By Jonathan Meilaender
Do you leave your plate half-full at the dish return? Do you gleefully refuse to finish your meal now that your mom isn’t here to make you? If so, you are one of the targets of a new Dining Service campaign to reduce food waste.
The idea came from SVC Dining Services Head, Jamie Ballew.
“[It] came from my experience working at other colleges and universities, where similar programs were created to promote awareness of food waste,” he said.
Cafeteria workers measured food waste for one week to establish a baseline for improvement. They found that cafeteria diners left 1261 lbs. of food in the dish return. Over a full month, that amount would project to 5044 lbs.
On average, according to Ballew, the cafeteria serves 28,000 meals a month, which is roughly 7000 meals a week. That would equal 2.85 oz per meal.
“A USDA study shows [that] typically, a meal serving is 18 to 20 oz., which means, for every seven meals, one full meal is wasted,” Ballew explained. “If we used the 19 meals per week plan as our baseline, it would feed 53 students for a week.”
Fifty-three meals is a considerable amount of food to waste, but it pales in comparison to national averages. In a major 2018 study based on government data, USDA researchers found that the average American wastes about one pound of food a day, nearly twice the amount wasted per person per day at Saint Vincent, though inclusion of cooking waste may inflate the USDA data somewhat.
“We don’t have a set goal per se, we only want to bring awareness in hopes that we can reduce the current amount by some impactful way." - Jamie Ballew
Still, Ballew thinks improvement is possible.
“We don’t have a set goal per se, we only want to bring awareness in hopes that we can reduce the current amount by some impactful way,” he said.
Ballew suggested that diners take only as much as they can eat. Slower meals also lead to less waste, he said. Not only do diners have time to finish, rushing also prevents them from feeling full even when they’ve had enough.
“Planning your meal times to allow you to consume your meal slower will allow for seconds and discourage taking more than you’ll eat,” he said.
So far, Ballew’s hopes have not been disappointed. Weekly weighing has shown a substantial drop. After the first week, waste had gone down to 1181 lbs. After two weeks, it had dropped to 969 lbs., and after last week, it had dropped another 46 lbs. to reach 923. In total, that’s a 26.8% drop over three weeks – or 284 meals per week. Perhaps your mom wouldn’t be so disappointed, after all.