Chefs cook up strategies to eliminate food waste

Dalton Kitchen chefs are on a mission to reduce campus food waste.

If you don’t like Brussel sprouts, tell someone.

Krista Gardner likes to know these morsels of personal dining preferences. To her, the executive catering chef at Dalton Kitchen, tidbits such as “I despise meatless Mondays” or “I can’t stop eating tacos” help her and the dining team inch closer to resolving a pressing issue: food waste on campus.

“We want students to communicate to us what they like and don’t like,” Gardner said. “We may have things on our menus that students don’t like, and if so, they need to tell us those things. That information helps to know how much food to order.”

Gardner is on a mission to eliminate as much campus food waste as possible. It’s her “passion project,” she said. Her goal is to cut food waste numbers in half by the end of the spring semester.

So, if Brussel sprouts aren’t your thing or if shellfish make you break out, you can tell Radford University Dining Services through a variety of communications outlets, including the Dine on Campus webpage and app, the Text-to-Solve program and the satisfaction surveys available in the dining hall. Feedback also can be given the old fashioned way: speaking with a manager.

Campus food waste is the product of overproduction, un-eaten food and unused food that goes out-of-date. Gardner uses Chartwell’s Waste Not measurement tool to track it all, including where it goes. Does it go to the landfill? Does it go to food recovery? Those are questions Gardner must answer.

Occasionally, some of the unused-but-still-edible food is donated to the Radford-Fairlawn Daily Bread food bank, and the Sustainability Internship Team is taking steps to make this a more frequent initiative. “We make sure we utilize our food to help others in the community, reaching beyond Radford University and helping the community as a whole,” Gardner said.

Educating students about food waste is one way to fight the problem, said Chartwells Marketing Director Brooke Love, and there are many ways the group is taking the issue to students’ attention.

One is Stop Food Waste Day, which is scheduled for April 28 and coincides with campus Earth Week activities. The day is to “celebrate all the food we’ve stopped wasting this year,” Gardner said.

Other events create awareness, too, such as showing students how a healthy meal is prepared or teaching them awareness of plant-based proteins. And then there are popular events like Sushi Night where “students get a chance to make their own,” said Love, who posts events on the Dining Services’ Facebook page. “It all helps create awareness,” she said.

The team occasionally stages food waste audits, placing a scale at the plate return station to measure the amount of unconsumed food. “This helps us all to see how much food we are wasting,” Gardner said while also serving up a bit of advice. “Instead of eating with your eyes, you should begin with small portions and go back if you need more food.

Students are welcome to revisit Dalton Kitchen food lines as often as they wish, “but we want to bring to light how much food can be wasted if you put too much on your plate and don’t eat it.”

Lowering waste has other benefits for students. It allows for the dining team to sometimes offer exotic, new foods.

Such as?

“We had octopus one day, and the students were hesitant,” Gardner said. “Sometimes we have to say, ‘Come on, try it,’ but they usually engage and like the new foods we have for them.”

The Dining Services team is “making real progress and a real difference,” said Sustainability Manager Josh Nease, while noting the importance of curbing food waste, which can lower greenhouse gas emissions and save money.

“Think about what it takes to get food to our plates on campus and all of the time and energy that goes into farming, processing, transporting and preparing,” Nease continued. “Every bit of food we waste is essentially wasting all of these resources, all the way back to the farm.”

In addition to cutting waste, another goal, said Adrean Harris, is to create a pleasurable dining experience each and every time someone visits the dining hall.

“We’re the people who want to help you whether you are dealing with food allergies or reducing waste. One of our ultimate goals is to make everyone happy and help them achieve their dietary goals,” said Harris, Chartwells’ resident district manager. “We want our students to take pride in every aspect of Radford including their dining program.”

Feb 20, 2018
Chad Osborne
Chad Osborne