“How could you be so [tray]less?” – Kanye West, “Heartless”
I imagine you, the reader, picking up the issue of The Carletonian running this column and, deciding it will make some great reading to go with your Friday lunch, heading down to the dining hall and placing it on your tray as you go to look for food. Of course, this image is pure fancy, although not because it involves you actually reading The Carletonian, but because there will not be any trays there, as part of a new initiative called Trayless Fridays.
Trayless Fridays is a plan that does exactly what it suggests: eliminates trays from the dining halls on Fridays. It is similar to trayless dining programs that have gone into effect at colleges across the country, the intention of which is to reduce food and water waste.
The benefits of trayless dining are statistically demonstrable. Food for Thought, the Carleton organization organizing Trayless Fridays, found that Carleton throws away an average of 13,462 pounds per week, amounting to a weekly waste of $3,375. A study by food provider Aramark found that trayless dining in its facilities reduced food waste by over 25%. According to my math, over a year this would save about 101,000 pounds of food, or a little over 50 pounds per student. From a financial perspective, that means savings of $25,000, or about $13 per student.
In other words, it makes sense to go trayless, even given the Dining Board’s recent $3,000 investment in trays. The change would most likely save a significant amount of food and a little bit of money. The extra money might even get sent to Africa to help starving children, which is always a popular cause. Pretty much, there’s nothing bad about trayless dining unless you hate starving African children, in which case there may be some other issues we need to discuss first.
The only problem is that those are not exactly the fairest terms to present trayless dining under. I commend the work that advocates of trayless dining are doing, and their cause is a good one, but there is a problem in the way they are presenting the issue. For one thing, to suggest that trayless dining would save $500-1000 from costs per student, as was done in an earlier issue of The Carletonian, is false. Even if we eliminated food waste completely, using Food for Thought’s numbers, it would still only save about $55 per student.
The other issue is that some of the arguments in favor of trayless dining have suggested that it is selfish for students to be unwilling to make such a small change in their behavior to do something for the greater good. On one hand, this is true; the main argument against trayless dining is that it is inconvenient, and GoPrint showed us that, even in terms of mundane Carleton issues, we can make huge savings at the cost of minor individual inconveniences. On the other hand, having gone trayless on the frequent occasions when there are no clean trays in the dining hall, I’m willing to say that it really is necessary to make multiple trips to the buffet line just to eat a meal with an entrée, salad, dessert, and drink, which is not something I see as a wholly extravagant desire.
Sure, it may be a little indulgent to think that you’d rather save two or three minutes and some potential broken plates during your meal than send food to Africa, but the consequences of this indulgence are relatively minor. From a financial perspective, it costs students a whopping 18 cents a day, and the savings trayless dining provides could be easily recouped by a donation of meal equivalencies. I could probably hit my yearly quota the seven it would take in two weeks, and it would bother me much less than having to balance plates on my arm to get all my food to the table. With those savings, it would also be possible to buy a pulper for the dining hall that would reduce the environmental impact of food waste.
If we’re going trayless to eradicate hunger, there are better ways, and probably even other sources of waste in our food services, that can provide the same financial resources. If we’re doing it to save water, I hate to be the one to break the fact that the dishwashers run during mealtimes regardless of how many dishes are going through. If we’re trying to keep people from taking as much food, there are more polite ways of reminding them rather than punishing the people with big appetites who need two plates of food. If the idea is to save money, well, I already make enough sacrifices to pad Bon Appetit’s bottom line by not being able to take out coffee in the morning.
Of course, doing anything other than cutting actual food waste is to ignore the central issue that we are wasting food. I’m not saying I have a solution, but I have one idea: if the inconvenience students see in going trayless is that it forces them to carry too many dishes, it seems like that is the problem we should address. Rather than giving out full plates of food every time somebody wants a side dish, we can lump it on their trays in smaller portions. Call it a loss of dignity, but I think going plateless might work, and the trays are just as clean as the plates. I know it probably violates some health codes or something, but it is a good, quirky Carleton solution.
We all want to waste less food, and students are sure to be receptive to the idea of taking less, but most probably prioritize their ability to eat in comfort over the pain of the idea that they are contributing biodegradable material to America’s compost heaps and landfills. The effort to change peoples’ habits of taking too much food is much more likely to be successful if it does not hinge on making their lives more difficult. Also, going back to that original image, the whole trayless thing might really hurt the readership of my column, and we all know what a blow that would be to this campus.
-Kyle Kramer is a Carletonian columnist.