By Cait Kemp
Thousands of students flock in and out of dining halls all day long, while employees serve up breakfast, lunch and dinner, with multiple options at each meal. The amount of food needed to serve a college campus is astronomical, but what is more important is how much of that food goes to waste at the end of the day.
On Monday, Springfield College English professor Justine Dymond and her Native American Literature class hosted an event titled “What’s On Your Plate?” – a food waste campaign to encourage students to be more mindful of what they eat and, moreso, the leftovers they throw out.
“The course is a part of the social justice domain for the gen-ed program…during one of our discussions in class about The Earth Charter, which is by Chief Jake Swamp, in which it’s sort of a manifesto about how to take care of the earth,” Dymond said. “In that conversation we started talking about hunger, food insecurity and then onto the conversation of food waste.”
Junior Erin Duffy, a student in Dymond’s Native American Literature class, had a part in the organization of the event. After the discussion in class, the students became more interested in the topic and how to spread awareness to their peers.
“One Friday, we were discussing food availability and food waste,” Duffy said. “One of my classmates, Alejandra Ladines, who works in Cheney, shed some light about food waste on our campus.”
Her classmate continued to share that at the end of the night, there is often an abundance of leftover food in the dining hall, but staff workers are not allowed to take any of it. Hearing this gave Duffy and the rest of the class the idea to work food waste into their final project to spread awareness about food waste and share how it affects the community.
“There is a lot of food waste in Cheney, it’s an all-you-can-eat situation… that gets just dumped in the trash,” said Dymond. “One of the questions is, there’s how to prevent it, but then there’s also going to always be leftover food, so how can that be distributed in a safe way to those who may be suffering food insecurity in the very community that we live in?”
To reach students across campus, the class created a survey to see how many people knew about food waste at Springfield College. They received over 100 responses. The survey asked students about food waste at school compared to at home, how much they think they put on their plate, and whether or not they eat most of it or end up throwing it out.
Through the event, the planning committee started a chapter with the Food Recovery Network, “which unites students on college campuses to fight food waste and hunger,” Duffy said.
The Food Recovery Network collaborates with college campuses to fight waste and feed people. There are local chapters at UMass Amherst, Worcester State University and Hampshire College, among others. There are programs on over 180 campuses across the nation, and together, they have recovered and donated over 5 million pounds of food, according to their website.
“Think globally, act locally,” Dymond said, the phrase acting as their mantra for the project.
The event was showcased in Cheney Dining Hall and the Union Cafe this past Monday and included a raffle, where students could try to guess the amount of candy in a jar representing the pounds of food an average college student wastes per year. They also gave out the survey link and additional information regarding food waste.
“My table was in the Union, and I had a couple of people stop by the table in passing and fill out the survey in addition to making guesses towards the jar, which is great,” Duffy said.
“The topic is important to me in particular because if we have so much leftover food at the end of the night in Cheney, why can’t employees take home some of this food?” she continued. “It applies to our class because Native Americans have a higher food insecurity rate.”
The plan to continue the campaign is in the works, but Dymond is hopeful that the students will continue this passion and want to share it with more people and really make a change in the community.
“Hopefully the chapter, we’re going to keep it going. During our final exam we’re going to do a debrief discussion…like how do we keep the ball rolling,” said Dymond.
Next time you grab a plate in line at Cheney, think about what you really will eat, and don’t overfill your serving. Being mindful about food waste and informing yourself is the first step in becoming educated and making a change in the community.
Photo Courtesy Erin Duffy