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.