Greenfire and Downer hope to cut down on food waste

Grace Christiansen

It’s a familiar sight: Stacks of trays at Downer filled with half-eaten meals, sandwiches missing barely a bite, bowls still full of cereal — wasted food. This past week Greenfire has been trying to fight food waste by running the Clean Plate Challenge at Downer.The challenge is an event that in the past has taken place once a year but from now on will be happening twice a year. Said sophomore Sonia Emmons, a member of Greenfire, “It is meant to make people stop and think about how much they take in relation to how much they eat.”

In addition to having an information table with a poster people could sign to show support, Greenfire did a daily food scraping. Every day last week they scraped and weighed food between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
“We only scraped things that people could have eaten and only for two hours, and even then the results were really troubling,” said Emmons.

During those two hours on Monday, Clean Plate Challenge participants weighed 55 pounds of waste. On Thursday, the record high, they weighed 66 pounds of waste in two hours — the waste of roughly 300 people.
At Downer, leftover food is packaged and brought to homeless shelters in the Appleton community. Obviously, food that has been on a plate, even if untouched, must be thrown away.

It is perhaps unfortunate that the norm at Downer is for people to have substantial amounts of food left on their plates, just to be thrown away. Said Emmons, “Food waste is really a problem here. It’s a problem everywhere but it’s especially bad in cafeterias because there aren’t any allotted portions.”

Greenfire members are not the only people on campus thinking about food waste, and the staff at Downer may be on the right track to cutting down on the problem. Lawrence has recently purchased the program EatecNetX, a multi-layered menu inventory-management system.

“The program takes an inventory of recipes and ingredients and a history based on what items are popular. We will know what to prepare and how much to prepare — thus fighting food waste,” said Patrick Niles, director of dining services.
Over the past year the staff members at Downer have been adding data about inventory and recipes to the system. Once the data are in the system it consolidates the information and converts it into nutritional panels.

What will the Downer staff do with that information? To begin with, there will be nutritional panels next to the food at Downer. Then, according to Niles, “We would like to put them on the Web page and have an interactive Web page where you could click on the food items and it would give you the complete nutritional value of your meal.”

Additionally, the staff will use the information to cut down portion sizes to be consistent with the nutrition information. Said Niles, “Smaller portion sizes will lead to healthier people and less food waste.”

However, this is a slow process and the program will probably not be fully functional for another year. Until then, Greenfire and Niles hope that Lawrentians will think before they take excess food.