Dining Hall, Students Gear Up for Sustainability

April 6, 2011

With less than one week to go until Mary Baldwin’s Sustainable Meal Week, Dining Services is hearing positive feedback from the college community about their initiative to cut costs, offer healthier portions to students, and reduce waste.

From April 11–15, each diner at Hunt Dining Hall must make a conscious decision to ask for second helpings. The goal is to make students aware of the high cost of food, the amount of food they are eating, and the amount of food they are wasting. Dining Services staff hopes that the week’s success will lead to permanent changes in the meal plan at Baldwin.

“It comes down to one plate instead of multiples. It comes down to the student’s head. They have to think about what they want and make a value-based decision,” said Director of Dining Services Mary VanNortwick.

So, how exactly will it work? Each person will hand over a poker chip when choosing an entrée from the center servery line. The diner will continue to have unlimited access to salad bars, drinks, desserts, and other stations along the outside edge of the dining room. But to go back to the central line for another entrée — or event part of one — she or he must to ask for a second chip.

If the second-helping plan was made permanent, the college would save a large portion of the more than $50,000 each year that is budgeted for wasted food. Reducing the amount of food that is thrown away is not only good for the college’s bottom line, it’s good for the environment. Consuming less food is also good for students’ waistlines, which have been growing in recent years, VanNortwick said.

Of course, not all students are excited about the changes, but many stand behind the sustainability initiative.

“Portion size is a problem,” said Michelle Jones ’13. “People don’t realize how much they eat — their eyes are bigger than their stomachs.”

To quell any misconceptions among students, Dining Services staff are putting up signs about Sustainable Meal Week and meeting with students in residence halls to inform them of changes to meal procedures. As a result, VanNortwick said, the dining hall crew is getting a good sense about what students are most concerned about and are gathering even more ideas for changes at the dining hall.

With the help of Allan Moyé, assistant professor of communication and director of studios, the dining team also produced a video to help spread the word about next week’s changes.

“The students get it,” VanNortwick said. “Even if they are over-consumers or are wasteful themselves, they still understand the need to one day take a mindful look and even reduce.”

For more in-depth coverage of Sustainable Meal Week — including information about how Mary Baldwin’s plan could pave the way for college dining across the country — pick up the April issue of The Cupola, on newsstands and online Thursday.