‘Egg-Vengers’ battling local food insecurity
By Jim Catalano
An ambitious group of animal science students is fighting the battle against food waste and local food insecurity on two fronts.
The team – dubbed the “Egg-Vengers” – has set up a system to collect hundreds of surplus eggs from the Cornell Poultry Farm and donate them to area food pantries each week. They also are hatching a plan to serve breakfast burritos to Cornell students seeking nutritious and affordable food options on campus.
The Egg-Vengers is the brainchild of Ph.D. student Kasey Schalich, who last fall enlisted undergraduates Brianna Green ’23, Colin Detrick ’23, Regina Martinez ’22 and Sunny Levitis ’22 to join her efforts in creating an egg redistribution program.
The eggs are collected, stored and washed at the Cornell Poultry Farm. Before the pandemic closed campus in March, the students worked on site to prepare the eggs for weekly distribution; now the farm crew gets them ready for the Egg-Vengers to pick up and distribute.
Currently, donations are going to the Friendship Donation Network, which serves as a liaison between food donors and local food distribution programs.
“The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive,” Schalich said. “We don’t have enough eggs each week to meet the requests of all food banks and kitchens we work with.”
Schalich came up with the idea of providing burritos directly to Cornell students – in part because they already had access to the eggs. “They can be a healthy source of animal product protein and nutrition,” she said, “they are convenient to eat while walking to class, and they can be enjoyed any time of the day.”
Green said the Egg-Vengers also want to address food insecurity on Cornell’s campus. “I personally believe it’s easy to underestimate exactly how many [students] are affected by food insecurity,” she said.
Before the shutdown in March, other animal science students worked with the Egg-Vengers to taste-test two sets of breakfast burritos – one batch cooked fresh on the spot, the other reheated from a batch frozen a week earlier.
“Thawing a frozen breakfast burrito so it wouldn't taste soggy was the biggest concern, [because] the burritos would likely be prepped on the weekend, and sold later during the school week,” Schalich said. “It seemed that they couldn’t taste much of a difference between frozen and fresh burritos, which was a big success for us.”
There are still some logistics to work through before the group will be ready to start providing burritos to Cornellians. In the meantime, the Egg-Vengers have recruited nearly 20 more students to join the cause.
“It was actually really easy to find enthusiastic people to help us out,” Green said. “Students on campus really do care, and are excited about the potential Egg-Vengers has to make an impact on our campus.”
The students have also been securing donations from the Ithaca community to help get the Egg-Vengers’ breakfast burritos up and running. Additionally, Cabot Cheese, based in Waitsfield, Vermont, will donate 40 pounds of shredded cheese each month during the school year, and BJ’s Wholesale, based in Westborough, Massachusetts, will also donate a $30 gift card every other month.
Schalich is scheduled to finish her doctorate this semester, but her fellow Egg-Vengers are well prepared to keep the program in motion.
“The spring semester was really a great start — we donated thousands of eggs to many food banks and shelters,” Green said. “And now we have a better idea of what exactly needs to be done in order to really accomplish our goal of serving burritos on campus. The most satisfying part of this journey so far is seeing exactly how much community support we are receiving — the collaborative efforts are truly inspiring.”
Jim Catalano is a freelance writer for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.