Green Matters: Waste not, want not

A serving station at Café Mac. The Green Plate Challenge, a food waste reduction initiative, will start there next week. Photo by Maya Rait ’18.
A serving station at Café Mac. The Green Plate Challenge, a food waste reduction initiative, will start there next week. Photo by Maya Rait ’18.

Next week is Earth Week, and Bon Appétit is collaborating with MacFEAST to help reduce food waste in Café Mac through an initiative called Food Counts: the Green Plate Challenge. Showing up at the cafeteria to refuel between classes, it’s easy to forget about the human and physical resources that go into growing, transporting, cooking and serving the food that we eat every day. However, as members of a community that is proud of our global citizenship, we should remember that food waste matters. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, one-third of food produced annually worldwide is lost or wasted in the production and consumption chain. Here in the US, 30-40 percent of food produced is wasted, and organic wastes are the second largest component of landfills, releasing the greenhouse gas methane as they decompose.

Food Counts will both raise awareness about waste by making food visible and measurable as well as provide ways for students to reduce food waste. Next week, there will be large buckets in front of the dish return for students to scrape their plates into. This food will be weighed and recorded. Last semester, students from MacFeast held a similar food waste count, but it lasted only a few lunch periods and members of MacFeast scraped the plates rather than relying on students to scrape their own. Why the change in format? Well, aside from the fact that this was obviously very time-consuming for MacFeast members, MacFeast hopes the new scrape-your-own-plate system will encourage students to think about food waste without feeling shamed by their peers.

“I want people to feel uncomfortable because we aren’t usually faced with what waste really means … however, I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable in the way that other people are judging them; I want people to judge themselves,” explains Millie Varley ’18, a leader of MacFEAST.

Students will also be able to ask for samples at each food station. The point of the food waste reduction plan is not to ask people to overeat or eat things they don’t like — the point is to enable students to choose the food and portions they want with minimal waste. All you have to do is ask for a sample! It’s also simple to ask for less if you know you aren’t that hungry. Use comparison points: “Can I have half of what the person before me had?”

The small amount of student effort required is more than worth the potential waste reduction.

But what exactly is the waste reduction? And what currently happens to our waste? Café Mac’s head chef and staff have been happy to collaborate with student organizations to increase cafeteria sustainability. Macalester is a proud member of the Food Recovery Network, so food in the buffet line that doesn’t make it on to student plates gets saved and given to a local food pantry called Loaves & Fishes. Food that ends up on student plates but doesn’t get eaten is sent to a local pig farmer and processed into a form that pigs can digest. So then, what’s the problem with food waste? Well, it’s more important to feed people than pigs. And also, most food waste created outside of Macalester doesn’t go to food pantries and farms.

We only eat in Café Mac for a few years of our lives. Because of this, the main goal of this week-long project is not just to reduce food waste in Café Mac, but to create new social norms around food consumption on campus. As a community, we have the power to create cultural change, reduce waste and remember the value of our food. Let’s use it!