Contest shows students waste a ton of food

Nathalie Tadena

Students who ate lunch in dining halls last week threw away about a ton – literally – of leftover stir-fry, half-finished pizza and uneaten salad as part of the Weigh Your Waste challenge.

Students were asked to dispose of their wasted food into large plastic bins during lunch. A total of 1,946 pounds was thrown away during the challenge, which was sponsored by Sodexho and Campus Kitchens.

At dinner, students had the opportunity to guess the weight of the amount of uneaten food accumulated over lunch. Students who guessed closest to the actual weight at each dining location received an iPod Nano.

An average of 0.15 pounds per person was wasted at dining halls during lunch last week, said Pam Yee, Sodexho’s marketing manager.

“We want students to see just how much waste there is,” Yee said. “When you actually know how much is in that bin, you can see how much wasted food could have served ‘X amount’ of people and gone to the needy.”

Volunteers from the student group Campus Kitchens repackage unused dining hall food and deliver about 120 meals per day to needy families in the Evanston area. With the amount of food wasted at lunch last week, Campus Kitchens could have served two-and-a-half times as many people each day, Yee said.

The fewer number of people who waste, the more food Campus Kitchens can serve, said Sara Wynhoff, a member of the Campus Kitchens’ leadership team.

“You don’t think a lot about taking extra food on your plate,” the Weinberg sophomore said.

Dining hall settings make it easy to take more food than you need, Wynhoff said. She suggested that students take smaller portions of food and only return for extra helpings if they want more.

“It’s really up to students to examine their own habits,” she said. “This is something easy for students to do that will have a big impact.”

This is the first time the Weigh Your Waste challenge has taken place at NU, though similar events have taken place at other schools, Yee said.

The dining hall at Foster-Walker Complex wasted the least amount of food and will be rewarded with a Carnival-themed night.

Yee said the overall amount of food wasted was not surprising based on reports of how much was wasted at other schools.

But some students said they expected less food would have gone to waste.

“I thought it was pretty eye-opening to see (the uneaten food),” said Caroline Rothstein, a Music freshman. “When I think about how much I personally wasted, it made me more conscious and now I think about it when I take more manageable portions.”

Weinberg freshman Michael Alperin said he thinks “it’s embarrassing how much food we waste.”

“I don’t think it will change, but I wish it would,” he said.

Weinberg freshman Leah Bettag said she already makes an effort to not waste food.

“If they want us not to waste food, there should be better food,” Bettag said. “Their hearts are in the right place, but they’re not offering us a solution. It just points out something we already know.”

Reach Nathalie Tadena at [email protected]