In the United States, 40 percent of our food is wasted each year, which totals to about $165 billion. Most of this wasted food will end up in landfills when it could be feeding people in need.
Schools, colleges and universities have a huge problem when it comes to wasting food. This has become increasingly true for Northwestern during the past two years, as can be seen from the data produced in studies done by the biology department during the past 10 years.
During the past couple of weeks, the environmental science and earth science classes have been conducting a study to determine how much food and beverage waste is occurring in the cafeteria. Beverage waste has stayed steady in the past two years at just under an average of three ounces per student per day, but food waste has increased on average 11% percent per student per day.
However, students aren’t wasting as much food and beverage as they used to before 2009 when they were allowed to use trays to stockpile their food and drink. But why the increase in wastage? And what is the Cafe doing to help reduce it?
Chef BJ Whitmore said that the reason there is more food waste now than there was two years ago might be due to students self-serving. The staff used to serve most of the food to the students, but due to student complaints about the lines being too long, they now allow students to serve themselves, which means people often put more on their plates than what they actually end up eating.
Despite student complaints, Whitmore said that there was little difference in how long it takes to get through lines that are staff-served compared to lines that are self-serve. If anything, it actually takes slightly longer to get through the lines with the students serving themselves than when the staff served the students.
Whitmore also said that sickness is more likely to spread when students are serving themselves rather than having a staff member with gloved hands serving students. But students want their experience at the Cafe to be enjoyable and flexible to their needs and desires, and the Cafe staff does what it can to make that possible.
However, that doesn’t mean that the Cafe isn’t trying to reduce waste in any way it can — as many other school cafeterias have been doing.
One way that some colleges are making an effort to reduce the amount of food being wasted as of 2008 is by going “trayless” (eliminating the use of trays to carry food). This has greatly decreased the amount of food students waste as well as the amount of water used to clean the trays. Although dishes still need to be cleaned after every meal, far more dishes can be washed at one time than trays.
Another way to reduce the amount of waste is by redistributing. Some colleges and universities have started taking food that was cooked but left over at the end of the night to local shelters in order to help eliminate unnecessary food waste and provide for people who do not get the luxury of eating the same amount of food that NW students do.
Northwestern has taken similar steps to reduce the amount of food waste. Whitmore said that going trayless here at NW made a huge difference in reducing the amount of food, beverage and water waste.
He also explained how the cafeteria now has a computer system that tells them how much food to cook for every meal based upon the usual number of people that show up at each meal. Its accuracy has allowed them to have only a small amount of food left over.
What they do have left over at the end of the night now goes to local families in need through a program called Zestos. Starting this year, students can come in at the end of the meals and bag leftover food to be distributed to families in need.
So far, these efforts have decreased the amount of food and beverage waste as seen in the graphs.