by Kendall McDonald, Post Baccalaureate Fellow | October 12, 2015
As part of the university’s Food Day observation in October, Office of Sustainability staff recently collected food waste data on two dining locations on campus: the Rebel Market and the Marketplace at the Residential Colleges. The measured amount of post-consumer waste (food left on plates by diners) was staggering. On average, diners at the Marketplace throw away 175 pounds of food per day—nearly 2.5 tons per month. This is enough food to feed 60 people comfortably for the duration of that entire month.
Diners at the Rebel Market throw away 414 pounds of food waste per day, which equals nearly 6 tons of food waste per month. This is enough food to comfortably feed 140 people for the duration of that month, or one hungry student for nearly the entire duration of their time at the University of Mississippi—over 3.5 years. Meanwhile, the Ole Miss Food Bank continues to serve students on campus who have trouble stocking their pantries adequately.
We often associate an old piece of conventional wisdom with throwing away uneaten food. It usually references starving children in another country—an abstract problem with serious, yet far-removed consequences. However, food waste is a real problem in our own backyard. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, 40 percent of the food supply in the United States is wasted each year. Meanwhile, more than 14 percent of households in the United States currently experience food insecurity, according to a recent USDA study. The issue of food waste extends beyond its social implications; it can also prove environmentally disastrous. In a landfill, food waste cannot biodegrade optimally. Instead, it breaks down anaerobically, which releases methane—a greenhouse gas 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide. Inefficient food production also has drastic implications on land use and planning, which can impair our ability to conserve vital ecosystems and prevent habitat loss.
Despite the tangibility of these negative consequences, food waste continues to pervade our eating habits. Perhaps because of the scope of our massive food system, we assume these negative consequences will diffuse or even out in the larger picture. We may also assume our personal food waste has a negligible impact, or that we are powerless to change the habits of others. However, there are a range of solutions that we can adopt to make an impact, ranging from composting our household food waste to planning our weekly grocery trips more intentionally.
Ultimately, we can even have a positive impact when we simply accept only the food we know we can comfortably finish, knowing that we can almost always get more later if we need to. Plate thoughtfully—it is less expensive, healthier, and kinder to others and our environment.
About the author: Kendall McDonald is the 2015-16 post baccalaureate fellow in the Office of Sustainability. She is a recent graduate of the University of Mississippi and holds a bachelor’s degree in public policy leadership with minors in environmental studies and English. In 2014, she was as an Honorable Mention to the Udall Scholarship recipient for her dedication to solving environmental issues. She has also been recognized by the Mississippi Recycling Coalition for her involvement in coordinating and expanding Ole Miss gameday recycling activities.