March 12, 2009

C.U. Dining Seeks to Decrease Food Waste

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­It’s time to decide whether that mountain of Mongo-wokked goodness you overzealously loaded onto your tray is still worth eating. You might reason that anything remaining on your top-heavy tray is a sunk cost and place it on the conveyor belt, sending your food, tray and worries into the kitchen.
For some students, however, the worry and guilt associated with wasted food does not disappear so easily
“It’s a shame to see people waste so much food. I’m straight up livid. The University bears a cost and the environment bears the cost of having to wash extra plates and cutlery,” Josh Neifeld ’11 said.
Although excessive waste is undesirable, it is nonetheless unavoidable, according to Doug Lockwood, office manager for Cornell Dining.
“Students are paying for meal plans,” said Lockwood. “They should always take as much food as they care to eat.
Last year, Cornell Dining’s all-you-care-to-eat dining halls composted 515 tons of food, according to Lockwood. Uneaten scraps of food return to the kitchen where they are rinsed off, drained and pulverized into a rich, compostable puree.
Several measures have been introduced in efforts to minimize waste. The “trayless” movement came to Cornell and was first implemented in Risley Dining last October. It has since spread to numerous locations around campus. Every dining hall on West Campus — except Alice Cook House — recently stopped providing trays in hopes of discouraging food hoarding. Similarly, trays are nowhere to be seen come dinnertime at Oakenshields.
“Since they took away the trays on West Campus, I feel like I get less food,” Colin Murphy ’11 said.
“We’ve gotten complaints about [the lack of trays] removing the convenience factor, but hopefully students will learn to like it, to think it’s cool. It’s about consumer education,” Jaimee Estreller ’10, a student sustainability coordinator for Cornell Dining, said.
“At this point it is an untested hypothesis,” Associate Prof. David Just, applied economics and management, stated in an email regarding the correlation between using trays and the amount food waste. A specialist in behavioral economics, Just has been involved in research efforts examining food behavior in dining hall settings.
He suggested that several factors influence people’s behavior and decision-making in buffet-styled dining halls
“Dishing a neutral colored food onto a neutral colored plate may lead us to underestimate how much we have taken. Larger serving containers will suggest to us that we are [expected] to take larger amounts of food,” Just stated. “Distractions [such as] friends, noise [and] looming exams, can cripple our ability to monitor how much we eat.”
Because it is difficult to restrict the production of food waste, conservation efforts have been established to target waste after the fact, Lockwood said. For instance, composting programs have been introduced to on-campus cafes and eateries to recycle uneaten, biodegradable food
“Post-consumer composting [or voluntary composting by the consumer] has been going on at Trillium since 2006, which was the first; it then moved to the Ivy Room, Risley, Moosewood at Annabel-Taylor, and most recently Mattin’s, Martha’s and then just this week, Synapsis,” said Fil Eden ’10, a student sustainability coordinator for Cornell Dining.
“Composting has tons of benefits, but it requires a pretty big commitment from the community because everyone needs to do their part,” Eden said. Eden and Estreller maintain “The Big Red Goes Green” blog to inform the community of sustainability efforts at Cornell.