Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Student Webpaper - Candy Stores and Choices (Exploring Sustainability at Bryn Mawr College Dining Services)

mmg's picture
Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4

Candy Stores and Choices


This paper is about food. It’s about choices. It is also about abundance, plentiful resources and the waste of those resources. No, it’s not about food choices. It does involve choices made in relation to food, but it’s not about what people choose to eat. That, I will leave for Pollan. While reading his accounts, I was particularly struck by the manner in which he based food options as pretty much any kind of food we want. The options were endless. It was like the child at a candy store, only this time the demographics did not just limit itself to children. While it is important for us to know what it is that lies on our tables and appeases our gastronomical desires, I think that it is as, if not more important to know the value of what we eat – of food (as a basic necessity) in general from a larger community if not global, perspective.


I come from a developing country where millions below the poverty line are severely under-nourished. Farmers in my state committed suicides, knee deep in debts and sunk in poverty. Children on the roads beg for food. We are taught from a very young age to take on our plates only what we will eat and to finish everything in our plates. Working in the dining hall here for the first day, I was shocked when my supervisor threw an entire batch of boiled broccoli away since it had been sitting out for too long. At first, I didn’t understand what she was doing, simply because the idea would never cross my head. Then, when I saw it happen the second day too, I began to sense the pattern. They looked fine to me! However, since it was just broccoli, and it was my first week at work, I forgot about the incident and let it go. Yet, as I looked through the ‘sustainability’ links attached to the dining services website, the first thing that drew my attention was the link to Philabundance. The website claimed - BMCDS works with Philabundance, the regions largest food bank, to provide food that might otherwise go to waste to those who need it most. I was impressed. Even though I worked there, I had never known what exactly happens to the food that is left over after every meal.


Armed with my new-found curiosity and journalistic poise to the boot, I approached the manager at Haffner dining hall and asked him about Philabundance. He said that they come only during breaks to get food. They had stopped coming regularly. When the prices of gas went up, they decided not to make the trip to Bryn Mawr after all. Earlier they made it here thrice a week. The dining policy did not seem that sustainable anymore. So what happens of the food we don’t use, I asked. They are reused, it turned out. In the salad bars, they put in the previous day’s chicken. The previous day’s chickpeas are probably in there too. Chickpeas and chicken saved. Sweet.


It was clear: Bryn Mawr Dining Services does not give away its food leftovers to an organization that redistributes this food to people who need it. Well, maybe, I tried to reason for the dining hall, there isn’t that much food left over. I knew that wasn’t the case even before I said it out loud. Yet, when I did, (say it out loud, that is) to my hall mate who works at another dining hall, Erdman, I was emphatically opposed. ‘The school throws away tons of food. It’s crazy. The worst thing is they don’t let people in at the end (after dinners in the evening) to take away that food that they’re going to dispose off anyway.’ To gain further evidence for this point, I asked another worker, this time at Haffner, who worked three dinner shifts. She said insane amounts of food are thrown away. All of the hot foods – the rice, the Chinese entrees, the vegan dishes, and whole pizzas make their way to the trash. Another freshman recounted her horrors of working in the dish room – People throw more than they eat!


All of this is extremely hard to digest (excuse the pun) given the number of people who go without food everyday. To hit the point closer to home, 25.1 percent of Philadelphians struggled below the poverty line - up from 24.5 percent in 2005. That rate was the highest among the 10 biggest U.S. cities, according to the Philabundance website. So why wont they want more food to distribute among poor people? I called up Philabundance to get their version. After being transferred among a set of employees, the call finally went to Emily (the lady who transferred the phone said, ‘She’s our food acquisition manager. She’s named Emily too). Emily, it turned out, was a Bryn Mawr alum and had worked in Haffner. She said that they stopped coming over since being a food rescue organisation, collecting food from dining halls becomes a problem since it is not of very good quality. If it has been kept out then the temperature has been changed and then to be put into a refrigerated truck again makes the food easily perishable. Point noted. Yet they did come here earlier. However I was told then that they had changed their focus to collecting raw materials, which is why they came during fall and spring break to collect bread and milk. 


Their accounts seem credible. Yet, none of that changes the fact that large amounts of food are wasted every day on our campus. So while Pollan and Singer and the others debate over what kind of food we eat, what of all the food that we don’t eat? What of all the food that goes through the ‘gruesome industrial food chain’ only to find its way back to heaps of (biodegradable, thank god) trash? At least if it were at some point aiding to a human’s physiological progress or well-being, the chicken would receive martyr karma points. I am not sure they evaluate them chickens as favorably up there if they ended up rotting in a garbage pick up truck.


Histrionics aside, we are living in a world of contradictions. On the one hand, affluence is reaching unimaginable heights (think $300 million Hollywood weddings) and on the other hand, millions perish without access to basic living necessities. With extreme consumerism and the privilege ‘to get what I want when I want’ comes the responsibility to use it judiciously, which we have conveniently forgotten. We are at a prestigious educational institution. It is imperative on us to use our education not just to further our interests in life, but to think of it as an empowerment and use that as a means to better society around us. We can choose to save our food, to eat everything on our plate, to reduce our food waste. It all boils down to choice.


 Either we keep throwing all of that food away, or the dining services, as part of their ongoing promise towards sustainability can come up with ways to keep tabs on food wasted. They could hold regular surveys and find out what it is that students prefer the least, thus estimating amounts of it to be cooked.  We can take just what we are sure we want to eat, and come back for more later. Start with smaller portions. This will help the dining services in estimating amount of food to be prepared better. It does all boil down to choice.


The candy store only looks good.