Stop Wasting Food, Baccalaureate Speaker Urges Class of 2020 Grads
Yolanda Kakabadse, former World Wildlife Fund International president, speaks amid pandemic’s growing hunger crisis
“Tonight, we will have 800 million people [worldwide] who will go to sleep without food,” Yolanda Kakabadse, former president of the World Wildlife Fund International (WWF), told graduates of the Class of 2020 at Sunday’s pandemic-delayed Baccalaureate service at Marsh Chapel. And how is the world reacting? “Forty percent of the food we produce worldwide is lost or wasted,” she said.
That waste not only ignores the poor, it fuels global crises, said the Baccalaureate speaker, who received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters at the afternoon’s 2020 main Commencement ceremony. The energy used in dealing with that waste, if consumed by a nation, would make that country the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and the United States. Humans level forests and habitats “to produce more than we need for food… Half of what we take out of the ocean is thrown away.”
If her listeners thought their days of homework were over after graduating a year and a half ago, Kakabadse cleared away the misconception. “Each one of us can be part of the solution,” she exhorted. “We need to plan how much we need to buy that [we’re] going to use during the week,” prune any excess, and urge friends, family, and coworkers to do the same.
Too many people have forgotten “how to use the senses that God has given us—how to smell, how to touch,” rather than rely solely on food expiration dates. Which, incidentally, are under review for possibly needless stringency, by corporations from Walmart to IKEA to Unilever, she said. And that’s not the only response to global hunger from the business community.
Tonight, we will have 800 million people [worldwide] who will go to sleep without food.
Restaurants and the hospitality industry are serving delicious meals made from perfectly fine, if imperfect, ingredients: “that poor, crooked carrot that nobody wants to buy,” or bruised fruit. Some bakeries alert patons to unused, end-of-day edibles that are available, while food banks hit up donors for food that might otherwise be tossed, she added.
Amid the pandemic, which has stalled rollbacks of food insecurity globally, Kakabadse said, “Remember: food is never waste.”
She first learned of humanity’s power to address food waste more than a decade ago in a Stockholm hotel. A sumptuous breakfast buffet was laid out with a sign inviting diners to help themselves—but also warning that they’d be charged for whatever they took, whether they finished it or not.
“No one in the dining room left a crumb of bread,” Kakabadse said.
That was far from the beginning of her advocacy, as the Rev. Robert Hill, dean of Marsh Chapel, told the gathering in introducing her: “Tread lightly, manage wisely. That theme lies at the heart of Yolanda Kakabadse’s more than 40 years as conservationist and environmentalist.”
Kakabadse led WWF from 2010 to 2018. Over its six decades, the conservation group has grown its presence to 100 countries, helping them save species, habitats, and natural resources.
A former environment minister for her native Ecuador, she coordinated participation of civil society organizations for the 1992 United Nations “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro. The convention on climate change produced by the summit led to the Paris Climate Accords five years ago.
From 1979 until 1990, Kakabadse was executive director of Fundación Natura in Quito, Ecuador. She founded Fundación Futuro Latinoamericano in 1993, was executive president until 2006, and remains chair of the advisory board. The organization promotes sustainable development in Latin America.
“She continues to advocate for sustainability and encourage us to live in harmony with each other and our planet,” Hill said in his introduction.
Sunday’s service marked the return of the Baccalaureate indoors to Marsh Chapel, its traditional home, after a two-year absence. This service had been postponed by the pandemic from its scheduled May 2020 date. Last May’s Class of 2021 Baccalaureate was held outdoors, behind the chapel, in deference to pandemic safety protocols.
The indoor setting especially resonated with Thomas Batson (CFA’20, CAS’20). He led the service’s Prayers of the People from the same pulpit where his grandfather, Rev. F. Thomas Trotter (STH’53, GRS’58), preached in the 1950s as a Methodist chaplain under the late Marsh Chapel Dean Howard Thurman (Hon.’67), the first Black dean at a mostly white American university.
“Legend has it, according to Dean Hill, that my grandfather was the first person to preach in Marsh Chapel after its construction,” Batson told BU Today. “To close my career at BU in the pulpit where he once stood is an extraordinarily meaningful end. Perhaps I feel so strongly about Marsh Chapel because I see it as a place that is always willing to welcome. To experience that sense of welcome once again is truly a gift.”
Batson served as a ministry associate at Marsh Chapel during his undergraduate years, and “the physical presence of the chapel grounded my BU experience in fellowship, learning, and music,” he said. “After a long 18 months, to be able to sit inside for a moment of worship, and participate in the service itself, is an exciting opportunity to return home.”
The chapel’s spirit, Batson said, infuses his work now as a program assistant with Trinity Church Wall Street Philanthropies in New York City, which addresses racial and social justice. From the pulpit, Batson included thanks to University leaders, who in the 18 months since the Class of 2020 graduated, worked “to make this time possible.”
He also prayed “for all those who have died, especially those we have lost to the coronavirus.”