Dining Halls Collect, Weigh Waste

Audit Aims to Encourage Students to Change Eating Habits

Wasteful students at the Union, the College's largest dining hall, yesterday had the chance to see the product of their profligacy: a large, clear plastic tub of leftover food.

All 13 undergraduate dining halls collected and weighed the wasted food at each meal yesterday, as part of the Food Waste Audit of the Dining Services.

According to John P. Shaffer, assistant manager of the Union, students at the Union wasted 213 pounds of food at lunch. That's about one sixth of a pound per person.

Each day next week at lunch the dining halls will calculate the amount of food wasted per person and then post the numbers for students to see.

"We are hoping that during the course of the next week we will be able to encourage students to waste less food," said Alexandra E. McNitt, project manager for Harvard Dining Services.

Several students interviewed yesterday though that the audit was a good idea. However, many students knew nothing about the project.

"Far too much food is wasted," said Elye J. Alexander '94. "It's not too hard to tell how much you're going to eat when you take your food."

Most students didn't think that the audit would change their eating habits. "I don't think I waste much food, but if I didn't like something I still wouldn't eat it," said James R. Haney '94.

Jennifer R. Smith '96 said the audit might make her start thinking about food waste. "I might feel guilty," she said.

Another student questioned the method by which the audit was being conducted:by weight of the food wasted. "A potato wouldcount the same as a piece of chicken," he said.

The food waste reduction project is part of theongoing "Shared Responsibility" campaign in theHarvard Dining Services, which seeks to educateHarvard students about the environmental andsocial consequences of their eating habits.

"In our mission statement, we determined thatwe'd run the Dining Services in a sociallyresponsible and ethical way," said Michael P.Berry, director of the Harvard Dining Services.

Elizabeth A. Kay, vice president of EcologicalSolutions, a Boston consulting firm helpingHarvard Dining Services with SharedResponsibility, said the campaign reflects newthinking in the service industry.

"The ultimate goal is to rethink all operationsto balance the bottom line, environmentalresponsibility and efficiencies in operations,"she said. Of course, she added, the demands ofstudents are also a top priority.

When these goals come into conflict, Berry,McNitt, Kay and others must make tough choices.For example, should some dining halls continue tooffer self-service? While students prefer it, itraises the price of each meal by 16 percent,officials said, and may encourage students towaste more food.

In the past, environmental responsibility hasprevailed over perceived convenience in the dininghalls. Last year, the Dining Services eliminatedsingle-serving packaging for cereal, butter andother foods, and reduced the use of paper cups by90 percent.

However, according to Kay, there is no longer atrade off between protecting the environment andpleasing students.

"Students now are asking for us to beenvironmentally responsible," she said. "In the90s, customers associate environmental protectionwith efficiency, not with inconvenience.