As you may recall, students at Virgina Tech recently removed trays from their cafeteria to see if they could reduce the amount of food waste they produced. The results, as reported by the fabulous garblog Wasted Food, are in and the news is good: a 29% reduction! Andy Sarjahani, VT’s dietetic intern, was kind enough to share this presentation on the study (please seek his permission directly before using any part of it) and to answer a few questions here. Bon appetit!
everydaytrash: What sparked the food waste inquiry at Virginia Tech?
Sarjahani: This was my final project for my Virginia Tech dietetic internship for my “Food Service” segment of the internship. VT is seeking to become more sustainable while avoiding the notorious road of “green-washing” that has become so very common since this whole movement was triggered.
The project more or less mushroomed into this whole quixotic adventure throughout the 6 weeks it took to organize and implement. Initially, VT Dining wanted to phase out all of its styrofoam/plastic “to-go” dishware in favor of their compostable counterparts. Obviously, it doesn’t make much sense for one to dish out the extra money for compostables if one does not plan to compost them! So, the next step was to find a way to get all of this composted. I then had the blessing of crossing paths with PME Compost, LLC, a local composting facility that was looking to expand its business. PME sought to pursue a truly large-scale operation and this was/is ideal for VT Dining…and incredibly timely to say the least. I wanted to give PME an idea of how much compostable waste they’d be dealing with per certification codes and other bureacratic riff-raff so I decided the only true way to attain an inkling of accuracy from such a gargantuan food-service operation was to choose the facility with the largest waste (explained in the attached PowerPoint) and go to work. It became quite apparent to me that a beautiful opportunity was given to me: obtain stats to ignite the commencement of a composting initiative while simultaneously forging an food waste advocacy campaign.
I have an intense passion for all things sustainability – namely food systems, as that’s where I’ve elected to hone my professional skills – and this proved to be quite a serendipitous connection.
everydaytrash: What have you found so far (and do you think its representative of campuses across the country)?
Sarjahani: I’ll list them bulleted-point style as that will hopefully present some clarity between the variance of the issues at hand.
- Trays are not necessarily the problem. The whole “tray v. trayless” issue is merely a symptom of the true root of the problem. I highly doubt that the most brilliant debater on this planet could make a case for “all you can eat” facilities given the present issues our planet faces. “All you can eat” contributes to obesity, financial loss, global warming, food waste, and further stimulates an already inherent attitude of entitlement in America. I am of the opinion that the epidemic of entitlement leading to gluttony and waste is indeed widespread in the United States.
- I’ve also found that ranking systems do not take into account the issue of waste. Virginia Tech is currently rated #1 in the area of Dining Services by the Princeton Review. Upon further probing, I discovered that this ranking is based on only one question that can be answered electronically via the World Wide Web. This question is broken down into a few categories (service, taste, etc) and no mention is made of waste. Furthermore, the College Sustainability report card does not take waste into account. Rather, the CS report card simply focuses on if waste is composted or fed to swine. No mention of preventing waste or diverting waste to food banks is ever made to my knowledge. Composting still requires fossil fuel for pick-up, transportation, turning of compost piles, packaging of compost, and then finally delivery. The most sustainable option is to have as little waste as possible and then diverting what is edible and sanitary to food banks and shelters.
everydaytrash: What’s next?
Sarjahani: I am currently apprenticed on a grass-based, sustainable livestock farm in upstate New York – Sap Bush Hollow Farm and working with one of the farm’s partners, Shannon Hayes, PhD (Sustainable Agriculture/Community Development) to create awareness in the area of sustainable agriculture. I am also pursuing the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Food and Society Policy Fellowship in an effort to obtain funding to further advocate for two issues very close to my heart:
1) Food waste and its effects on hunger, the environment, and society
2) The dire need to re-connect with our food and where it comes from and the tremendous need for us young folks to enter the profession of farming if we are to have food security.
P.S. I realize it’s Wednesday, but didn’t want to loose the alliterative effect!