In an all-you-can-eat setting like the Bon, it’s easy to pile more onto your plate than you’re actually able to consume. People want to get the most out of what they’re paying for, but sometimes our eyes are bigger than our stomachs. Any food that students don’t finish becomes plate waste and gets composted by the school.
“We compost about 27,000 pounds a month,” Amy Dvorak, Sustainability and Outreach Manager at Lewis & Clark said. “Although Bon Appétit does a really good job limiting food that they have to put into composting, there’s still a lot of food that comes through the line after people finish eating in Fields and then put their trays out. All the food that’s wasted goes into composting. We do see increased food waste overall [in an all-you-can-eat café], especially the food that people are taking and then not eating.”
Bon Appétit has other options besides all-you-can-eat dining halls. Other schools have à la carte cafés, where students buy separately priced items instead of meals. Claire Cummings, the waste program manager for Bon Appétit, works with all Bon Appétit chefs and managers in different cafés throughout the country to support any and all waste sustainability initiatives. She graduated from LC in 2011 and got to know Bon Appétit as a student.
“There’s no denying that an all-you-can-eat model is likely to have plate waste,” Cummings said. “I imagine when you actually pay for an item that you order you might value that food differently than if you pay to get it and you have a smorgasbord of whatever you want. In an à la carte setting you know you buy that food, and it becomes your food, and you have the ability to take that food home if you don’t finish it if you still get too much.”
If an à la carte dining hall proves to be more sustainable, Dvorak believes this is could be something that the school should look into.
“If we’re producing 27,000 pounds of composting a month and à la carte is producing half that [Dvorak’s speculation] maybe we should consider changing. People think they get more value for their money maybe just paying the one time cost, but in an à la carte situation you can also take stuff with you which would be cool.”
While LC remains an all-you-can-eat dining hall and the majority of food waste on campus comes from students not finishing meals, Cummings believes that students should be more mindful about what they’re putting on their plates.
“It’s so basic and so simple! ‘Taste Don’t Waste’ is a very simple and easy slogan to remember and I think you will find, and I know I can say this pretty confidently for the Bon, that you should be able to sample the food before you fill your plate with it and that’s totally acceptable and just a really great way to prevent yourself from taking something that you don’t want, or don’t want too much of,” Cummings said. “I think that you should feel encouraged to really try to grab what you need and go back for seconds as much as you want.”
Not all of the leftovers at LC gets composted. A lot of food that is prepared and not served gets donated. The food is donated to a Portland nonprofit called Urban Gleaners.
“Urban Gleaners rescues wholesome food that would otherwise be thrown away from markets, restaurants, events, distributors, farms and manufacturers, and redistributes it to hungry kids and their families in Portland,” Diana Foss, director of operations at Urban Gleaners said by email. “Our mission in two folds is to reduce the 40% of perfectly edible food that ends up in the landfill (where it contributes hugely to greenhouse gas emissions) and to help reduce the shamefully high incidence of hunger in our community. Volunteers and paid staff pick up three times a week at Lewis & Clark, taking untouched food from the dining hall. We bring it back to our warehouse in the Central Eastside and repack it into smaller portions, then take it back out within 24 hours to one of the 45 pantries we serve all over Portland. We’ve been working with Lewis & Clark for the past four years.”
Amy Dvorak explains that our food donations are only a small part of what LC does to prevent food waste compared to the large amount of compost the school produces.
“I think we donate between 5-10,000 pounds a year of food, which sounds like kind of a lot, but they can only take food that is pre-consumer, that’s food that’s not touched or set out on the line at Bon Appétit,” Dvorak said. “So that kind of limits it further, but that 5-10,000 pounds of food to how much food we compost is a little bit discerning. Urban Gleaners are really cool, but they are limited. I think they are limited somewhat in how much they can collect their resources and also the place they have to store to manage food.”
If students feel passionate about food waste and hunger in Portland, Diana Foss encourages students to contact her by calling (503) 226-8061, as Urban Gleaners are always looking for volunteers. Otherwise, students on campus can prevent food waste by only taking what they can eat to reduce the amount of compost at LC.