Discarded food at Hampshire Dining Monday is destined for a local composting facility.
AMHERST–The University of Massachusetts wastes 1,400 tons of edible food each year despite being ahead of many colleges and universities when it comes to sustainability, according to sustainability director Rachel Dutton. Students across campus responded this week that the problem may lie at the consumer level.
“I have always been someone who has cleaned my plate, but when I had a meal plan as an undergrad I wasted more food than I had in my entire life,” said Isaac McAlistar, 28, second year graduate student and Hispanic linguistics major, “With an unlimited amount of food available with a swipe, there are no consequences to throwing food away,” McAlistar said.
The university made strides to reduce waste from the 45,000 meals served each day, according to Robert Bankert, chef du cuisine at Berkshire and Hampshire Dining, “The biggest change [happened] a couple of years ago when we went to tray-less dining. This reduced our waste by about 30 percent. As of now, we are probably in the 10 to 15 percent range,” Bankert said.
The dining services practice “just in time” cooking techniques to limit the amount of left-overs, according to Garett DiStefano, director of residential dining. “We make a lot of small batches over the course of the meal period, limiting the amount of food waste. Excess food is, if raw ingredients, held for another meal period,” DiStefano said.
Erica Barbarossa, Russian and Eastern European studies major, offered advice to student diners, “Try and pick foods that you know you’ll like and won’t throw away. Some people just get food because they can’t find anything else then take a bite, hate it and throw it away,” said 19-year old Barbarossa. She added that she’s guilty of discarding up to 20 percent of the food on her plate.
Sophomore nutrition major Angela Gitau agrees the unlimited buffet of food contributes to her wasteful behaviors, throwing out 25 percent of her food daily. “Some people look at the food and they think they can take huge portions and throw away anything they don’t want. I think it comes down to education and making sure people understand that food waste is a problem,” Gitau said.
It is a balancing act for the dining halls to be sure minimal food is left untouched in the serving trays at the end of each day. According to Bankert, the standard at UMass is to put out less on smaller serving trays to counteract this problem as the night wears on. Per health department rules, any food left in the serving trays must be discarded.
Troy Wang, a 19- year- old biology major and a dishwasher for Franklin Dining, sees issues in the operational procedures of the kitchen. “They threw away several trays of pineapple yesterday because they were about to be overripe. They were still edible, but aesthetically imperfect,” he said.
“With menus that change daily, and a variety of different ingredients, cuisines, and recipes, managing leftovers whether it’s uncooked product, or cooked that wasn’t put on the serving line, is always a challenge,” said Bankert,.
“We try as much as we can to not run out of a menu item, however we also try as hard as we can not to have too much left over. This is very hard to balance as it’s impossible to predict how much of each item students are going to eat on a daily basis.”
Bankert explained that food scraps generated at the university whether raw product or uneaten off somebody’s plate, gets scraped into a compost bin and sent to a local composting facility in Greenfield.
According to Dutton, the only exception is a student group at the university called Food Recovery Network. “[The Food Recovery Network collects] several pans of un-served food from Worcester Dining Commons several times a week to donate to Craig’s Doors, a soup kitchen on North Pleasant Street, Amherst,” Dutton said.
To combat food waste, McAlistar says the first step is to raise awareness on the consumer’s level. “Start by making a conscious decision of what you tend to eat, maybe by keeping a food diary of what you purchase, eat, and throw away. I think that’s a good way to raise your consciousness about an issue, especially because we like to function economically and avoid wasting money,” the graduate student said.
Computer science major Jake Youn agrees with this sentiment. “As a kid my parents were very frugal. They forbid me to leave the table until I ate everything on my plate. Because of this I eat everything I take from the dining halls and waste nothing,” he said.
McAlistar says he strives to waste as little of his food as possible. He reports he wastes less than 1 percent of the food he buys on campus. McAlistar said, “Not having a traditional meal plan helps… If students are not paying for each item individually they’ll be more likely to waste it.”