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Minding Mom’s mantra: A look at why being wasteful at the dining hall is both civically irresponsible and environmentally damaging

For those of us who grew up lucky enough to never worry about where our next meal would be coming from, it can be easy to take food for granted. But reality tells us that food in this world is scarce, and millions go hungry every day. This obligates us as students to eat responsibly, especially in the dining halls on campus.

A few weeks ago, graduate students Molly Stryker and Lindsay Hoar conducted a study on the amount of food that goes to waste at Holloway Commons over an eight-hour span. In that short time, they were able to collect some eye opening data. According to their research, 665 lbs of food were wasted at Holloway Commons over the course of four meal periods. The blame for this waste ultimately rests with us as diners, and we can do better.   

The dining halls on campus are fantastic places to grab a meal. The food is abundant, various and, most importantly, delicious. Moreover, we diners can eat to our hearts’ content, and every refill is free. Perhaps the best part: no doing the dishes. All we students have to do when we’re finished with our meals is drop off our plates, cups and silverware at the revolving rack near the exit where they move into the kitchen and out of sight. Just like that, we’re on our way. But due to the large quantity of food the dining halls make available, the amount can easily be misconceived as perpetual. This misconception, combined with the convenience of dropping off dishes, is the root of the massive amounts of food waste that occur at the dining halls.

Plates fill up fast. A slice of pizza, mashed potatoes, turkey breast and a couple of cookies can be too tempting to pass up. Besides, getting enough to eat is important for college students juggling classes, jobs and extra-curricular activities. It’s a stressful time for most, and bodies and brains that are hard at work need nourishment.  Nevertheless, we must be cautious when it comes to literally putting too much on our plates.

Most of us are guilty of having had eyes bigger than our stomachs at one point or another. Unfortunately, the only (sanitary) option is to dispose of the excess food as waste. According to data collected in their research, HoCo diners wasted 1.05 ounces of food on average. Though this amount may seem marginal, it adds up to a significant amount—665 lbs in this case—when multiplied over the course of the 5,479 people who ate at HoCo during the time of the data collection. 

This amount of waste is unacceptable. When we take too much, we make it impossible for the dining halls to salvage the leftover food. In turn, it negates the potential to feed someone not receiving adequate food on a daily basis. Eating responsibly and not being wasteful is, quite frankly, an ethical principle we as students ought to uphold.

Additionally, the food itself isn’t the only thing being wasted when we take too much. Water used to wash the food and university dollars used to purchase the food are also wasted. Energy used to eliminate the excess waste unnecessarily produces environmentally damaging gasses. That little bit of food going to waste is much more significant when we take those external ramifications into account.

Granted, some waste is unavoidable. We certainly don’t expect our fellow students to lick their plates clean. Just like our fellow Wildcats, many of us at the The New Hampshire pay good money to eat at the dining halls and understand how important it can be to make the most of our meals.

However, being mindful of how much food we take is something most, if not all, of us can work on. It’s socially and environmentally responsible, and if nothing else it’s an exercise in respect for those who aren’t as fortunate as many of us. 

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