A Food Frenzy

By Alice Wong

And the madness begins. With our Sustainable Food Systems Team beginning to measure food waste, the dinner team started in Covel Dining Hall. The three-membered team began the four-hour dinner shift at Covel Dining hall, a typical buffet-style hall. We designated several bins to sort the trash: edible food waste, inedibles (banana and orange peels, bones, napkins, etc.) and liquid waste (water, soda, coffee, ice cream, etc.).

Based on the night’s menu options, we kept note of items that seemed to be wasted the most and for ingredients that weren’t so popular with the student population. Aside from the expected leftover hamburger bits and pizza crusts, we really wanted to analyze disposal and waste trends. 

The dinner team prepped with aprons, gloves, and shoe-slips; we were ready to man the stations. We were to pull plates from the revolving collection trays, scrape and separate the food/liquid/inedible wastes, and sort all kitchenware.

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Pork chops served on a bed of macaroni seemed to be the most popular dish and ironically was the dish that was wasted the most. Besides inedible waste like napkins, we were expecting the bones from the pork chops to be left over with some morsels of meat. However, we didn’t anticipate a large amount of barely eaten or whole untouched pork chops. At the same time, though specific food requests can be made at each food station, people choose to pick up the more convenient, prepared dish of pork chops with mac and cheese. They either eat only the pork chop and leave the mac and cheese untouched or both go untouched.  

Another popular dish was bowtie pasta in pesto sauce. Usually at the Covel pasta station, there’s a self serve station immediately adjacent to food station where people can help themselves to cheese, hot pepper flakes and bread sticks. Though this was a station that allowed people to choose the amount of food out of their own volition, there was a large amount of bread sticks waste, almost all completely uneaten. This is also indicative of how people are creatures of habit and don't always take the time to assess their individual food portions.   

On a separate note, the team had also taken note of apple cores that were discarded during the dinner shift. We thought this would be an interesting side project to take a look at because there is a prevalent misconception that the apple “core” is inedible. When eaten correctly, the apple core disappears and people are left with the seeds and stem. We hope to have little demonstrations on the Hill and the campus that hope to inspire a conscious behavior of sustainable practices.

Our findings are just the first step to help determine the effects of ingredient seasonality, portion size and educational awareness. There are still three more shifts for our Sustainable Food Systems team and we’re ready for the next rounds. We hope that we can use our results to help encourage a sustainable mindset where workers, students and other campuses alike cultivate conscious disposal behaviors and knowledge of a food’s entire lifecycle.