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Lamentable Leftovers

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The Food Wastage Problem At Yale-NUS

story Rachel Lim Cheng Woon

Dining hall food wastage
Unfinished dining hall food is one of the main sources of food wastage. (Pareen Chaudhari)

Leftover food in SR4 from a major advising session!” a post on the Yale-NUS College Students Facebook Group announced. Holly Apsley ’18 rushed down to find pastries and pasta and brought some up for her suitemates. In the recent weeks, Facebook announcements on excess catered food from school events have appeared almost daily on the College group. While some food is consumed quickly, others are left in large amounts in floor kitchens, the Shiok Shack or common lounges, only to be thrown away.

Food is also wasted in the dining hall. Twelve kg is thrown away by Yale-NUS diners every lunch service, according to Alejandro Puno, Compass Group’s Unit Manager for the dining hall Yale-NUS shares with the College of Alice and Peter Tan (CAPT). At each breakfast and dinner service, diners dispose of an average of 30 kg of non-halal food and 15 kg of halal food. These figures were from February data.

A college-wide survey conducted by I’dECO—the Yale-NUS sustainability movement—over November to December 2014 saw 50.5% of the 95 respondents reporting wastage of a quarter or more of their food. This equates to one-eighth of a meal wasted per person. Unsatisfactory quality of food and servings that were too large were the main reasons why people wasted food, according to the survey.

On the issue of serving size, the Dean of Students (DoS) Kyle Farley intends for most meals to be self-service in the new campus, which could reduce food wastage due to staff dishing out too much food.

Over-catering is another primary reason why food is wasted, both in the dining hall and at college events. Mr. Puno said that approximately 20% of vegetables and 5% of meat prepared at the start of each meal service are thrown away. “At the end of every service, we see a huge wastage in vegetables,” he said. According to Mr. Puno, the dining hall staff have started cooking in batches in order to estimate more accurate portions.

Moreover, when the dining hall is booked for an event, pre-packed meals catered for Yale-NUS students are often unfinished. Mr. Puno lamented that for CAPT’s Valentine’s Day Dinner in February, the dining hall prepared pre-packed meals for 260 students, but only 171 turned up.

Mr. Farley explained that he informs the dining hall to prepare fewer meals in advance, if necessary. With a new dining hall contract at the new campus, the DoS Office will have more control over operations, and student representatives will meet with the company regularly to give feedback. Currently, student feedback is not given in a formal representative capacity. According to Mr. Farley, sustainability will also feature more prominently: all of the companies bidding for the contract had to include sustainability initiatives in their bids.

Over-catering food also occurs at many student-organized events, talks and academic-advising sessions due to overestimating turnout. Mr. Farley said that over-catering occurs for a variety of reasons: exams, sickness, or other commitments, resulting in a lesser turnout than expected.

Melody Madhavan ’17, Director of Publicity and Design of the Yale-NUS International Relations and Political Association (YIRPA) agrees that it is hard to estimate portions, especially for larger events. “Usually we order food for about 90% of the turnout. Let’s say there are forty people coming to the event, we estimate that 35 will come and then we order for about 30 to 35 [portions]. For very large conferences, it is a lot harder to estimate.”

But under-catering is not always a good option. Mr. Farley said, “Then people are frustrated, and you don’t want people frustrated at an event especially when it is for a speaker.” He said that the DoS Office uses existing information “to order as accurately as we can, while being optimistic about student turnout.”

Not all food is wasted when turnout at events is dismal. Leftovers are partially consumed by students before the remainder is thrown away. Apsley said, “I am glad that people post on Facebook when there is extra food rather than tossing it out, so that hungry, frugal college students can finish what was already paid for.”

Food remains an important part of events at Yale-NUS. Mr. Farley explained, “Food is a beautiful way to build community … There is something about food that encourages people to mingle, to talk to each other in an informal way … The role of the DoS Office is to build community and food will be one of the central things we use to build community.”

Yale-NUS will only grow in size, and food will continue to play a central role in the countless activities and events to come. Kwok Yingchen ’18, Vice-President (Research) of I’dECO, is hopeful about the College’s efforts in moving towards greater food sustainability. He said, “I really think that Yale-NUS has a special place in trying to move not only itself but possibly Singapore as a whole in a more sustainable direction.”

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