8 March 2019

Millennium Fellow Nathan Tom: Culinary Collective Project

UNAI and the Millennium Campus Network’s Millennium Fellowship helps students design and implement community-level initiatives to promote sustainability and help others in need.

8 March 2019 - In this week’s article, a member of the 2018 Class of Millennium Fellows, Nathan Tom, describes his experiences as the Co-Founder of the Culinary Collective Project at Arizona State University.

His project mitigates food insecurity and furthers the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 2: Zero Hunger by supplying food to low-income students at Arizona State University. Nathan Tom explains the importance of sustainability and the functions of his campus initiative. Additionally, he describes the experiences that inspired him to become a leader in sustainability and the power of young people to improve their community. Read his message below:

“Feed a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” I often refer to this ancient Chinese proverb to illustrate the importance of education and its effect on the utility of resources and sustainable impact. Whether we are dealing with food or a financial package, a resource is only as powerful as the person or community that uses it. The fish in the proverb is both literal and metaphorical. In the realm of sustainability it pertains to the global issue of food insecurity.

Problems associated with food insecurity are specific to regional characteristics and existing infrastructures. There are issues unique to Arizona and our campus at ASU. Our State is not only a geographic desert, it is also home to many food deserts where history and culture play a part.

As a student having observed food insecurity among my peers, I wanted to investigate what I believed to be a “disconnect” between students in need and available food resources. Jacklyn Nguyen, Jake Wilson and I founded the Culinary Collective Project, a student-led research initiative aiming to provide resources for low-income Arizona State University students combating food insecurity. The Collective allows communities, organizations and students to come together to share information, ideas and innovation on this topic. We began with a successful data collection effort and well-attended community event. We hope to continue to foster collaborative efforts to help students long after any initial transaction.

I am not an expert on food insecurity. I’m just an ordinary student who took a leap of faith to turn awareness into action. Looking back, my awareness and the start of my social impact journey came from an unlikely source; a trip to Belgrade, Serbia to play in a youth soccer tournament when I was thirteen. I watched pollution from a manufacturing plant pour into what appeared to be a neighborhood’s water source. The concept of social responsibility was something I hadn’t yet learned about and could not name. That moment had a powerful impact on me and has influenced my education path, eventually leading me to focus my interest in food insecurity in my own community.

A small experience can have a profound impact and provide the impetus to become a Changemaker. This isn’t an easy role. Frustration, uncertainty and apathy are common by-products of social impact work. Part of the journey is maintaining or renewing the inspiration that first got you started. Inspiration can be found all over: in a nature documentary, over a cup of coffee with a friend, a midnight TED talk, or perhaps a random United Nations article.

The most important breakthroughs for the Culinary Collective Project came from the little things. We all have the power to act on what inspires us, and to create and realize the change we seek.

If you are interested in becoming a 2019 Millennium Fellow, apply to the fellowship here. First round applications are evaluated on a rolling basis. View Nathan Tom's Millennium Fellowship Profile here.