In Valentine, I often see plates piled full of lasagna, General Tso’s chicken, macaroni and cheese or salad cycle through the dishwashing conveyor belt. Throughout campus, sandwiches perch helplessly on top of traffic posts. Defeated black bananas litter the snow, abandoned by students as if they are a joke. If these attempts are part of a joke, I hope those students understand that worldwide, according to a working paper for the World Resources Institute and United Nations Environment Programme, around 25 percent of food calories produced for human consumption are wasted annually. In the United States, according to food scientist Dana Gunders, that percentage is higher, as it jumps to 42 percent calories squandered. Sure, those numbers have little meaning to us as college students, as we can fill our trays with endless servings of sirloin tips and Egg McCharlies without experiencing direct repercussions. But our decisions can cost us, both environmentally and economically. At Amherst, we pride ourselves on our leadership. What is preventing us from being a leader among colleges in minimizing the amount of food we throw away? In order to decrease our environmental footprint and plan financially for the future, we need to reduce our food waste immediately.
By choosing to discard unwanted food, we play a major role in determining worldwide greenhouse gas levels. According to a paper published by the United Nations, global food waste accounts for 3.3 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually. Relatively speaking, that amount would correspond to about one half of the United States’ total annual emissions. The scary part is that consumer decisions incorporate all factors of production required for food to arrive to the plate. When I choose to leave my bowl of oatmeal untouched, I am responsible for the nitrogen fertilizer, the fuel used to harvest the oats, mill them, package them, ship them to Amherst and the energy used to heat them for my breakfast. In addition, when I carelessly dispose of it in the garbage, the oatmeal is trucked (using diesel fuel) to a landfill where it will release methane into the environment. Though some may not worry about the environmental impacts, we will all suffer serious consequences in the future if we do not cut back our waste.
Unfortunately, “free” food buffets like Valentine are not available after college. Thus, wasting food will eat away at our paychecks. According to a report by the Natural Resource Defense Council, Americans disposed of $165 billion worth of food in 2012. Per person, that equates to a little over $500. Of course, we all hope to be financially secure immediately after graduation. However, as much as we convince ourselves that our Amherst diploma will be our golden ticket, many of us will start at the bottom of the food chain before working our way to the top. As a result, losing $500 annually can impact our welfare. I mean, do you really want to forgo a night on the town with your buddies because you threw away too many chicken breasts? Like it or not, we soon will be in charge of our personal finances, and it is time to institute smarter eating habits today.
Decreasing our food waste is not a controversial topic, as there is no logical reason to throw away perfectly edible food. We can all take simple steps to reduce our food waste. Ask the waiter at Judie’s to package up your remaining popover and hamburger, and then actually eat your leftovers at home instead of ordering a Bruno’s calzone. Yes, the popover still tastes as delicious in your dorm room as it does in the restaurant. Or use smaller plates at Val so you will not be tempted to create a mountain of sweet potato fries. As long as you do not arrive right before closing time, you can always wriggle out of your booth to grab seconds. Maybe take the leap and go tray-less. Grand Valley State University eliminated trays and collected 28,000 fewer pounds of food scraps than the previous year, which corresponded to 56 fewer pounds per student. Other colleges have taken steps to reduce their impact, so what is stopping us? We have the power to reduce our planet’s food waste, even if it is one banana at a time.