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‘Tis the Season to Be Eating


It’s that time of year again. The season for sharing, giving and spending time with family and friends. Oh yeah – and let’s not forget eating.

In light of the current economy, many are scaling back this year. Yet plenty of food will be consumed and wasted this holiday season. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that nearly 100 BILLION pounds of food go to waste each year in the United States. That’s literally tons of food every day. Up to 27 percent of the edible food available.

In the interest of sustainability, Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, has taken steps to reduce that waste. At a school which prides its self on nurturing community service and instilling social responsibility, student food service employees were appalled by the amount of food that was wasted every day. Like many college cafeterias, Concordia’s meal plan offers a variety of foods – all you can eat – for one fixed price. Too much food was being left on the trays to be discarded.

So when students returned to school this fall they noticed something missing from the cafeteria. Trays were gone. As part of the college’s “campus roadmap to sustainability” the dining services cafeteria had become trayless.

The impact was huge. Based on food waste studies, the college estimates a decrease in food wasted of around 24 percent. That’s nearly 150 pounds of food per day – enough to feed nearly 120 people. Add to that the water and utilities saved by not washing trays, means substantial savings in financial costs and environmental impact.

Could trayless cafeterias also be the solution for the infamous “freshman fifteen?”

I suspect that the policy probably will have positive health impacts as well. I’m a big fan of the work of Brian Wansink – consumer psychologist, marketing professor and author of the book Mindless Eating. Dr. Wansink’s research shows that portion size, plate size, variety and convenience of food access all impact how much we eat. People eat 20 to 25 percent more from larger packages. They drink 25 to 30 percent more from a short wide glass compared with a tall thin one. They dish up an average of 31 percent more ice cream when provided a 34 oz compared with a 17 oz bowl. They’ll eat 59 percent more Chex Mix served from a gallon sized bowl compared with Chex Mix served from a half gallon sized bowl. Although students and staff are still free to eat as much as they like, I’m guessing many take less and eat less when they can’t use a tray.

Dr. Jim Aageson, who led the trayless dining initiative at Concordia, said they hadn’t tested that hypothesis. But he agreed that there could be an impact. "When I have a tray I take more food, and when I have more food I most often eat more than I need," said Aageson. "Going trayless is certainly a plus for the responsible use of food, the environment and me."

Photo Credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/freakgirl / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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Erik (01/19/10) said:

You talk about the water and utilities saved from not having trays, and this is great, however manages to waste resources in multiple other ways that a far worse than washing trays. For instance I was walking out of class one night into a complete down pour and the sprinklers around campus were on. I would be interested to see how much water is wasted watering the grass when it's raining. Another way I find Concordia wasting resources is at the campus mail boxes. Every single day a new mailer in placed in our box. Almost always these mailers are for on campus events and to my amazement when I check my email there is a notice about the same event. So why not eliminate all campus flyers and just send them via emial.

Concordia students pay a lot of money to eat at Concordia. Give them their trays back and cut back in other ways such as not watering the grass when it's raining or not sending out a new mailer everyday. If they check the garbage can they will see that 98% of students don't read them anyway.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dr. Anna Erickson published on December 16, 2009 6:30 AM.

Congressional Briefing on Flexible Work Arrangements: Working for America’s Employers and Employees was the previous entry in this blog.

A Systemic Approach to Creating a Psychologically Healthy Workplace is the next entry in this blog.

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