Alli Peterson, Mary Hanna, Sydney Harlow, and Megan Erickson
We are four. Four of the thousands of students and faculty that sit down and eat multiple meals at the six dining halls spread around UNL’s campus. We use our mealtimes as a break to chit chat with our friends or catch up on homework before returning back to our busy schedules. While we wrap up our meals and stack up our trays, how much food we leave behind on our plates is one of the last thing to cross our minds, that is, if it crosses our minds at all. According to the National Resources Defense Council, today more than 40 percent of the food in the United States goes uneaten, that is equal to $165 billion in food that is just thrown away (Gunders, 2012). Imagine how much money, we as a University, would save or how much less waste we would produce if these facts crossed our minds and impacted our decisions, even if it was just every once in awhile.
So why bother decreasing our food waste? If we already paid for our meal, why should it matter? Well, in today’s world, where the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about 795 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world are suffering from chronic undernourishment this past year and the environment and the long-run health of our planet is at stake, and it is about time we start paying attention and caring (United States Department of Agriculture). In the USA, it has been found that organic waste makes up the second highest component of landfills, which is responsible as the largest source of methane emissions (United Nations Environment Programme). The 40% of all food that is wasted is equivalent to more than 20 pounds of food per person, per month (United Nations Environment Programme). In fact, on September 16, 2015, the then-current Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Environmental Protection Agency Deputy Administrator Stan Meiburg, had announced the first-ever national food loss and waste goal for the United States, setting a goal of decreasing waste by 50% by the year 2030 (United States Department of Agriculture). If the leaders of our country believe food waste is an important issue that needs addressing, then don’t you think it should be important enough for us as a university to address it too? We do.
So, we started brainstorming: how can four college girls possibly make a difference on a global issue as big as food waste? This is such a macro-sized issue, we were wondering if we were in over our heads. However, through a couple weeks of observations at the Lewis Training Table, we noticed a trend. We noticed that in many cases, the individuals who used trays tended to produce more food waste, because they were able to carry more food than their stomachs could hold. Our large, macro-sized issue just became a lot smaller and much more manageable. What if we could encourage students to ditch their trays in hopes of creating less food waste? It was a small change we were asking of our fellow students, but a change that could have a large impact.
So with this idea in mind, we decided to start our campaign in the Lewis Training Table. The first reason we wanted to start the campaign here is because since our group consists of athletes, this is where we eat all of our meals, so we have a lot of first hand experience in this dining hall. We are also friendly with the chefs and dining service specialists and feel comfortable asking them questions as well as they feel comfortable answering truthfully. The second reason we began our campaign at the Training Table is because of how tackling the issue of food waste had seemed too large, we thought tackling all dining halls on campus would also be a large task to accomplish off the bat. Along with that, we wanted to test out what was successful in creating awareness and what was not, so when we went to spread our campaign across campus it could be the most efficient and effective.
Our second tool, social media, also helps spread this infographic and keep it fresh in the minds of the students. Our use of Twitter, and Instagram have generated many “likes”, retweets, and impressions over the past few weeks. Social media has also allowed us to share our informational video we created. This video is a minute and thirty seconds long, that includes some more information about the topic as well as a direct interview with the Director of Athletic Food Service who oversees the entire Lewis Training Table. The video that we have created is clean, interesting, and to the point. It creates more shocking visuals of food waste that will hopefully stay imprinted in people’s minds. As of right now we are using the Husker Student Athletic Advisory Committee’s social media platforms to tweet out our infographics and videos, but we are also in the process of having the UNL Dining Services tweet and post them as well. This will be the first step in our transition to including the entire university in this campaign.
Thirdly, we conducted many conversations with both faculty and students. As we mentioned prior, we believe the biggest issue concerning food waste is the lack of individual awareness of the issue. While social media and printed media are great sources of spreading information, we still firmly believe that face-to-face interactions and conversations remain to be the most powerful resource for reaching individuals. Because of this, we scheduled conversations with faculty that works in the Training Table, like Dale Kruse, the Director of Athletic Food Service. We got to hear their input on the issue, which is crucial because they are the individuals dealing with the waste on a daily basis. We then conducted conversations with students and faculty who were eating meals in the dining hall. We asked for a few minutes of their time to inform them of food waste in general and our #DitchYourTray campaign. These conversations were effective because we were able to give direct information that, unlike our posters and videos, we know for a fact our audience was receiving.
Since the year is coming to an end, we plan on using the next few months as a way to prepare for the Fall in order to successfully execute our campaign and create the greatest impact. To do so, we will plan on meeting with UNL Dining Services over the summer and talk to them about posting fliers and stickers around the dining halls and in the dorms. The goal here is to post the fliers in as many highly visible places as possible. Our goal is to have our message heard loud and clear. We plan to have a generous amount of fliers and stickers in all of the dorms, in the hallways of every academic hall, and also in places like The Union and The Rec come next Fall. By having a highly followed social media account such as UNL Dining Services make our video or infographic their “pinned tweet”, as well as posting it monthly, we believe that this will have a big impact on our campaign.
While food waste is a large issue, by starting specific and small, we have confidence that our campaign, #DitchYourTray, has the potential to have a huge impact on our campus. Food waste is a problem that wasn’t created overnight, so nor do we expect to solve it overnight. However, by raising awareness on the individual level and providing a simple solution, we can help college students understand how vital their role can be in overcoming this issue and implementing change, not only on our University’s campus, but eventually in our country, and in our great world.