From Dolphins to Food Recovery: Finding My Way to the Fellowship

female fellow farming

Fellow Shannon Tivona working on a Bali farm

My freshman year at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL, I arrived with my dreams full of dolphin training, going on Alaskan cruises to count whales, and spending hours in the lab analyzing dolphin whistles to decode their secret language. The universe, however, had other plans for me.

In my first semester, I was sitting in my little dorm room on Facebook and I saw a video about the Food Recovery Network. I have always been an unabashed fan of efficiency, and seeing food that would have been thrown away go to people in need simply made sense.

Shannon cooking up a meal

I immediately decided I would attempt to start a chapter at Eckerd. I printed out pamphlets, made a PowerPoint presentation, and practiced a passionate speech about helping our local community. I set up a meeting with Bon Appétit Management Company’s general manager at Eckerd and threw on my blazer, ready to fight for my newly held conviction.

I marched into the meeting and began explaining the concept of the Food Recovery Network. Before I could even open my laptop to start the presentation, he said yes.

Every Wednesday and Saturday, I dragged a friend I had recently met down to the Bon Appétit kitchen to pack up food to donate. One Wednesday evening I remember being faced with an entire huge sheetpan of chicken. After several failed attempts with tongs and giant spoons we eventually decided gloved hands would be our best tool to transfer it into our donation trays. As we were grabbing handfuls of chicken, we looked at each other and realized how absolutely ridiculous we looked, and burst out laughing.

In that moment I was overwhelmed with gratitude. Gratitude for generosity, gratitude for the opportunity to heal a small part of a broken food system, gratitude for the power of “yes” to change so many lives, and gratitude for friendship forged in chicken.

The spring semester of my freshman year, then–Bon Appétit Fellow (now Manager of Strategic Initiatives) Nicole Tocco Cardwell came to visit Eckerd. I jokingly introduced myself as her future best friend. Little did I know that four years later I would have the privilege of not only working with Nicole but becoming a Fellow myself.

Shannon showing off a pumpkin at a farmers’ market

That meeting was the beginning of the end of my dreams of becoming a marine scientist. Soon my interests shifted to how we shape our food system and how ultimately our food system shapes us. I changed my major to Environmental Studies and started my path to food sustainability. I conducted research on life-cycle assessment for food products, I worked to create a campus farm plan, and as intern for the Office of Sustainability and Director of Culinary Relations worked closely with Bon Appétit to implement sustainability projects.

I have never considered myself a very accomplished cook. Although I can make a pretty impressive pasta salad, my expertise ends there. So a career in the food industry seemed an odd choice. But it turns out, as I soon discovered, the food system isn’t just about food, it is also about people.

From seed to farm to fork, food is a labor of love. A farmer sows love into his fields, a chef adds a dash of love into her recipe, and a mother arranges it with love on the plate for her child. And, oh, do we love the result!

Already through this fellowship I have the honor of hearing the stories of this labor of love and helping to strengthen the bonds that support it. Through food, individuals not only show love for their craft, but we show love for the Earth, and ultimately, for each other.