Students, Aramark work to reduce food waste on campus

Three Environmentally Conscious Organization members are collaborating with Aramark to bring a student-led, nationwide movement promoting ecologically sound and humane food sources to the Indiana University of Pennsylvania campus.

The primary campaign of this movement, called the Real Food Challenge, is to shift universities’ food budgets away from industrial farms and junk food toward local- and community-based, fair, ecologically sound and humane food sources by 2020, according to the organization’s website.

ECO secretary Shayna Speicher (junior, interior design and environmental planning) said ECO learned about the movement at an environmental conference in Pittsburgh last October.

“We think it’s really important,” she said. “Food makes up a lot of the environment issues, especially generating waste.”

Speicher said ECO wants to make dining more sustainable. The club not only wants to reduce food waste but also localize the food and make sure it’s healthier, it’s not genetically modified and the meat is humanely raised.

Speicher said she was surprised that Aramark was interested in working with them.

“I think they wanted to have a hand in making their dining system more sustainable,” she said, “and I know that they recognize the importance of sustainability, especially in the dining system.”

Aramark agreed to use a tool called the Real Food Calculator to track where purchased food comes from and to work side by side to brainstorm ways to start reducing food waste on campus next semester, Speicher said.

Aramark’s resident District Manager Richard Iams said Aramark prepares over a million pounds of food a year to feed the students, which is more than 5,000 pounds of food a day.

“When you prepare that amount of food, we try to make sure that we are being gracious with what we are throwing away,” he said. “For example, when we’re preparing a piece of meat with fat on it, we make sure that it’s trimmed properly.”

According to Iams, between the university’s two retail operations, Folger’s Food Court and the HUB Rock II, Aramark prepares 668,000 pounds of food a year.

Iams said Aramark has found having a waste log to be more effective over the past three years.

He said waste includes anything from production, even the fat from meat.

“I was in Folger and was doing some test dumps, where we take a big bucket of food waste from preparation and dump it out to examine it,” he said. “We saw peppers that were trimmed very neatly to the core, which shows that the people who were cutting that pepper did a very responsible job.”

Iams also saw some tomatoes that could have been trimmed better, and he immediately approached the cooks.

“It may seem like little things here and there, but at the end, it adds up to thousands of pounds of waste that could have been avoided,” he said.

When it comes to leftovers, Iams said, Aramark tries to keep it under or at 1 percent, which is about 6,000 pounds of food a year.

He said Aramark is projected to reduce waste to 2,000 pounds at the end of the school year because of the initiatives in the kitchen.

One of those initiatives, Iams said, is the trayless dining system.

Speicher said she feels that going trayless has made some improvements in reducing food waste.

“When people have trays, they feel compelled to fill their tray with food that they, in most cases, will never finish in one sitting,” she said. “That has improved a bit.”

Iams said another way Aramark is trying to lower the amount of food waste is making sure portion control is accurate.

“We had to put some science behind that,” he said. “Nutritional portions and the amount a student will want go hand in hand to make sure people don’t throw away as much.”

But if someone wants extra beans or extra chicken, they can go up and get more, Iams said.

He said he doesn’t know how effective those initiatives are by the numbers, but he feels they are effective.

Speicher also said she feels students don’t consider what happens to their food when they don’t finish it.

“That sucks because if you would compost a lot of that food,” she said, “you can use that compost to put on a garden, and it will help to grow it better and more ecologically sound.”

About 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted, Speicher said.

Some ways students can reduce food waste, she said, is to first recognize food waste and be aware of the issue.

“So if you’re at a dining hall or whatever,” she said. “Don’t take more than what you can eat, and know that you can always go back for more.”

If a student doesn’t eat at a dining facility on campus, Speicher said, just being conscious during grocery shopping can play a big role.

“You don’t want to buy more than what you will consume,” she said.

Speicher suggested making a detailed grocery list or planning meals for the week so there isn’t food in your refrigerator that isn’t being used.

“Food is huge,” she said. “I think food waste is a really important issue that no one really thinks about. If you ask people what comes to their mind when you say environmental issues or something related to climate change, no one ever thinks about food.”