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Students campaign to decrease wasted food in Dining Halls

<ve you ever heard the saying that “your eyes are bigger than your stomach?” According to Carleton students who have created an initiative called “Food For Thought,” that saying is very true.

Food For Thought is a student-run initiative at Carleton whose members spent Fall Term collecting data and statistics on the food that students waste at Carleton. They found that Burton and LDC together throw away 13,462 pounds of food during a 5-day working week. This translates to $3,375 a week. This also means a large cost for disposal and environmental degradation.

Gregory Colline, the executive Chef at Bon Appetit, explains that Bon Appetit aims to serve 14 ounces of food to each student at Carleton. Gene Uenishi ‘09 and Food for Thought collected data on this topic, and concluded that an average of 2.2 ounces are wasted each meal. From this, they concluded that an average of 2,000 meals are thrown away each week. Food For Thought’s solution to this problem: Trayless Fridays, where students do not use trays in an attempt to cut down on wasted food.

To connect this to a larger phenomenon, Uenishi says that “America as a whole wastes 98 billion pounds of food a year, and spends $1 billion just disposing of it. If there was a way even 4 billion pounds (that’s just 4%) could be redistributed, then every American could live hunger-free.”

So what inspired Food For Thought? Uenishi explained, “I was in the hospital last summer. I had stomach ulcers so I wasn’t allowed to eat anything, so I was starving and obsessed with the thought of eating. As I was surfing channels, I came across this agenda the World Food Program (WFP, started under the UN) has enabled in some African nations and it went like this: a packet of specially treated high-protein peanut spread costs $50 and feeds one child lunch for a year. The touching thing is that they would take two bites of their meal and brings the rest of it home for their families. So as I was sitting there, famished for food myself, I started to wonder how much food people probably waste at Carleton. And then I thought of how great it would be if there was a way to somehow channel the food we waste at schools in America to schools to developing countries. Hence the name of our endeavor: Food for Thought.”

Food for Thought is already running into some difficulty with the Dining Board, which has just recently spent $3,000 on new trays and is objecting to Trayless Fridays.

Across town, St. Olaf kitchens use a giant pulper to grind waste food into a compostable pulp. Students charted the numbers of weekly waste on a huge graph outside the dining halls, and this turned out to be effective in increasing students’ awareness and decreasing the food they wasted. Macalester College already incorporates Trayless Tuesdays. Even Ivy League schools like Brown University use similar programs.

So is buying a composting pulper a possible solution for Carleton? “They’re pretty expensive,” Colline said. “I would guess maybe as much as $10,000. Ideally this pulp should be sent to a compost place where it is treated and applied as compost to flowerbeds and fields. So, really it’s more important what you do with the waste after the process has been exacted.”

Uenishi has some ideas for the long run; he has met with Treasurer Fred Rogers and claims that, “if we reduce the food we waste, we reduce the food we consume. This reduces the amount we pay as part of our tuition towards our food, which ends up being $500-1000 a year. I like to think that at a school like Carleton, people wouldn’t mind forgoing this amount to channel into a WFP program taking food from one school to another school, for a greater good.”

Khant Khant Kyaw ‘11 is the Public Relations manager for the group who has been meeting with the dining Board and Bon Appetit. “We are hoping that the decrease in food wastage would save some costs, which we hope to channel towards the “Fill the cup” program in Africa which pays for children to go to school. (Educates and eradicates starvation at the same time),” she said. “If this doesn’t work, we hope that it would at least decrease our Dining Board fees, to some extent. Currently, we are speaking to the Carleton Administration and BA to see if it might work.”

Bon Appetit already has the Low Carbon Diet every Fridays to reduce Carleton’s carbon footprint by reducing food cooked with cheese and beef. Uenishi wants to combine this with Trayless Fridays to increase sustainability and awareness among students. Food For Thought will be campaigning heavily this week to generate awareness about their program of Trayless Fridays.

Colline agrees with this idea and wants diners to know that “the best course of action is really to be self-aware. Our eyes are bigger than our stomachs. Oftentimes, you don’t need as much as you pile up your tray with and if you just take what you need, you can always come back for seconds.”

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