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Climathon 2019 returns to CSULB challenging food scarcity, waste and sourcing

Eight teams were scattered throughout the Duncan Anderson Gallery in the design building at Long Beach State huddled behind laptop screens and surrounded by empty cups of coffee. 

These teams were participants in Climathon, an international program held on Oct. 25 and 26, that invites communities to develop solutions to the climate change crisis in a 24-hour hackathon. 

Hackathons are competitions, usually held in a short window of time, meant for individuals to come together and produce an idea, software or application. 

This year’s Climathon, which started at 10 a.m. Oct. 25, focused on food scarcity, food waste and food sourcing. 

According to the research performed by CSULB assistant professor Rashida Crutchfield, about 41% of students in the CSU system experience food insecurity. There are around 500,000 students within the CSU system.

Climathon participant Jose Avalos talked about the time he experienced food insecurity as a college student in Michigan, where he struggled to find a decent paying job. He found himself reliant on food from his work despite it being unhealthy. 

“[A] 99 cent burger fills you up a lot more in the moment than veggies that disappear in an instant,” Avalos said. 

Avalos teamed up with Jamie Dogom and Hector Lopez, whom he met prior to Climathon, and Eddie Rangel, a second-year mechanical engineer. Their proposal, PopLuck, was a community potluck event organized by locals and social media influencers that will offer home-cooked meals to anyone, no questions asked. 

Within 24 hours, Dogom and Lopez created a fully functioning app that included a rating system and an interface for organizers to share what food they intend to bring for a potential potluck. They were not the only team to come up with an app as their solution. 

Ray Manning, a retired aerospace engineer who participated in last year’s Climathon represented his group’s app called FoodSec. The app would allow for community gardeners to quickly update any leftover food grown and send out an automated message for food banks, pantries or restaurants who might be able to make use of it.  

First-year graduate student Josh Ian’s app was designed to track restaurants’ food waste and use that data to better adjust their menus. 

“When we save all this food, we are reinvesting in our communities and making it stronger,” Ian said.  

Wasting food hurts both humanitarian and environmental efforts. Individuals experiencing food scarcity who could have benefited from the food lose the opportunity for a meal. The waste then sits in landfills and releases methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide.

Solutions to food scarcity, according to World Resources Institute, include aquaculture, where ocean life is bred for human consumption, and plant-based protein. Both solutions contribute to a better environment, as aquaculture avoids using more land for farming and plant-based proteins do not emit the same amount of greenhouse gases as meat like beef and lamb. 

“Food. It’s essential to life, of course,” said Wade Martin, director of the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “What you see is a real problem of where food is and where food is needed. Don’t prepare a huge meal and throw away half of it.” 

Between multiple workshops about how to pitch their ideas, meal times and a late-night yoga session, team members found themselves in front of the room pitching their solutions to eliminate food scarcity and change consumption habits to a panel of judges the morning of Oct. 26. 

Over an hour later, a winner had been decided: PopLuck. 

The team expressed their gratitude toward each others’ swift work, the advice that they were given by professionals at Climathon and joked about the lack of sleep they saw in their future. 

“It was very encouraging to see how receptive it was, not just from the panelists because obviously we want to please them, but from everybody else,” Avalos said. “At the end of the day, it’s a friendly competition nonetheless. So the fact that [the judges] recognized our effort, they recognized our idea as something beneficial to them, to the community, is very heartwarming.” 

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