Taking Out the Trash: Reducing Food Waste

Anika Balwada ’23 sat down with Mr. Mike Webster, general manager of dining services, to discuss the school’s management of food waste.

In what ways does the Dining Hall work to reduce food waste?
“We try to reduce food waste in a [few] ways. There is the food waste that is created when the food is being prepared, [such as] carrot peels and ends of things. We try and make [large] batches of everything, for about 50 to 75 [servings], so that way we can manage the production versus consumption. When [the volume of] kids [starts] to dwindle towards the end of the dining [hours], we’re not left over with a lot of cooked food, but rather raw food we can utilize in other ways.”

Are there certain meals that produce more food waste?
“In terms of post-consumer waste, any time there is a bone [in] something, the food waste will be higher, because no one eats the bones. So when we have chicken parm, there is less food waste, because you eat all of the meat. [However,] when we tracked it a few years ago, [waste from each meal] stayed pretty consistent.”

What does the dining hall do with the wasted food?
“We have a three-tiered system. If it is something like a rib, where it is cooked ahead of time and goes on the grill, we can serve it [again], but it goes in our hotbox. However, once it goes out on the service line, then it cannot be served to humans again, and that goes into pig waste. [The pigs] get all of our [food waste] that [is] not meat, like vegetables and grains.
If it’s been cooked and stored, but not served, then we pack it up and freeze it. We have an arrangement with a food pantry where they will come to pick up those overages.
Lastly, all of our consumer food waste goes into [the] compost. [The] number one goal is to feed humans with that additionally-prepped food, [the second] is to [feed] the pigs and help raise them, and then number three is to make compost.”

How can students help reduce food waste in the Dining Hall?
“[Students should] be aware of [their] portion sizes. We encourage kids to eat as much as they like, but not to take more than they will eat. You’re always welcome to go back for seconds. I think that students [should] be mindful of the amount of food they’re taking on the first run through so we’re not just throwing things out.”