Let’s donate left over hall food

Kimon Sourlas-Kotzamanis argues that we should do more to prevent food waste in halls.

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Photo credit: Remi Mathis

Last semester, residents of St  Salvator’s Hall received an email  concerning food waste. According to  the email, the university is spending  £14,000 per year on disposing of food  waste in halls, and a few temporary  measures were taken to reduce food  waste for a trial period – including offering half portions of fish on Fridays  and eliminating the use of trays on  Tuesdays. While well-intended, these  minimal changes can do little to reduce the amount that is thrown away.  Ultimately, the food waste produced  can largely be attributed to the catering services’ understandable policy  that is in place to make sure that food  does not run out before the end of  meal times. According to the catering  team, “we offer three hot main meal  choices (4 within DRA) at lunch and  dinner and we try, where possible, to  ensure that the student who comes in  last has the same meal choices available to them as the person who comes  in first, as they are paying the same  for their catered package. We also  allow students to help themselves to  as much side dishes (vegetables, potatoes and salad items) as they want.” As such, the more impactful  changes the University can make are  with regards to what is done with  the remaining food after each meal.  Students are allowed to have second  helpings at the end of meal times,  and staff on duty are also entitled to a  meal taken from the leftovers.

Despite the town’s façade of affluence, almost 25 per cent of children  in St Andrews live in poverty when  housing costs are considered ac – cording to the website of Storehouse  North East Fife, a foodbank operating  in the area. There are people in need  in St Andrews and its neighbouring  area living with financial difficulties  or homelessness, for whom a free  meal would be of significant help.  Therefore, if the University donated the leftovers instead of throwing them away, it could do a considerable amount of good.

It is, however, understandable that a food donation scheme would  cost the University more than it is al – ready spending, and a solution is not  as easy to implement as it may seem.  The University catering view is that  they cannot ensure the safe storage  and reheating of food for such a project. The University does not currently  have the option of donating the food  to a foodbank that would handle the  logistics of distribution. As a spokes – person for Storehouse informed me,  they “are not currently set up with  the chilled storage space required to  handle a volume of fresh or cooked  food.” Nevertheless, they hope to be  in a position to do so in the future, and  the opportunity to cooperate with the  University would be “exciting” for the  charity. In any case, for the time being  this is not a realistic option. Similarly,  distributing the food directly would  presumably be too costly for the  University to consider – otherwise,  why isn’t this being done already?  Donating leftover food is not a new  idea; Pret a Manger, for example, has  been doing it for years. This at least  leaves the option of offering a “come  and collect” service, whereby people  in need could collect remaining food  from the halls of residence at a certain open window. Furthermore, students could volunteer to distribute the  food themselves if given the option.

According to the catering team, the  “Delivered Catering service is looking at several ‘take away’ schemes  that will allow people to remove any  leftover food in biodegradable boxes,”  which would hopefully make such a  programme feasible. The point that I want to make is  that the University is not currently doing enough. Even if there is a cost attached to donating leftover food, even  if it requires extra staff, storage space  or salaries, the University has a moral  imperative to prioritise the needs of  the less well-off over other costly pro – jects such as the recently announced  MUSA extension. This is especially  true when the food has already been  harvested, slaughtered, delivered,  prepared and cooked. Taking all this  wastefulness into consideration, the  additional cost of donations is little  compared to the amount of good done  not only for the people who would  benefit from them, but also the planet,  the resources of which will be ever so  slightly less drained. The University  catering team have expressed to me  a willingness to look into ways of  making the catering system more sustainable, and they are working with  sustainable development students on  working out solutions to enable such  changes. What remains to be seen is  whether these efforts are enough to  have a sizable impact, or whether they  will do little to eliminate the wasteful  practices currently employed.

That said, the question is what  we can do as individual students.  Hopefully, we can raise the issue to  the University through the Students’  Association, the rector, or other  means, in order to show that this  is an issue the University should  care about, and therefore be willing  to address even if it requires more  spending.  Of course, this does not ultimately  guarantee that a change will be made.  In the meantime, we can still provide  some help to those in need by making  small donations ourselves.

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