preparation theory and techniques and food safety to quality control and recipe development.

“We start them off with wooden spoons in a small domestic-style kitchen and by the end of the semester, they’re operating industrial-sized mixers and taking care of the production and service for a kitchen that serves 250 people," she says.

“This hands-on experience helps students reach a deeper understanding of the theory that they learn in the classroom. It also fosters valuable life skills such as problem-solving and critical thinking. Participating in the wider community and partnering with KiwiHarvest fosters a sense of social responsibility which is important to people embarking on careers in nutrition, foodservice and related fields.”

Growing up in Malaysia, third-year Human Nutrition student Wendy Voon says that despite an interest in working in nutrition, she had no baking experience when she began her studies.

“I’m just the worst when it comes to baking,” she says. “It isn’t part of my culture back home.”

She says she enjoyed completing the initial small-scale lab where she prepared her first ever loaf of banana bread.

“This paper involves a lot of self-discovery and being pushed out of your comfort zone. I was so proud of myself.”

KiwiHarvest operates in both Dunedin and Auckland. In Dunedin alone, the organisation collects nearly a tonne of surplus food every day from supermarkets across the city.