Source: Princeton University News
If you step into a dining hall any day on Princeton’s campus, you’re presented with a vast array of cuisines from around the world. Though portions are carefully calculated, some food goes untouched at the end of meal periods. While Campus Dining has had a composting initiative for 20 years as part of its sustainability efforts, there was a communal feeling that the food could go toward a better cause.
Smitha Haneef, assistant vice president for Campus Dining in University Services, and Sarah Bavuso, sustainability manager for Campus Dining, had been meeting with chefs on campus as well as students in Greening Dining, a student group focused on adopting more sustainable practices in the dining halls. Working together, students, chefs and administrators began an effort to distribute the excess food to families in central New Jersey.
The process of getting the food to the community involved a series of steps. Aside from following a strict logging and packaging process to adhere to health codes, Bavuso faced a larger challenge.
“After many months of trying to find a charity to accept our prepared foods, we found the Food Donation Connection,” Bavuso said. “They are a nonprofit that connects those with food with those in need. They took great care in matching us with an amazing harvest partner.”
Greening Dining co-presidents senior Cecilia Shang and junior Shun Yamaya, along with their members, worked with Campus Dining on the food harvesting program and on efforts to make students aware of food waste, such as setting up food waste weigh-in stations at the plate return in dining halls.
They sorted the waste from the bins and were able to construct multiple full plates from the amount of untouched food found in them and shared their findings on social media.
“We all live in such an abundance of excess food in the world, and it’s great to be able to divert the food we don’t finish,” Shang said. “On an individual scale, you think one little bit doesn’t make a difference, but it definitely adds up.”
While Campus Dining aims to eliminate food waste through its planning and purchasing, Maher said that they inevitably have days that are less busy than expected. There is always going to be a “little bit of something that can be reused,” Maher said. “Five or six portions to a family of three is almost two meals.”
Campus Dining also plans to incorporate the food harvesting program into each dining hall to give a bit of extra help to those who need it most in the surrounding community.