You probably have a love-hate relationship with campus dining. Some days that means you sit down with a plate full of Lowry-ready tan and grey food and promptly lose your appetite. But every other Thursday in Kittredge you put extraordinary effort towards piling macaroni and cheese on top of a grilled cheese sandwich.
Every day at the College of Wooster, food is available, hot and unlimited for our thoughtless consumption; with 2,000 pairs of eyes too big for their stomach, food waste happens. Yesterday I saw an entire plate of fries and two slices of pizza go through the conveyor belt — the antithesis of the clean plate club.
Food waste is a serious problem in America. The EPA estimates that Americans wasted more than 34 million tons of food in 2010 — exceeding our waste of plastics by almost three tons.
Of all that food, less than three percent was recycled (composted). Most of the other 97 percent sat in a landfill where it joined a decade of food waste past to anaerobically decompose and produce methane — a notorious greenhouse gas, and one avoided by careful composting. Other food waste is just incinerated.
I also need to mention that there are people here in the city of Wooster, your age and even much younger, who went hungry today.
Am I suggesting that you start a compost pile in the Kenarden formal lounge? No. I mean, that would be neat and sort of funny, but no. You are all busy, important people who have a paper due this week. I am, and do as well. So all I am asking is that you take personal responsibility for the food you put on your plate. That plate belongs to you. You put food on it. You can be magnanimous, powerful.
So the next time you stare contemplatively at the cheesy risotto in Lowry, take an extra eight seconds to stare before scooping it onto your plate. It will taste the same as it did last time, and no one is in line at the vegetarian station to rush you anyway. If you haven’t had something before, maybe take a camp-size portion. That food is new, and you two might not play well together.
Who knows? I bet if we took less, they would make less. I’m pretty sure that’s how cafeterias work.
Now I know that motivation is key for any kind of personal responsibility campaign. Unfortunately, I have no BPA-free Nalgene to sell you and no different colored recycling bins to give you the self-satisfaction of picking the right one in front of your friends (though you should use those compost bins when able). This is a simple consumption problem, and only caring about what and how much you consume will fix it.
I can only offer these words of advice: when you waste food, you should feel like a butthead. Just a real, honest, butthead. When you don’t waste food, quietly appreciate how great you are. You deserve it. After all, you are a grown person, enrolled full-time at one of America’s premier liberal arts colleges and you managed to judge how much food you wanted to eat.