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Weighing in on Lowry “shame dinners”

Food waste is a serious problem; around one third of the food produced for human consumption every year is wasted, which presents significant issues from both a human and environmental perspective. Not only is the economic cost of food waste painfully high, but there are individuals in every part of the world who do not know when their next meal will be. From the environmental perspective, large scale industrialized farming takes a significant toll on soil, water and other resources that we require. This issue rightfully deserves recognition, and I am relieved that people at our institution are trying to bring attention to it, but the way in which it is being done is doing more harm than good.

Every so often, as I am sure everyone has noticed, after our evening meal in Lowry we have to stand in a line so that we can watch someone scrape all of our unfinished food into a bin to be weighed. This can be a bit of an uncomfortable experience; while it does make us all (momentarily) accountable for the food that we are wasting, it doesn’t consider the mental health, safety or comfort of our student body.

I’ve spoken to many students who have expressed serious anxiety and fear of eating dinner at all on those days, some students who make an effort to scrape their food into trash prior to returning their dishes and some who go as far as to call the evening “shame dinner.” The act of making people feel guilty for the amount of food they are or are not eating in an environment where we don’t necessarily have control of our options could be detrimental to not only the body positivity and comfort of the individual, but it could also inhibit the development of positive communal habits.

Students deserve to feel comfortable and safe in a space where they have to spend a significant amount of their time, but we also need to be accountable for the food that we waste. The way in which food waste is collected during these dinners poses not only a threat to the wellbeing of students, but it also doesn’t garner an accurate number. Some students have expressed that they eat less on these nights, others throw out their food and some don’t even attend dinner, so the weight of the food wasted doesn’t reflect what it would be on a standard night.

Also, nothing or no one is keeping any of us accountable. In past years, I remember the number being written on a chalkboard that we would all walk past as we swiped into Lowry, but what exactly does that number mean and how many people actually pay attention to the number? How much is 250 pounds of food? Did we do better or worse than last week?

A logical solution to a number of these issues is the reorganization of the food collection. While this may not be feasible or easy, what if food was collected after students put it on the conveyer belt? If we don’t know that food is being collected, not only will people be comfortable, but we will also get an accurate depiction of how much food we waste on an average night.

The next step is to hold us accountable. Give us the number and find a way to contextualize it; this could be monetary, caloric or, if possible, the number of people who could’ve been fed off that residual food. We need consistent reminders and a better understanding of the issue, not just an occasional feeling of guilt.

Sarah Vonck, a Contributing Writer for the Voice, can be reached for comment at SVonck18@wooster.edu.

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