Dining Services to host lecture series on food waste

The Buckley dining hall is seen in this file photo. Buckley is often described as one of the more low-end dining halls to be found on campus. (File Photo/The Daily Campus)

The College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources will team up with Dining Services to host a series of lectures on food waste culminating in a meal of unsold, but ultimately delicious food.

The Tasty Waste Lunch, planned to run Wednesday, Sept. 21 from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Fairfield Way, will feature southwestern chili and Brunswick stew made with frozen meat, vegan/vegetarian provencal soup made with excess onions, celery and zucchini, and a dessert of ice cream and blueberry bread pudding made with leftover Panera bread. The lunch is expected to feed between 1,000 and 1,500 people thanks to donations from supermarkets, restaurants and local farms, said Robert Landolphi, culinary operations manager at UConn.

Most of this food would normally end up in a landfill, but even UConn’s sanitarian agrees it is perfectly safe to eat, Landolphi said. Ice cream with too many chocolate chips, for example, may be thrown out due to quality control measures, while farmers are often forced to leave perfectly good fruit and vegetables to rot in the field when the cost of harvesting them outpaces their market value. To combat this, Dining Services recruited a group of students to pick excess blueberries for the meal and, on a larger scale, organizations like Food Share work with businesses to gather donations for food insecure communities.

One out of six Americans is food insecure, but reducing waste by 15 percent could feed 25 million people for a year, according to the Natural Resource Defense Council.

“What people have to understand is that when we say ‘food waste’ we’re not talking about food that has gone rancid, we’re not talking about spoiled food, we’re talking about overproduction,” Landolphi said. “If we can take this food, that, again, is safe food, and we use it to feed the hungry and things like that, we could really change the way people think in this country.”

Dining Services does not exist just to feed people, Landolphi said, it is also part of the academic experience at UConn.

“We have to look at Dining Services as an educational components of the university,” Landolphi said. “We need to educate them on knowing where their food came from, how to make smart choices when it comes to putting food on your plate and making sure that you understand food waste.”

Cameron Faustman, associate dean for Academic Programs at CAHNR, said he was inspired to host the Tasty Waste Lunch after hearing about the University of North Carolina’s “Feeding the 5,000” lunch in collaboration with Tristram Stuart, author of “Waste.”

If the amount of food thrown away worldwide every year was a country, its carbon footprint would be third only to China and the United States, Faustman said. The lunch is designed to show students how much of the food they waste everyday can still be put to use. There will also be a series of lectures(http://collegeambassadors.uconn.edu/2016/09/01/food-waste-2016/) beginning Sept. 13 on Connecticut-based efforts to reduce food waste, sustainable urbanization and the British perspective on food waste.

“We’re trying to bring attention to the breadth of the issue, from how it effects things globally to what you can do in your own fridge,” Faustman said. “All you have to do is change your own behaviors in a small way and it has a big impact.”

Individual behavior is key because the majority of food waste occurs on the consumer end, Faustman said, and it’s not just a bruised apple or a stale piece of bread that gets thrown away - it’s all of the water, land use, transportation and labor that went into putting it on your plate. Up to 40 percent of food goes uneaten in the U.S., resulting in a loss of $1,365 to $2,275 per family or $165 billion nationally per year, according to the National Resource Defense Council.

Ugly fruit, raw meat and food nearing its expiration date are all on the table, but one thing philanthropic foodies aren’t allowed to pass on is precooked food, said Jillian Ives, an academic advisor for CAHNR. While things like pre-made sandwiches are generally considered safe, food that has been sitting in a salad bar or serving tray can be a health risk.

“You do have to pay attention to what kind of pathogens it can carry, and Dining Services is pretty good at knowing what they can donate to soup kitchens and pantries versus what they have to throw away,” Ives said.

Dining Services has implemented numerous initiatives to reduce food waste, including tracking consumption on a daily basis to better predict demand, reusing frozen leftovers in future recipes, donating excess food to soup kitchens and composting scraps that are no longer fit for consumption.

While Dining Services is still experimenting with computer programs that measure and project the university’s precise levels of food waste, director Dennis Pierce said it has declined significantly since the department began using these systems. Several years ago, dining services also made a big change to student meal plans: removing the limit on the number of meals a student could eat in a semester.

“When you have a culture and a mindset like that, subliminally you’re saying to yourself ‘I’ve got to take enough food to account for the dollar amount that I’m paying,” Pierce said. “We changed the whole concept of the meal plan.”

This, combined with eliminating trays in dining halls, encouraged students to take only as much as they were actually going to eat instead of trying to get the biggest bang for their buck.

Following state funding cuts to UConn, Dining Services did not receive an increase in its meal plan budget despite rising food and labor costs, Pierce said. Continuing to cut out food waste will be a big part of maintaining quality service for less.

“We have to figure out where our wiggle room is, where’s the way to address this financial challenge and really the way to do that is through waste,” Pierce said.


Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kimberly.armstrong@uconn.edu.