Imagine the scent of walking into the Commons kitchen one afternoon and finding 50 gallons of fragrant, savory soup stock boiling in the big standing bowl. A closer look reveals violet onion chunks, garlic papers, bits of peppers and tomatoes, and perhaps a pork bone. These scraps were all collected from the daily kitchen prep and have been boiling in water for a few hours to extract their flavors, which will infuse tomorrow's soup. This reusing of food is a measure taken by Bon Appetit to reduce the overall waste in their kitchens.
The Commons kitchen contributes about 750 pounds of food into the waste stream daily. If you have ever walked behind the Chapin building, you might have noticed dozens of garbage bags overflowing from the dumpsters. Perhaps where the contents of these bags end up is not something students think about as they fill their plates in the dining hall.
Executive Chef Michael Downey acknowledges that waste is a problem in the foodservice industry. At Beloit College, he says the biggest source of waste comes from individuals filling their plates with more than they can eat and then dumping that food into the garbage. He emphasized that Bon Appetit's other measure to cut down waste is controlled portion sizes.
"You can come back for more food as many times as you like, but there's a reason we only serve two chicken breasts at a time,” he says. He knows that students' eyes are sometimes bigger than their stomachs.
Chef Downey follows Bon Appetit's company standards of ordering only enough food supply to last a few days. His kitchen receives deliveries of fresh and frozen produce five to six times a week, which he says reduces the risk of produce spoiling in the cooler because the supply is continuously getting used up and replenished.
As for the inedible waste that comes out of the dining hall, a new partnership has been formed to divert the waste stream. Coffee grounds and eggshells may sound unappetizing to the average college student, but to red wiggler worms this is gourmet chow. The more the worms eat, the more nutrient-rich castings they leave behind, and this is brown gold to organic farmers.
One such local farmer, Denny Wright of Wright Way Farm, has agreed to take eggshells and coffee grounds from the college for his vermicompost (worm composting). Commons, DKs, and Java Joint staff collect the waste in five-gallon buckets, and students Jory Carlin'14 and Rachel McCarty'14 transport it to the farm three times per week.
Chef Downey appreciates the community partnership and hopes to see it grow as winter thaws into spring. In the meantime, perhaps the biggest difference we can make in waste reduction is to be realistic about the amount of food we put on our plates. As they say, don't bite off more than you can chew.
If you have ideas about waste reduction or more sustainable foodservice, please do not hesitate to contact the Bon Appetit staff or Sustainability Coordinator Lindsay Chapman. Foodservice is here to serve students, and change will come from partnership, not opposition.